How To Make a Great Wedding Speech
When You Realise You Have to Make a Speech
‘Will you marry me?’
These four little words fire the starting gun (hopefully) for what promises to be a roller coaster ride of emotions, planning and saving which will culminate in a wedding to remember for years to come.
You will no doubt have noticed that the cost of the big day is proving somewhat higher than you were expecting. But hey, what’s £25,500 between friends? A survey by Cahoot, the internet bank, reveals that’s what the average wedding costs today and it works out at £61.10 per minute. That’s up from £4.40 per minute in the 1970s, £25 per minute in the 1980s and £37 per minute in the 1990s. (Source: Office of National Statistics.)
So in theory, keeping your speech brief and knocking five minutes off it will save you a lot of money on the total cost of your wedding. Shortening it by 10 minutes could save you enough money to put a deposit down on a small flat. And if that isn’t an incentive to keep your speech short and sweet I don’t know what is!
According to the UK Office of National Statistics, women now marry at age 30 on average compared with 27 just a few years ago and 25 during the 1990s. Men now marry at 32 on average, compared with 26 just a few years ago.
It has been suggested that one of the reasons the cost of getting hitched is increasing is because at a more mature age men and women are more financially independent than when they were younger, and are thus able to splash out more on the exact wedding they want – whether it’s on an exotic beach in the Caribbean, in a helicopter over New Zealand or at another romantic dream location. What’s really important is that the wedding day is remembered for a long time to come. And quite right too.
I would hate to be cynical and suggest that the more you pay for your wedding, the more likely it is to be remembered, but all too often that can actually be the truth of the matter. On the other hand, it is entirely possible to have a truly memorable wedding for a very modest sum. Either way, many weddings are remembered for the wrong reason; a reason which hasn’t cost a penny – the speeches.
FAIL TO PLAN – PLAN TO FAIL
There’s a very simple reason why the speeches are remembered for the wrong reason and that’s because they receive such scant attention and planning. This is a real shame, because the speeches can make a huge difference to the enjoyment of the day for everyone and greatly enhance your memories. By ‘planning’ I don’t mean who proposes a toast to whom and when (we’ll cover that in the next chapter). By ‘planning’ I mean:
- the detail of your speech
- how you gather material
- how you order it
- how you rehearse it
- how you prepare yourself
- how you deliver it with impact, self-assurance, style, flair, passion, joy and sincerity.
There comes a point during the planning of the wedding arrangements when you realise you are going to have to make a speech. To some people it comes quite early on, particularly if they have some experience of speaking in public. To others, the mind blocks it out until the last few weeks (or hours) before the big day and then it dawns on them that they will soon be called upon by the Toastmaster. It feels like being hit by a train.
For most people, speaking in public would not be their first choice of hobby or extra curricular activity. Depending on which piece of research you read, speaking in public ranks higher than bungee jumping or death on the ‘things we most fear’ charts. And it’s worse when you have to do it in front of your closest friends and relatives. Even sales people find it easier to do a presentation to a group of two hundred strangers, business prospects or clients than to just ten of their work colleagues.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT MAKING A SPEECH THAT CAUSES US TO BECOME SO FEARFUL?
In my own experience I have found that in today’s society we tend to make assumptions about what other people are expecting from us, whether in a social situation or at work. In a work environment there certainly are expectations of us, but at least they are known and expressed in the form of written formal objectives. If we don’t come up to the standards set, we could be disciplined or even sacked. When we have to put on a talk as part of our work we also make assumptions about the audience’s expectations of our presentation skills, but invariably these assumptions are incorrect. The problem is that during presentations most speakers make a guess as to the expectations of their audience and focus on themselves rather than providing value to the listener.
With the focus on ourselves rather than the listener, we are actually making the presentation task ahead more stressful than it need be. The reason we focus on ourselves is because we have not taken steps to find out the audience’s expectations in terms of content, our level of expertise and delivery. As we don’t know our audience’s expectations we subconsciously assume they are expecting more than we have the competence to provide. In short, if we took more trouble to focus on the audience rather than ourselves, we would find it much less stressful.
The same is true when making a wedding speech. We put unnecessary stress on ourselves at a very early stage by subconsciously imagining the expectations of the guests. And if we imagine that making a wedding speech will be stressful and that the guests won’t enjoy it, you can guess what happens.
This point was picked up in my survey of wedding guests – some of whom told me that many best men, grooms and fathers of the bride spoil their speeches by concentrating on what people will think of them rather than giving the guests a good time. This is evidenced by the telling of too many meaningless in-jokes that have no relevance to the vast majority of people in attendance.
In any presentation or wedding speech, don’t fret over the detail of what you intend to say. Concentrate on speaking with sincerity, passion and conviction and you will find that your speech flows much more smoothly.
In fact, unless you make a complete fool of yourself by falling over drunk, most audiences are extremely tolerant of nerves and the occasional mistake. It is your content, sincerity and expertise that they are interested in, not your delivery. Your delivery can be worked on to enhance your message and make it more memorable.
The truth is that the guests know that making any speech is hard work and as a consequence they are not looking to lynch you if you foul up! Honest, they’re not! And here’s another thing – they are not expecting you to tell jokes like a seasoned pro, or to have the verbal lucidity, eloquence and articulacy of a newsreader, president or political leader at their annual conference. The guests at a wedding actually want you to enjoy yourself and to hear a few well chosen words of affection. If you can make it entertaining along the way, then all the better and in Part Two of this book you will discover a number of helpful tips.
IT’S A CONTROL THING
Another reason why making a wedding speech can terrify people – to the extent that it can potentially spoil the whole day for them – is because they feel that for the few minutes they are on their feet at the reception they have no control over the guests. For example will the guests enjoy the speech? Will they heckle? Will they nod off?
In fact, most of us find that being in control or being responsible for the guests’ enjoyment is quite stressful. Having organised the day, we want and expect it to go well and this means everything going to our plan. We expect the weather to be fine, the flowers to look pretty, the cars to arrive on time, the dress to fit, the cake not to be soggy in the centre, the photos to come out, the vicar or registrar to be sober and so on, because we planned it that way. And so we also expect the guests to turn up, to behave, to smile and to enjoy themselves!
As we have planned everything so carefully, of course there will be no problems. But because the speech is such an unknown entity we rightly or wrongly feel that we have little control over the enjoyment of the guests during those few minutes when we are speaking, and this creates stress – albeit without us realising it.
My advice is not to concern yourself or worry about how guests will respond to your speech. At every wedding I have ever attended, the guests have not been out to cause trouble or to formally appraise the speakers afterwards.
Your job is not on the line if your speech isn’t great – unless perhaps you’ve married the boss’s daughter. However, one of the reasons people are still fearful is because they are facing the unknown when it comes to the speeches. Why unknown? Because they haven’t given anything like enough thought to:
- the planning and structure of the speech
- the sentiments they want to communicate
- how they would like to be perceived by the guests
- what they want them to remember about their speech.
Remember: ‘If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.’ When you consider the amount of energy that goes into every other aspect of the wedding, wouldn’t it be a good idea to take out some of the unknown by putting some effort into the speeches and planning them properly?
Over the following chapters we will show you how to plan and prepare a fantastic wedding speech and how to deliver it so that the wedding day will be remembered for years to come.