Conveying Your Feelings To The Guests
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.
The most powerful bridge between a speaker and his audience is emotion. When a listener feels the emotion of your words, that listener is hooked
Mention sincerity and emotion to many bridegrooms and they roll their eyes. Emotion is soppy. An emotional person cannot watch re-runs of Sleepless in Seattle, Titanic or Ghost without dipping into a box of Kleenex. An emotional person will embarrass you by invading your personal space and hugging you in public.
But things are slowly and quietly changing and you don’t need to be a ‘new man’ to appreciate that emotion is an integral part of every human being. Without it we would be no more than machines. This possibly is the most important day in your life. You should feel free to display strong personal feelings. Even the most extravagant emotional outpourings will not sound out of place – so long as they‘re genuine!
People want more than to listen to stories, however well they may be told. They also want to experience one or two good, soul-satisfying lingering emotions.
1 Being sincere and emotional
It’s all very well saying that you are over the moon, on top of the world, walking on air. The audience may well think ‘How nice’, but they won’t be moved. The trick is not to talk about your feelings, but to express your emotions by saying things that will awaken a genuine empathy in your listeners.
Much research has gone into the workings of the human brain. To simplify things grossly, it is divided into hemispheres or halves, each of which is good at different things.
LEFT BRAIN = LOGICAL + QUICKLY LOST
RIGHT BRAIN = ROMANTIC + EASILY REMEMBERED
Ordinary language goes to the left brain, where it is routinely processed and soon forgotten – driven out by the next stream of words. People remember things much more easily if they stimulate the right brain. They remember:
- emotional images.
While it may be possible to play a little gentle, romantic background music and even show a few computer-generated slides of you and your bride as you speak, the simplest and most effective way to make your speech engaging and memorable is to use emotion to good effect. As the writer C.S. Forrester reminds us, ‘There is no denying the fact that words spoken from the full heart carry more weight than all the artifices of rhetoric’.
Don’t tell them, show them! You need to concentrate, not on the emotion itself, but on the situation that gave rise to it:
‘It was as if I had seen a vision. She was sitting in the cafe, alone, or at least I didn’t notice anyone else, so dazzled was I by the sight of her. What was her name, where did she live, what sort of life did she lead? I knew nothing about her and I wanted to know everything. What was her favourite colour, did she prefer tea or coffee, what music set her feet tapping? I was overcome by a painful and limitless curiosity.’
Think of your favourite books, music, films. Don’t they all share this lingering quality? Too many speakers try to tell too much, and too much of what they tell is not unique. If they drone on interminably about how they spent months shyly observing their beloved as she walked around town, is it really surprising when listeners lose interest and mentally switch off?
Life is made up of moments, pivotal times when something really important happens, when you are emotionally hit for six, or when you make a decision that changes the course of your life. Don’t bore your listeners with a long build-up or unnecessary explanation. Get straight to the heart of the matter. Focus on a single pivotal incident in your life. Provide a snapshot and it will keep the story alive in your audience’s mind and heart.
Paradoxically, the more apparently mundane and ordinary the circumstances surrounding the occasion, the more powerful and extraordinary will be the emotions it evokes. The following simple yet memorable scene was created by Paul Wride:
‘It was the most important thing that had ever happened in my life. I had been chosen to play the fisherman, Daniel, who would row his wife, Rachel, across the river in the school play. It didn’t matter that Daniel had only six words to speak (“We will soon be there, dear”); It didn’t matter that the boat was an upturned table with cardboard stuck to the sides and was pulled jerkingly across the stage by four stage hands who could be seen by the entire audience; It didn’t matter that the whole play lasted 25 minutes and Daniel was on the stage for less than one. What did matter was that Daniel was married to Rachel and Rachel was played by (bride) ... And today, 14 years on, Daniel has married Rachel for real!’
2 Thanking just about everyone
In many ways, a bridegroom’s speech can be thought of as a general thank you speech. If it moves, thank it; if it doesn’t move, thank it. Thank anyone and everyone who has helped make this day so special.
