Coping with nerves

Written by    Last updated: June 6, 2006

Here’s your user‐friendly guide to keeping your nerves in check, allowing you to concentrate on delivering the perfect wedding speech

One of the best things about wedding speeches is that, from the moment you stand up to the moment you sit down, the entire audience is totally for you. The very reason you’re standing up is because you are intimately connected with the people beside you ‐‐ and so is the audience. All of which means that whatever you say will be listened to and respected. Not only that, but guests listening to speeches badly want to laugh because it breaks the tension and because they want to let you know they’re with you. So, even a vague attempt at a gag will be warmly and hungrily received.

First things first

As you prepare yourself for the ordeal ahead, it’s a good idea to think about why you’ve chosen to put yourself through it in the first place. The answer: because you care about the people for whom you’re making the speech. You’re doing it to make your friends and family happy. Bearing this in mind will help you make your speech personal, interesting, endearing and, often unintentionally, funny.

Thinking ahead

In most cases, you’ll know a few months in advance that you’ll have to make a speech, but even a few days’ notice is more than enough time to consider, research and write it, provided you put your mind to it. Whatever time you have:

  • Give your speech your undivided attention
  • Don’t put it off until the night before the wedding
  • Sit down and write out ideas ‐ the very act of doing this will spark other ideas
  • Play with your material ‐ get ten stories down on paper and pick the best three
  • Trim away waffle and repetition, then write out clearly what you have left
  • Keep it reasonably short ‐‐ aim for three to five minutes
  • Remember the basic message of your speech, which is ‘good luck and all the best’
  • Furnish your speech with true stories (Don’t worry, they’ll be funny ‐‐ the truth always is)

Putting it all together

The biggest aid in overcoming nerves when speaking in public is to be confident that you’re well prepared, so:

  • Write out your speech clearly and concisely in BIG BLOCK CAPITALS. Keep the sentences short and clear.
  • Make sure you have a definite beginning (‘ladies and gentlemen …’); a middle ( a set of stories and topics in a clear and logical order); and an end (your final words leading up to the toast).

Practice makes perfect

The more you practise delivering your speech, the less nervous you will be. Practise the pauses and the intonation of your voice. Practise your anecdotes, along with any impersonations you’re planning. And remember: by showing that you’ve put even a little thought and effort into what you’re saying, all manner of sins will be forgiven.

Recite your speech in the shower, in the car, on the bus, on the loo. Know it inside and out. Okay, it’s a hassle, but on the day, your nerves will thank you big time. Why? Because instead of fretting about the audience/your appearance/your flies, you’ll simply focus on what you’re going to say. And that’ll be easy, because you’ve said it at least 500 times a week for the last month!

At the reception

So, you’re sitting at the top table with an hour till you speak. What should you do? Enjoy yourself ‐‐ you’ve done all the hard work. Eat. Loosen your shoulders. Savour the occasion. Listen to the other speakers.

Remember that the celebrations are not about you ‐‐ you’re just a small part of a bigger deal. Remember, too, that what you’re about to do is a service to others ‐‐ not a court or a stage where the audience is your judge and jury. And also remember that it’s a happy occasion, and your few words will simply add to it.

Allow yourself one drink, but make that the limit. Your adrenaline is all the booze you’ll need. Have a drink as a reward afterwards. For now, having a clear head will keep you at your best.

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