For most people, preparing to give a wedding speech will be the first time that they will have had to write any speech – let alone such an important one.
Much of the anxiety experienced by a first-time speaker is simply due to not knowing how to proceed – and long periods spent staring at a blank piece of paper do nothing to boost confidence!
Step #1: Do Your Homework
Before you start working on your wedding speech there are lots of unknowns that can make the task seem even more daunting. So it’s important to gather some basic information about the big day so you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
- When are the speeches planned to take place? Between courses? After the meal? Who is speaking and in what order?
- What’s the likely mix of guests? A speech for an intimate group of family and friends will be quite different to one intended for a large group including distant relatives.
- Will speakers be expected to use a microphone? If so will it be handheld or in a stand?
The answers to these questions and more can easily be discovered by talking to the organisers, but it’s amazing how much more manageable the task will seem once you know what to expect.
Step #2: Research Your Topic
This is probably the most important step because it generates the raw material you will use to create your wedding speech. Research in this context does not mean a trip down the library – it simply means collecting information and stories that you can use in your speech. Sometimes this just means digging through your own memories but can also include talking to other people.
Remember, each of the main speeches tends to focus primarily on a particular person. For example the best man speech generally focuses on the groom. The father of the bride speech not surprisingly shines a spotlight on the bride.
So firstly, do a brain dump of information about your target individual. Make a note of their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and any memories of them that stand out. Try not to rule out anything at this stage – the aim is simply to generate as much raw material as possible.
It’s also good to talk to other people who know them well. Speak to school friends, work colleagues, and siblings. In this age of Facebook, email and texting it shouldn’t be too hard to collect information from a wide variety of sources.
Remember, the more raw material you gather during this step the easier the rest of the process will be.
Step #3: Pick a Theme
The best wedding speeches are not simply a random collection of fond observations. The best speeches organise the content in a way that is meaningful and easy to follow using a central theme or simple structure.
The theme can be very simple, e.g. growing up. In this case a father of the bride could divide his speech into chapters covering the main stages of his daughter’s life: baby, young child, teenager, etc.
Or he might look at her from 3 different perspectives: as a daughter, as a sister, and as a career woman.
Sometimes a theme will lead naturally to an interesting structure. A best man talking about a groom passionate about music might organise his speech as a Top 10 Greatest ‘Hits’ of his life.
Whatever approach you adopt, take inspiration from the information you’ve assembled in the Research phase. With any luck a structure or central theme will suggest itself from your research.
Step #4: Develop Your Ideas
This is where you go back to your research and start choosing bits of information and stories to slot into your chosen structure.
This involves filtering the ideas through the prism of your main theme. Viewed in this way some ideas just won’t fit but that’s fine. Don’t throw them out – you might find a way to make them work or you may decide to change your structure.
This step is also where you will start looking for opportunities to add humour to your speech. Most wedding speeches can be enhanced by the use of humour and of course some – such as the best man speech – are generally expected to be funny.
Finding the humour is not about cramming other people’s jokes into the speech but about highlighting genuinely amusing chapters from the person’s life and also finding unusual or unexpected connections between different pieces of information.
Step #5: Write a First Draft
This step is where you take your structure with the ideas slotted into it and start to write a draft of your wedding speech as you would actually say it out loud.
This is a key step because you will not only have to work out how to articulate each idea but also how to link smoothly between different ideas.
The main tip here is: keep it simple. Don’t try to use long sentences or clever words you wouldn’t normally use in real life.
You may find that an idea which seemed fully-formed during the development step actually takes a bit of work to phrase properly. Don’t worry – that’s completely normal.
Remember, the goal of this step is just to produce a first draft. It won’t be any good, but that’s okay. The first draft never is!
But a first draft is the foundation for the next step, where we will start to refine your speech.
Step #6: Practice and Rewrite
This step is important because we’re finally getting close to the end product – i.e. words that will be spoken out loud rather than just written on a piece of paper.
This means practising out loud and evolving your working draft. Be prepared to spend a good amount of time on this step. A first draft is called a first draft for a reason – it will need a lot of work.
Start just by reading your draft out loud – at roughly the speed you would use on the day. It’s worth timing yourself to make sure you’re not running significantly over or under where you need to be. As a general rule 5 – 10 minutes is a good length for a wedding speech.
As you read your draft out loud, try to make a mental note of any bits which feel sound clumsy. If certain sections aren’t working, don’t be afraid to go back to your research notes and see if there’s anything else that can be used instead. Remember you can always go back and do more research.
Make sure that each section leads naturally from the last. If not, you might have to add a few linking words.
Remember, this step is a cycle. Read, rewrite. Read, rewrite. Read, rewrite.
Step #7: Polish!
This final step is mostly about getting comfortable with delivering your speech on the big day.
Keep reading it out loud so that you become familiar with the content and its structure. Feel free to make further adjustments but don’t go overboard – an almost-perfect speech which is well-rehearsed will serve you much better than a perfect one you haven’t had time to practice.
If you feel confident learning and delivering your speech without notes then go for it, but it’s perfectly acceptable to use some notes. However, don’t just read your speech in long form from a piece of paper. It’s difficult to engage the audience and it will look under-prepared.
A happy medium is to have a small set of prompt cards to remind you of your structure and main ideas. Glance at the cards as required, but try to make eye contact with the room when you’re actually speaking.
Finally, here are a few pointers when practicing your delivery:
- make sure you use pauses between sections to give your speech more structure
- try to imagine speaking to lots of people and spreading your eye contact fairly around the room
- speak clearly, not too fast and with good volume
And one final thing to remember if you’re nervous about the delivery aspect of your speech – a wedding party is the friendliest audience in the world. People are generally in a great mood, they want you to do well and the worst reaction you can expect is a room full of polite smiles…