Beginning And Ending In Style
When it comes to being a brilliant modern best man, John Bowden knows what he's talking about. He's been there, done it and got a crate of tee shirts. He has also written several books on weddings and speechmaking and is a member of the Comedy Writers' Association.
There is no such thing as the best opening lines or the best closing lines for a bride’s father’s speech, because every speech – and every speaker – is different.
Think of your speech as a gourmet meal. Your opening lines should serve up a tasty little starter that really whets the audience’s appetite for the main course. Your closing words should provide a delectable and memorable dessert with a delicious aftertaste.
In this chapter you will learn a number of techniques that can be used to open and close your speech. They are all tried and tested, so you don’t need to worry about choosing a dud. Study the options and decide what would work best for your speech – and for you.
Work on your chosen lines until they suit your style and have exactly the effect you are after. Then memorise them or write them out on a card to use as a prompt. You must know precisely how you are going to open and close your speech. There is absolutely no room for any ad-libbing here.
1 Grabbing their attention
Successful speechmakers often ponder, consciously and unconsciously, for days over their opening words. They know that the first three sentences of their speech set the course for success or failure: a good start points towards plain sailing, a bad one makes you sail against the wind.
For the father of the bride, undoubtedly the most useful varieties of hook are:
- the anniversary hook
- the quotation hook
- the humour hook.
The anniversary hook
There’s nothing like telling people what a special day it is today. You’re telling them that ‘Today’s the Day!’ As always, use your own words, but this is the sort of thing you should say:
’Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a truly historic day! This day, the 12th of December, will always be remembered because of three world-famous events. 01’ Blue Eyes, the late and great Frank Sinatra was born back in 1915, Muhammed Ali was voted the greatest sportsman of the twentieth century in 1999, and on this day in 200X, (groom) married (bride)!”
’Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a day heavy with significance! This day, the 13th of June, will always be associated with three earth-shattering events. Napolean finally met his Waterloo at Waterloo in 1&15, Sir Paul McCartney had his first day on earth in 1942, and on this day in 200X, you heard the finest wedding speech of your entire lifetime! Now ... who’s going to make it?”
You can find plenty of birthdays and anniversaries listed in specialist books (for instance, Making a Wedding Speech in the How To series has no less than 732 of them). You’ll also find them in most daily and Sunday newspapers.
The quotation hook
The right quotation, told at the beginning of your speech, can illuminate your thoughts in a most telling way and set the tone for what is to follow:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, “Love is the great force in life, it is indeed the greatest of all things.” So said E.M. Forster, and E.M. knew what he was talking about ...”
‘Ladies and Gentlemen ... Friends, “We cannot fully enjoy life unless someone we love enjoys it with us.” Not my words, I’m afraid, although how I agree with them ...’
Sometimes a quotation associated with the bride’s or bridegroom’s occupation can be adapted to make an excellent and original opening. For example, here are a couple of adaptations suitable for members of the armed services:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, “When she was a lass she served her term. As an office girl to an Attorney’s firm. She cleaned the windows and she swept the floor. And she polished up the handle of the big front door. She polished up that handle so carefullee. That now she’s the ruler of the Queen’s navee”. ... Well, almost, anyway ...’
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, “Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules, of Hector and Lysander and such great names as these.” But I would rather talk about Captain and Mrs Mainwaring ... about David and Victoria...’
The humour hook
If you open with a joke your audience will expect much more of the same to follow. So use this hook only if you are a naturally humorous person and if you intend your speech to continue largely in the same light-hearted vein.
Here then are a few jokey openings suitable for the more modern-minded father of the bride.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, (groom) just asked me, “Would you like to speak now, or should we let our guests enjoy themselves a little longer?”’
’Ladies and Gentlemen, unaccustomed to public speaking as I am, I feel this irresistible urge to prove it.’
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the last time I spoke at a wedding someone at the rear shouted, “I can’t hear you!” – and a man sitting next to me yelled back, “I’ll change places with you!”’
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the last time I made a wedding speech a man fell asleep. So I asked a page boy to wake him and do you know what the cheeky young so-and-so replied? He said, “You wake him. You were the one who put him to sleep.”’
So those are the three types of hook which are most likely to meet your needs. But consider other ideas too. Look for a method that fits your personality. Then test your opening. Have you used just the right words, in the right order, with the right timing? If you can leave it out altogether and it’s not a loss, look for a better one. Now memorise and practise it.
2 Ending on the right note
The conclusion of a speech is an even bigger opportunity than your opening. People remember longest the last thing they hear. A bad ending can ruin even the best speech; a good ending can salvage even a mediocre one.
Try to end with a flourish. Your concluding remark should be to your speech what a high note is to an aria: the candescence that triggers applause. If you can find the ideal ending you will inject that ultimate bit of magic.
There are many ways to conclude a speech. However, remember that every speech needs its own ending, tailored to its content, participants and atmosphere. The following list therefore is intended as no more than a broad spectrum of possibilities:
- the sentimental close
- the inspirational close
- the wit and wisdom close.
The sentimental close
Your speech will be greatly enhanced by a dramatic, passionate ending. But drama and passion are only partly in the performance. Eloquence demands the appropriate language, a sense of poetry:
’Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays; clutch it, and it darts away.’