The danger, though, is that your speech can end up sounding like an Oscarwinning acceptance speech. The best way to avoid this happening is to lighten all your genuine words of thanks with little touches of humour:
‘First of all, I’d like to thank (bride) for marrying me. She’s the most witty, warm and wonderful woman I know. She does everything for me. She even wrote this speech.
‘I’d also like to thank my new father-in-law (name) for his kind words. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word meanness. Mind you, he doesn’t know the meaning of lots of other words either.
‘Thanks, too, must go to our mothers for all their help, which was above and beyond the call of duty. My mum’s a very responsible lady. If there’s a problem it’s odds on that she’s responsible.
‘Thank you all so much for your generous gifts. With all those saucepans and toasters it looks like I’m going to have to get used to boiled toast.
‘I’d like to add a word of thanks to my parents for their contribution to today’s festivities and for teaching me the difference between right and wrong, so I know which I’m enjoying at any particular time.
‘Then I must thank (name) for being my best man, though I’m not sure how thankful to be because I haven’t heard his speech yet.
‘And finally, I must say a word of thanks to the bridesmaids. You did your job magnificently. Obviously I will use you every time I get married from now on.’
3 Weaving in a couple of quotations
Everyone enjoys hearing a particularly witty or wise turn of phrase or apt quotation. The right words can illuminate your thoughts in a most telling way and really lift your speech. But they must be the right words.
Try to avoid anything remotely negative, sneering or cynical. The problem is, many of the best quotes are negative, sneering or cynical. So if you feel you really must use one or two, reverse them to show this most definitely does not apply to you or your new bride:
‘Someone once said that a successful marriage involves falling in love many times. I agree, but would add a few words. A successful marriage involves falling in love many ‘times with the same woman.’
Quotations are intended to promote smiles and nods rather than a strong emotional reaction or helpless mirth. They may well describe some profound and universal truth, but they are not uniquely relevant to your circumstances and background. Not only that, by definition, they are someone else’s words, not your own. For these reasons, they should be spread very thinly, like caviar, not piled on liberally, like marmalade. One or two quotes are plenty enough for any wedding speech.
Quoting people can also sound pompous. Just give a couple of appropriate lines and do it in a very casual way. If you are quoting someone famous, it is a good idea either to make it clear you had to look it up or give the impression you’re not absolutely sure of your source:
‘I am reminded of the words of John Keats – reminded, I should say by Maggie, who looked it up last night...’
‘Wasn’t it Jane Austen who wrote that... ?’
‘I think it was Lord Byron who observed that...’
If you want to quote someone less well known, don’t mention him or her by name. If you do, the reaction will probably be an audible ‘Who?’ Rather, say something like: ‘Someone once said ...’ or ‘It has been said that...’.
Alternatively, you could attribute the quotation to someone more famous. Oddly enough, this ploy will immediately increase your audience’s appreciation of those words of wit and wisdom. But make sure the person you name sounds as if he or she could have said that.
As Woody Allen didn’t say, ‘The key is to cause an emotional reaction in your audience, not necessarily to be factually accurate.’
Here are just a few quotes on love and marriage, which may or may not be right for your speech. Even if they’re not quite in tune with what you’re trying to say or how you’re trying to say it, at least they should get your little grey cells working on what kind of material would work best for you.
Love is ...
‘Love is the wine of existence’ (Henry Ward Beecher)
‘Love is the poetry of the senses’ (Honore de Balzac)
‘Love is not getting, but giving. It is sacrifice. And sacrifice is glorious!’ (Marie Dressler)
‘There’s no greater risk, perhaps, than matrimony, but there’s nothing happier than a happy marriage’ (Benjamin Disraeli)
‘Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up’ (Kahlil Gibran)
‘Man and wife, a king and queen with one or two subjects, and a few square yards of territory of their own: this, really is marriage. It is true freedom because it is true fulfilment, for man, woman and children’ (D.H. Lawrence)
Declarations of love
‘O, my luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O, my luve’s like a melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune’ (Robbie Burns)
‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach ...’ (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
‘Will you love me in December as you do in May,
Will you love me in the good old fashioned way?
When my hair has all turned grey,
Will you kiss me then and say,
That you love me in December as you do in May?’ (James J. Walker)