7 Steps to Nailing Your Wedding Speech
Your worst nightmare has just come to life. The bride or groom just asked you to give a speech on their big day. Your palms are sweating and your stomach is churning, but how can you say no? You want to support your bestie, but aren't the "make 'em roar" type, and fear ruining what should be the most momentous occasion of your friend's life. If you are losing sleep over your impending five minutes in the spotlight, try these seven steps to crafting a no-fail wedding speech.
Write out your entire speech, read it over several times, and then toss it. It’s okay to carry a notecard with an outline of the points you want to hit, but do not try to memorize every sentence or read your speech word for word. Guests want to see you as comfortable as possible. If you’ve done the work ahead of time, trust in your own storytelling, and your natural delivery will ultimately come across much cooler than if you are stumbling over words in your head or reading from a piece of paper everyone can see trembling in your hand.
If you drink, toss one back 10 minutes before your big moment. If you don’t drink, go into the bathroom stall, do jumping jacks, and shake out your limbs. Loosen up, get the blood flowing, and walk up to the podium like you’ve got something up your sleeve.
Remember that half the people at a wedding may not know your relation to the bride or groom. If you are going to really sell this, you need to set up your credibility. Bring out your best anecdote about the bride or groom to make it personal right away. Recalling moments of how you met, travel stories, or obstacles you overcame together are good places to dig for material. Kill two birds with one stone by painting the picture of why he or she is such an amazing person. Keep this part lighthearted but sincere, and avoid referencing past relationships. Guests will be hooked because they will feel like they are being let in on a secret moment in time that is only being revealed as you tell the tale.
Easier said than done, right? Not true! Even some of the worst jokes can get a laugh if sold correctly—it’s all in the delivery. Anything snarky or slanderous will fall flat, so if you are trying to craft a funny moment, make positive choices. Use usual descriptors that sound funny, and play with different ways to say them. Make expletives pop and keep the energy in your voice climbing through the final word of your joke. Think about up-inflecting the end of sentences rather than “letting the air out of the balloon.” Practice your funny moments on someone you trust, and know what’s coming next in the speech. If nobody laughs, move on immediately to your next point without losing your energy level. Just because you don’t hear laughter doesn’t mean it was a fail. People are generally impressed by anyone speaking in front of a crowd, so know that everyone is amused by you simply being you.
This treads dangerous territory, as you don’t want to offend the bride or groom on their special day. Again, keep things positive and do not reveal anything embarrassing or distasteful. A device that’s always gone over well for me is to present a “survival kit” for the bride or groom to sustain a long and happy life with your friend. For my brother’s wedding, I included a padlock to keep our enthusiastic mother out of the house and a drain claw for pulling his notoriously long beach-bum hair out of the drain, just to name a few. Include four or five items, keep them hidden in a bag, and save the best for last.
Success! You earned the crowd's trust and made them laugh—now put a bow on it. Refocus the arc of the speech before it becomes too much about you! Whether they are exactly alike or perfectly mismatched, remind everyone why they are so right for each other.
Close with something universal and heartfelt that expresses the way you feel about the couple finding each other. Speak directly to your friend’s betrothed, let him or her know that all you want is to see your friend happy, and share how you couldn’t ask for anything more than this marriage. And choke up a little… You know you can do it.
Opening Image: Universal Pictures