The speech season is upon us. Grooms, fathers-of-the-brides and best men are getting twitchy at the thought of their impending wedding speeches. They know that a great speech can make a wedding. And a bad one can be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
To help anyone speaking at a wedding this summer, speech writer Lawrence Bernstein has provided some top tips to ensure they set off in the right direction.
1. Preparation is everything. Like anything in life that you want to make a success of, it’s essential you leave ample time for preparation. It is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to rustle-up a cracking speech the night before the big day. Instead, start thinking about the speech several months in advance. What do you want to say? What do you want included? How do you want it to come across? Start gathering thoughts, information, key facts and writing out several speech drafts in preparation.
2. Call on others. A great speech will include material from other people. So contact friends, parents, god-parents, cousins, work colleagues – anyone who may have known the person at different times in their life. This way you’ll get a different perspective on their personality. You will also ensure your speech is for everyone in the room, and not just those who know you.
3. Chat to the other speakers. You may be one of three or even four speakers. There is a big risk, therefore, that your content will overlap with theirs, particularly if you are speaking last. It is essential you consult with them and ensure there is no frustrating overlap.
- Include a theme. Stories, observations and facts are important elements of many speeches. On their own they can be funny, insightful and heart-warming. But if they don’t link together naturally, they can often fall flat and you won’t get the response you were hoping for. If you pick a theme that joins everything together, you can ensure all these anecdotes flow together. A successful theme is often the difference between a good speech and a great one.
- Limit the Length. I recommend you cap your wedding speech at ten minutes. Going beyond this can create a less-forgiving atmosphere in the room. I’ll never forget the forty minute monologue we were forced to sit through at a wedding in Sweden! Length is something you can measure when writing your speech. Delivered at the right pace you should speak in public at around 120 words per minute. On that basis, if your speech is more than 1,300 words long, you probably need to start cutting it.
6. Ensure appropriate and relevant content. Grandma Gill doesn’t want to hear about her future grandson-in-law’s stag do in Budapest any more than the groom’s family want hear half-an-hour of gush from the father-of-the-bride on how perfect his daughter is. Try to think about what the majority of guests want to hear. But don’t offend any of them.
7. Rehearse. Like any big performance, a dress rehearsal is essential -and not just the night before. Once you have your final draft, read it out loud time and time again, very slowly, putting emphasis on key words or phrases, until you feel entirely comfortable with the content. You should get to the stage where you know your speech so well that it only requires a quick glance to act as a prompt.
- Don’t rush it on the day. When it is your turn to stand up and speak, take your time. Don’t jump into it and gabble away the intros before anyone has tuned into what you are saying. Talk slowly and pause between sentences. You may want to insert breaks in the text of your speech, such as ‘…….’ to ensure you do this. The audience needs time to take in what you are saying, particularly if it’s a punch-line. So soak up the laughs and applause before you rush off onto the next anecdote.
- Knowledge breeds confidence. Rather than spending the night before worrying about whether you’ll be speaking from a lectern or at the table, if they’ll be a microphone or how big the room is, ask for this information in advance. You will feel confident knowing what the set up is and won’t have any nasty surprises on the day.
- Don’t get drunk. Any best man that thinks his speech will be better if he’s had a few is wrong! And the same goes for grooms and father-of-the-brides too. Of course you can have a drink to be sociable and take the edge off any last minute nerves, but don’t overdo it. You need to be sharp witted and fresh. So keep any big boozing until after it is all over.
Lawrence Bernstein of www.greatspeechwriting.co.uk is a professional speech writer, having written hundreds of speeches for a variety of occasions – from weddings to political speeches. He’s often been featured in the press, including SKY TV, BBC Radio 4 and a host of magazines and local radio stations.