20 top tips for making a great speech

Written by    Last updated: June 6, 2006

From structuring your wedding speech to finishing on a high, here’s your checklist for success

Take note

As soon as you know that you’ll be making a speech at the wedding ‐‐ this is usually some time in advance ‐‐ get into the habit of carrying a notebook around with you so you can jot down any thoughts or memories that could be worked into your speech. The best ideas often come to you at the most unlikely moments….

Structure your speech

Don’t try writing it all in one go! Break down your words into the different areas you want to cover, such as thanking the guests, stories about the run‐up to the wedding, anecdotes about the groom, words for the bride and your speech’s conclusion. Take the jottings from your notebook and see where they fit into the plan.

Get sorted ‐‐ in triplicate

Anxiety about losing the text of your speech can ruin a whole wedding morning. Make three or four copies of the final version and give each one to separate guests to look after. It’s impossible for all the copies to be lost ‐‐ and it will put your mind at rest!

Make eye contact

…but not with everyone at once! Speak as if you were talking to one person, and address them directly. Of course, you will want to look around the room, but take time to focus on one person at a time.

Everyone’s rooting for you!

It’s true. This is a wedding and, although the scale of the occasion might initially seem daunting, it is in many ways the easiest public speaking opportunity of all. Everyone is on your side and no one wants you to do badly.

Practise ‐‐ on tape

Reading your speech out again and again ‐‐ preferably to other people ‐‐ is essential when you’re practising. Making a recording of yourself can be useful, too. Listen out for places where you speak too fast or where the point you’re making is unclear, and revise your speech accordingly.

Speak to both sides

Make sure your speech will mean something to everyone present. There may be guests who know only half of the wedding party (if that), and they may not even know you. In‐jokes and favourite anecdotes should be told in such a way that everyone can enjoy them, so explain any esoteric references as you go.

Don’t rely on memory

You may have practised your speech so hard that you’re sure you know it by heart. Keep your text handy anyway ‐‐ the stress of public speaking can sometimes cause people to forget their lines.

Be brief

Brevity truly is the soul of wit. Some speakers plan optional sections that can be cut if the speech isn’t going too well. Ay any rate, you should time your speech and stick to it ‐‐ five minutes is perfectly long enough.

But they didn’t laugh

Keep jokes and anecdotes short, so that if one doesn’t work, you can swiftly move on to the next. And don’t laugh at your own jokes ‐‐ you’ll soon know whether you’ve scored a hit!

Get your stories straight

Often a bride and groom may have a story in their past that lends itself to a good anecdote. But if the story is at all well known, check with the other speakers just to make sure that your material doesn’t duplicate anyone else’s.

Language barrier

Although to you your speech is something written, to your guests it is something spoken. So make sure you language is not too stiff or formal. Change all the ‘could nots ‘ to couldn’ts, and make free with the first person!

It’s not a speech

In most people’s minds, the word ‘speech’ is associated with great tension, formality and the need to perform well. But thinking of it instead as part of a conversation at a largish dinner party, or simply as a few words to wish some friends well, will make the whole thing seem less intimidating.

Playing the waiting game

Actually sitting and waiting for your moments to come is probably more stressful then the speaking itself. Once you’re up and away, the momentum of the speech takes over and you’ll start to relax once you hear a laugh or two. So, while you’re waiting, repeat your first line to yourself. It also helps if you can get involved in the other speeches ‐‐ really make a point of listening and responding to them. It’ll be your turn before you know it.

It’s your call

There are traditions and customs about who should speak and what they should say, but, if it suits you, feel free to ignore any or all of them. Give the speech on your own terms and you’ll achieve the best results. So, if you want to give only a brief toast rather than a long spiel, fine. If you’re the best man and you don’t feel like humiliating the groom, that’s fine, too. It’s entirely up to you.

Breathing space

When speaking or reading in public, people have a marked tendency to rush their words without realizing it. So, it’s a good idea to insert the word ‘pause’ at intervals in your speech or, if you’re using cue cards, to insert blank cards that will automatically slow you down.

Doing the introductions

If you have a toastmaster, he or she should take care of introducing each speaker. Otherwise, this is the best man’s job. Make sure that each speaker in introduced by name and position before they start ‐‐ this will stop guests talking among themselves as they try to work out who’s speaking.

Not now…

Whenever the speeches are scheduled to take place ‐‐ at the end of the meal is the norm ‐‐ make sure that nothing else is going on and that all the clearing up has stopped. Speakers need everyone’s undivided attention!

Preparing the speech

When writing your speech, always bear in mind at what point your speech comes in the order of play. Will you need to cover certain subjects? Will you be speaking on behalf of anyone? Will you be expected to address certain themes? Will you need to reply to another speaker/toaster? These considerations should help you plan your words.

Full stop

However silly or serious your speech may be, it’s always a good idea to end it with a toast. For you, it’s something to work towards and, for the guests, it’s an immediately recognisable punctuation point.

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