To date, I've been a bridesmaid four times. My fifth trip down the aisle is coming up. I've worn the hideous dresses (sorry besties), suffered the sore feet and heard the awkward, unrehearsed and sometimes painful speeches. Considering we are now into wedding season, I have put together my list of tips to ensure that when it's your turn to step up to the mic, you don't have cringe-worthy moments like Steve Buscemi did in the wedding singer.
Put simply, here's how to deliver a kick-ass wedding speech...
1. Oh No You Don't! Do. Not. Wing. This!
The magical speech you want to deliver is not going to materialize when the pressure starts to build and nerves overwhelm you. Use bullet-points to get you started. Ask for help if you need it. Do your homework and know something of interest about each person you want to mention -- and don't miss anyone of importance! You want your speech to have a beginning, a middle and an end. In other words, a journey (like the storyline of a movie). By preparing in advance, you can avoid the majority of pitfalls, such as rambling, that befall the unprepared speaker.
LAUREN'S RULE: Never just go out there and wing it! Take this seriously and do your prep.
2. Know Your Audience & Proceed With Caution
Audience analysis 101 may seem too business-like for a wedding speech, but understanding who you are speaking to will help you shape and construct your speech so that no one is offended. If you are not sure about something, leave it out. No inside jokes and no distasteful humour! Leave out the controversial bits! Even though we see this all the time in movies, if something caused tension in the past, or deeply embarrassed someone, whatever you do, don't include this in your speech!
LAUREN'S RULE: When in doubt, leave it out.
3. Disclaimers & Shooting Yourself In The Foot.
My clients know my pet peeve is hearing disclaimers at the start of a speech. That means no apologies for being a "bad speaker" or "not good at this." Don't set yourself up like that. The words "I've never done this before" should never come out of your mouth. You will automatically undermine your speech and what you have to share with the room. Remember, you are surrounded with family and friends who really want to hear everything you have to say, sans the self-sabotaging disclaimers.
LAUREN'S RULE: Never begin with a disclaimer! You've got this.
4. Embrace Being Off-Book
For some, the anxiety that comes with delivering a speech can be overwhelming, or even paralyzing. The tendency to want to stick to a script is normal, but when you go "off-book" or look up from the page to speak naturally from your heart, you really connect with your audience and your personality shines through. The trouble is improvising can be daunting. But, no worries. Practice beforehand and you will soon find it's not as hard as you think to go off-book. Try this: Put your finger on the spot in your speech where you plan to leave off (so you can find it again when you recommence reading), then look up and speak as if you are talking to a friend. There are three places to "go off book":
1. Your introduction -- Everyone knows how to say "hi" and be welcoming without referring to notes.
2. A short personal story about how you know the bride or groom is another perfect place to improvise -- it's your story after all, so this one's in the can.
3. Closing: Cheers. A Toast! Thanks a lot! See ya on the dance floor!
LAUREN'S RULE: Know your three areas to go off-book and trust yourself to speak candidly.
5. Arrive In The Space & Do A Little Dry Run
I highly recommend you make time to get behind the podium or up on the stage before it's time to deliver your speech. If you can't get to the space in advance, go online and look at pictures of the venue so you can begin to understand the space you will occupy. This way, you will be in familiar territory when it comes time to formally speak.
Here's how to Arrive In the Space:
1. Look around the room and take five deep breaths. This will help focus your energy.
2. Notice things around the room and acknowledge them: "I see linen covered chairs;" " I see a dance floor;" " I see flowers." Say all of this out loud. By recognizing the elements of a room, you create a familiar space for yourself so that it doesn't throw you off when you finally get up there.
3. Notice if you're a little nervous and acknowledge your nerves.
4. If you can, do a little dry run of your speech. Speak to all three points of the room: There are people to your left, to your centre and to your right who all want to feel included. Speak to them all.
6. Don't just look down at your paper or speak straight ahead.
LAUREN'S RULE: Arrive in the space. Get comfortable there. The arriving techniques breed confidence.
6. Slooooow Dooown
I have to admit it: I really don't like telling someone to slow down without first teaching them how. The majority of us talk super fast and this gets even faster when we're nervous or under pressure. When we practice a speech at a very slow pace, by the time we are actually ready to deliver it, our speaking cadence will be at just the right pace for an audience to understand. This really does work!
LAUREN'S RULE: By slowing down, you can deliver your speech in a calm, collected manner.
7. What To Do With The Inevitable Nerves
You have to accept it. You are going to have nerves. So acknowledge your nerves when they start to kick in. Don't wish them away. Nerves are a natural part of your presentation. If you are sitting and waiting to speak, take in the room just like you did when you practiced at the podium (rule 5). Notice the floor, notice the chairs, the people...this is not to distract you, it is going to keep you in the present, give you something tangible to focus on and will calm you.
One reason we get so nervous is because we are underprepared. By doing all this prep work, your nerves will be drastically reduced.
LAUREN'S RULE: Your nerves are your friends. They are natural. Welcome them.
8. All Joking Aside...Literally
Now for the common sense stuff: Be genuine. Be yourself. If you don't semi-regularly take the stage at Second City or feel comfortable being The Comedian, go for a heartfelt, genuine speech. What's better than heartfelt after all? Also don't forget to speak about the bride and the groom separately, as well as to address their fabulous relationship. Share words of wisdom, kind observations about their relationship, and don't forget to wish them well.
LAURENS RULE: Don't force humour -- it will come across as fake and inauthentic.
9. Lastly, ease up on the alcohol. Need I say more?
LAUREN'S RULE: Alcohol and public speaking don't mix.
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