I went to a wedding a few weeks ago, and had the opportunity to listen to at least 7 different speeches given by the family and friends of the happy couple. The content of all the speeches was great -- all were very heartfelt and warm, and written from a place of deep caring for the couple. But in terms of how the speeches were delivered...well, that's where there may have been some 'cracks in the pavement' for a few of them.
That's not to say that they were bad - not in the least! It was very obvious that each speaker truly cared for the couple. And let's be honest...it's not easy to get up in front of a room of 300 people -- many of them strangers (or even worse -- people who know you REALLY well!) -- and deliver a speech. So I applaud each and every speaker for making the decision to put their thoughts on paper, share their kind words, and having the courage to go through with it.
Some speeches were excellent, delivered loudly, clearly, and humorously. The others had some 'issues' that held back what could have been a better impact. Some were difficult to hear or understand, the speaker didn't look up from their paper, too many inside jokes, and some stories shared about the couple seemed to "miss the mark," leaving the audience awkwardly silent (and a little confused).
The great thing about all these issues, however, is that many of them could have been easily resolved with a few small edits, and some overall greater awareness. So based on a sample size of 7 wedding speeches from 7 very different types of people, here are 6 tips (PLUS one make-it-or-break-it tip) to give a great wedding speech -- and ensure that it's heard, understood, and appreciated:
By far, the most common problems came from difficulty hearing the speakers -- there was a lot of "what did he say?" going on. But there was nothing wrong with the sound system. So speakers, take note:
1. Speak INTO the microphone. Bring it right up to your mouth. Yes, right up there. Don't be shy. Each sound system is different, but if the microphone is more than 2-3 inches away from your mouth, you won't be heard very well by your audience.
2. Speak clearly and slowly, and don't mumble. In person-to-person discussions, many of us speak 'under our breath,' meaning that our voice lowers and we don't say things as clearly. Just as difficult to understand are the fast talkers. When we're happy and excited, some of us tend to speak a little more quickly. While this may work with one-on-one conversations, it doesn't when you've got a microphone in hand and 300 people who are straining to hear you. So slow it down and speak clearly.
3. Make eye contact with all sides of the room when speaking. Yes, the speech is about -- and FOR -- the bride and groom. But never forget that there's a full audience listening to your speech, and they deserve to be addressed as well.
4. Smile, be animated and energetic, and pretend you're happy to be there (even if you're so nervous you want to throw up). Don't worry if you're trembling and your paper is shaking. You also don't have to spend any time apologizing for being nervous. No one expects you to be perfect, and chance are, everyone in the audience will give you full credit for getting up there in the first place. And rest assured that there are many people who would not be willing to give a speech. Like, ever. So just the fact that you're doing it is a huge win.
5. Add the RIGHT stories. Everyone loves to hear stories about the bride and/or groom. But choose your stories carefully, and make sure that they have a relevant point. Example: "Karen was able to learn a fully choreographed dance routine in a matter of hours, which shows what a focused, driven and talented person she is." Make sure that the story backs up the point you're trying to make about the person.
6. Switch between 2nd person ("you") and 3rd person ("John"). When you want to speak directly to the groom, look directly at him: "John, I can't believe how you lucked out with this girl." Vary it up by speaking ABOUT John, while addressing the audience, as in "Who would ever believed that John would luck out with such an amazing girl?" This way, you're having a conversation with the audience AND with the bride/groom, and everyone feels included.
BONUS TIP that'll make it or break it (and will make a huge difference to your audience):
7. Beware the perils of the "inside joke." If you've thrown your hat in the ring to give a wedding speech, it's pretty safe to say that you have a treasure trove of experience with either the bride or the groom. While it may be fun to allude to whatever happened in Vegas that you can't talk about, that crazy secret thing that you and the bride did as teenagers that no one knew about except the two of you and it will remain a secret forever so don't bother asking, or anything that speaks to a group of people in the room that are referred to as "and you know who you are," I urge you to reconsider.
True, the speech is for the couple, but it is also for the benefit of up to hundreds of people who are hoping to get a unique viewpoint into the couple. Telling your audience that you CAN'T or WON'T tell them something is frustrating, and might make them tune out of the rest of your speech. Of all the years (or lifetime) of experience you have with the couple, in the 5-10 minutes that you have for your speech, choose things that are interesting to talk about, or that share an insight into what kind of person the bride/groom is. Leave all the "secret stuff" out.
When you put so much effort into something that is supposed to be meaningful, special, and remembered for years to come, it's worth taking the time to implement some tips and tweaks to make sure that the speech that you worked so hard on comes across loud and clear to every single person in the room.
In the end, and I can't emphasize this enough, the MOST important thing is that each of these brave souls got up in front of 300 people and gave their speech. For that alone, they should be thanked, congratulated, and given an extra glass of wine when it's over.
(Want more info on how to write a wedding speech? Check out my interview segment on Giving a Perfect Wedding Speech for some added tips and ideas!)
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