The speech etiquette for weddings has changed. It’s no good referring to that tattered etiquette book from the 90s you found lurking in the bookcase, people expect different things these days. Luckily the Speechy experts have developed the ultimate modern etiquette guide.
The general rule is be polite, be grateful but don’t be tied down by traditions which make speeches sound ‘samey’, clichéd or lazy. That said, a marriage gets off to a good start if the groom remembers to thank his mum in law and it’s important to know the traditions before you decide whether to ignore / follow / or shake them up.
Speech etiquette for the father of the bride
Traditionally the father of the bride is the first speaker; the wedding’s warm up man. You’re the person in charge of making everyone feel welcome and have the power to kick start the newlyweds’ union with a bang. But firstly you have to resist the urge to regale guests with tales of your daughter’s primary school flute playing.
Follow this modern etiquette guide and you’ll be fine.
Thank guests for attending as well as the people who played a crucial role in setting up the wedding but be careful not to get too carried away. The thank yous are actually the groom’s job.
The main purpose of your speech is to remind the guests why your daughter is so darn incredible. Include funny stories from her childhood as well as those from her adult life. Don’t think you should leave the humour to the best man – you need to be funny too!
Of course the core of the speech should be heartfelt and sincere; sentimental, yes, but try not to make it overly soppy (save that for the drive into church).
Don’t forget the groom; talk about your happiness getting to know him and his family (whether truthful or not).
Conclude your speech with a toast to the couple. Traditionally it was to the ‘health and happiness of the bride and groom’ but these days people welcome something a bit different. Try to reflect the personality of the newlyweds and the theme of your speech.
Make sure your speech is short & sweet; aim for about six minutes. Any more and it looks like you’re showing off.
Talking of which, avoid suggesting you’ve contributed to the cost of the wedding even if it’s meant only in jest! A gentleman should never tell (even if everyone already knows).
Speech etiquette for the groom
Traditionally the groom has the most speech ‘to dos’ but it’s important that the heart of the speech doesn’t get lost. It shouldn’t be about thanking the caterers or name-checking each of the ushers; instead it should be about making everyone in the room feel special and your wife feel blooming brilliant.
So follow this guide…
It still seems the majority of grooms speak ‘on behalf’ of their brides. (Congratulations if your bride is giving a speech; you get to split the thank yous which, as you’ll see, is certainly a blessing!)
Start by thanking the father of the bride (or equivalent) for his kind words.
Thank both sets of parents; yours for a lifetime of care (advice, washing, personal taxi service etc) and your in-laws for raising such a fabulous daughter. Brownie points guaranteed.
Traditional etiquette states you should also thank ‘everyone for coming’, your ushers, your best man and the (the beautiful) bridesmaids. Depending on the size of the wedding party you may want to think about how you can give heartfelt thanks without individually name-checking them. Remember you’re not at the Oscars and no one wants your speech to turn into a long list of thank yous. Certainly don’t be tempted to thank the caterers, venue or anyone else who has been given a cheque.
Traditionally it’s your job to hand out any gifts. This can make the speech a bit stilted (as presents are passed along tables etc) but you can avoid this by saying you’d like to give gifts personally later in the day (worth checking this idea with the bride first!).
Of course the centrepiece of your speech, its absolute core, should be explaining how happy you are at marrying your wife. This is your one chance in life where you’re legitimately allowed to shout about how darn fabulous she is.
Traditionally the groom toasts the bridesmaids but, as long as you’ve already complimented them, feel free to come up with something a bit more creative to end your speech with. Maybe something about love that all the guests can relate to.
And finally, no longer than eight minutes please.
Speech etiquette for the best man
Obviously we know the best man’s speech is expected to be the comedy highlight of the speeches but there’s still a few bits of etiquette to think about…
Everyone expects your speech to be a witty description of the groom with humorous anecdotes and funny one-liners. It should also be a thoughtful acknowledgement of a sincere friendship (you are legitimately allowed to say the sort of thing a man usually only utters at 3am in a kebab shop).
Of course the best man must compliment the groom’s choice of bride. Try to make it sincere and try to make it seem like you know her!
Traditionally the best man also reads out messages from friends and family who couldn’t attend but that’s becoming less common. Speak to the groom about what he wants to do but push for these updates to be done privately (as generally they’re not very funny and it becomes a bit tedious).
Make sure you keep all the humour granny friendly. Do not include ‘in-jokes’, talk of exes or anything edgy. Saucy is fine but be aware there may be children attending and take that into account.
No matter how rich your material or how funny you think your speech is, keep it less than ten minutes long. ‘That was a brilliant speech but I really wish it was longer’ has never been said.
Some etiquette books say a best man shouldn’t toast the bride and groom as this has already been done by the father of the bride. In reality however (and according to Debretts which is good enough for us) the best man usually toasts ‘Mr and Mrs [newlywed’s Surname]’ and might announce the cutting of the cake.
Then, finally, traditional etiquette states you’re entitled to a large drink.
Speech etiquette for the bride
What’s great about giving a bride’s speech is that there isn’t any rigid etiquette. There is a bit of common sense though…
If you’re giving a speech in place of your groom, then simply borrow his etiquette guide.
If you’re giving a speech as well as the groom then you’ll need to discuss who does what. It makes sense for you to thank the bridesmaids for example but you probably both need to thank both sets of parents.
Of course the heart of the bride’s speech should be the groom and how lucky you feel in marrying him. Be sweet, be cute but remember don’t be too gushing either. Don’t make singletons want to cry or couples feel like they should go to counselling. Instead celebrate the great bloke everyone in the room know he is and don’t forget to add some essential humour.
Finally raise a toast to the guests.
Wedding speech order
It’s traditionally the father of the bride, the groom and then the best man but this order gets less strict as mothers of the bride, step dads, maids of honour and other family members get in on the act.
Some couples are now scheduling one speech between each course of their wedding breakfast. It avoids ‘the speech clump’ and provides entertainment throughout the meal.
Speechy are a team of TV scriptwriters now helping fathers of the bride, grooms, best men & brides write great wedding speeches. They’ve written for BBC entertainment shows & Channel 4 comedy series and for celebs like Richard Hammond, Sharon Osbourne and David Mitchell. They’ve now written 1000s of speeches for loved up people around the world (as well as a fair few cynical best men). Contact them if you need help at www.speechy.co.uk.