‘Youth’s for an hour,
Beauty’s a flower.
But love is the jewel that wins the world.’
Your love makes Vesuvius look like a damp sparkler.’
The inspirational close
We can learn much from the great inspirational speakers of past and present. If you can find an ideal uplifting line that would wrap up your speech perfectly, then grab it, adapt it and use it:
‘We wish you happiness that grows, love that deepens and peace that endures. May you cherish each other forever.’
‘As you join your lives as one, we hope the special days have just begun. We wish you a lifetime of happiness with one another.’
‘Marriage is a constant journey of understanding, fun, sorrow, forgiveness, laughter, sharing. In short, it is a journey of life; a journey of love. May your journey be a long one filled with joy.’
The wit and wisdom close
Some speakers end with a humorous line while others prefer to impart a pearl of wisdom. Why not do both? Why not use laughter to illustrate a universal truth?
These three ‘let-me-leave-you-with-this-thought’ gems come from Bob Monkhouse, Groucho Marx and Pam Ayres:
‘Marriage is an investment that pays dividends if you pay interest.’
‘Woman lies to man. Man lies to women. But the best part is when they lie together.’
‘Love is like a curry and I’ll explain to you, That love comes in three temperatures: medium, hot and vindaloo.’
If you can find a great little line that would perfectly round off your speech – whether it was first uttered by Gordon Brown or by Roy Chubby Brown, by Trevor McDonald or Ronald McDonald – make any necessary little adjustment here and there and speak it out loud with courage, confidence and conviction.
3 Proposing a toast to the happy couple
Remember that the purpose of your speech is to propose a toast to the bride and groom. All you need to do is to add a few words after your big finish, for example:
‘It is customary for the bride’s father to offer the newlyweds some profound piece of advice – advice that has been passed down from generation to generation and no doubt been ignored by all of them. So instead I’ll simply say to you both: Have a good life. I mean that. Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand, raise your glasses, and drink with me a toast to the health and happiness of (groom and bride). To (bride and groom)!
‘May the wind be always at your back, The Sun overhead in a clear sky and the one you love by your side.’
‘Be to your virtues a little kind, Be to your faults a little blind.’
‘A toast to love and laughter, and happiness ever after.’
‘May their joys be as bright as the morning, and their sorrows but shadows that fade in the sunlight of love.’
‘May their joys be as deep as the ocean And their misfortunes as light as the foam.’
‘May the most you wish for Be the least you get.’
‘Here’s to the bride and the bridegroom, We’ll ask their success in our prayers, And through life’s dark shadows and sunshine That good luck may always be theirs.’
‘May you have the hindsight to know where you have been,
The foresight to know where you are going,
And the insight to know when you have gone too far.’
‘May your hearts be open with patience and love.
May your lives be filled with blessings from above.
May you always share the best that life can provide.
As you spend your lifetime together side by side.’
‘May the love you share forever remain as beautiful as the bride looks today.’
‘May you grow old on one pillow.’
‘Here’s to the groom with bride so fair, And here’s to bride with groom so rare.’
‘May your love be as endless as your wedding rings’
’Let us toast the health of the bride; Let us toast the health of the groom, Let us toast the health of the bride’s father; The sucker who paid for this room!’
‘A toast to my daughter.
Love, be true to her; Life,
be dear to her;
Health, stay close to her;
Joy, draw near to her;
Fortune, find what you can do for her,
Search your treasure-house through and through for her,
Follow her footsteps wherever she may go -
And keep her husband always her beau.’
4 Bracketing your speech
This is a device usually associated with seasoned pros. It is designed not only to grab an audience’s attention at the start of a speech, but also – and at the same time – to set up a situation that can be exploited at the end.
The two brackets consists of a set-up at the opening of the speech and a pay-off at the end. The words you will end with include those planted clearly at the start. Many lyricists use the same trick, establishing a phrase at the start and repeating a variation of it to round off the last line. This is how master songsmith Sammy Cahn achieved a nice little twist in the tail of Call Me Irresponsible:
Set-up:’Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable, throw in unde-pendable too.’
Pay-off:’Call me irresponsible, yes I’m unreliable, but it’s undeniably true: I’m irresponsibly mad for you.’
Brackets can serve you well in a speech. The words you will end with are planted clearly at the start, like this:
Set-up:’On a day such as this I hope I can be forgiven for indulging in a little daydreaming – both reminiscing about the past and predicting the future. Today we celebrate a marriage, the union of my daughter (name) and her new husband (name)...’
Pay-off:’Now all this daydreaming must stop; it is time to move on. At the end of my reminiscing, I’ve come to these inescapable conclusions: (wife) and I did a lot for (daughter) ... and she did a lot for us. But there is no doubt in our minds that the time is now right to entrust her to (groom’s) loving care. And, knowing (groom) as we do, we are certain that that will be very, very good care ...”
Notice how the repetition of the words ‘daydreaming’ and ‘reminiscing’ together with the repetition of your daughter’s and son-in-law’s names helps the open-and-closed nature of the brackets and provides a pleasing and memorable symmetry.