OK - after spending all week sorting through my own speech notes and talking to public speakers I know here's what I have for you in short form (long form ahead)
Clearly you want to wow your audience and have them laughing in the right places for the right reasons. To achieve this it is vital that you prepare carefully.
Professional public speakers are like experienced drivers: the skills needed have become automatic to them. They are successful because they use the three P's of public speaking:
Even vastly experienced public speakers who appear to be speaking off the cuff generally prepare in advance:
There is a lot to say about the preparation stage. It is the part that requires the most work and which the audience never sees. It is like the foundations of a building.
A building will crumble, or at least subside if the foundations and lower levels are not soundly built. It will look decidedly odd.
Without thorough preparation and good material it is hard to deliver a good speech even if you practice until you are blue in the face. This is why at this site we give you guidance on how to practice and perform your speech, and offer you the 'Wedding Speech Package' and a choice of extra material for your preparation.
Decide how to prepare your material
Either make up your own, or use one of our ready-to-use speeches "as is" with only names changed.
• This is a simple and quick option. You will have a quality speech, available rapidly; particularly useful if you have been approached for a speech with little notice.
Or adapt a ready-to-use speech (this gives the chance to make it specific and relevant to the wedding couple and guests):
• Mix and match from several example speeches
• Add and subtract jokes or quotations
• Pay attention to the 'flow' and 'feel' of the speech.
Length of speech
Too short may seem rude, too long may be boring. Five minutes is a good rule of thumb (and will probably feel like a long time).
If you have an exceptional speech and prepare to deliver it really well, you might choose to stretch to 10 minutes.
However, bear in mind that if the other speakers did the same then the guests would be listening for 30 - 40 minutes, and if some of them are children you may encounter some unexpected 'heckling' as the children get bored - even if the parents are laughing.
A great subject
You only need one excellent idea to make the speech successful and memorable. To be of this caliber an idea needs to:
• Be well suited to the humor tastes of the majority of the audience
• Be in some way relevant to the generally known history of the wedding couple or their families
• Grab the attention of the guests and involve them so they 'anticipate' the story outcome or punch line. (They don't have to guess right for this to work; they just have to be guessing).
The point is, if you find such a good idea, make the most of it. Don't feel a need to swamp it with other stories or jokes. You may find it possible to refer to the basic idea at several points in the speech. Audiences love this.
Don't worry if you don't find such an idea. Instead use a combination of ideas, stories, jokes and quotations and meld them together to achieve a similar end.
Unless you intend to stick strictly to a pre written speech you will probably want to gather some information about the families and their histories.
Possible useful subjects might include:
• The weddings and marriage of the parents - how times have changed?
• Are the families both local, or have they come from different regions or countries?
• Marriage customs may differ between the families?
• Where did the bride / groom grow up?
• How did the bride / groom meet?
• Have they had any unusual / special experiences?
• Did they meet the Queen / President / someone famous?
• Did/Do they travel extensively?
• Have they received any awards or medals?
o Sporting achievements?
o Academic achievements?
• Do they have any famous ancestors?
• Do they have any interesting hobbies?
The anecdote does not have to be fantastically funny, because it benefits from being relevant to the families.
If in doubt, leave it out!
• Avoid anything in dubious taste! The point of the speech is to entertain rather than to shock or offend.
• Avoid stereotypes.
• Avoid negatives, regrets or criticisms. Anything that may make the couple or the families appear foolish automatically makes you look foolish for raising the subject - even if you thought it was funny, some guests won't. Trust me on this.
• Avoid rude jokes or sexual innuendos unless you are VERY sure of all the guests and their sense of what is funny. Even then some guests may have children present and the parents may disapprove even if they found the joke funny.
• Get someone to check your speech for unintentional double meanings and puns.
Work out your structure
Prune your notes and arrange them in order.
Make sure that you have included all the essentials - the thank-yous and the toast!
Get your material checked out
Did you know Uncle Silvester, for example, was an accountant? So avoid accountant jokes, or perhaps go the other way and make lots of them.
This may be particularly effective (or disastrous) if there are several accountants among the guests, or if the bride / groom is an accountant.
The point is ... find out days before giving the speech, this is particularly important for the best man who may not know the families well.
Avoid unwitting references to family skeletons - check with the "in-laws" as the bride / groom may not know of the previous generation's skeletons.
• A good friend will tell you if it is really as funny as you think.
• A bad friend will tell you its funny when it's not!
Benefits of different sizes of speaker's notes:
• An A5 card will be less distracting than a big sheet of A4 paper flapping about.
• You may prefer to use the smaller postcard sized "box-file" cards which can be mostly hidden in the palm of your hand, but you will need more of them, and it is harder to keep your place as you give the speech.
We recommend that you get hold of some white A4 card from a stationer's. Cut the cards across the middle to create a set of A5 cards.
During the design and initial stages of practicing you may alter the wording and content several times. It may be useful to use your computer to alter the speech and put in 'headings' etc. using A4 paper. Then when the speech content is really settled, transfer the words in large letters to the A5 cards.
• Don't try to cram the speech onto as few cards as possible! You'll never be able to read it.
• Feel free to abbreviate if it means you get a convenient section on one card.
• Number the cards in case you drop them. Alternatively, punch holes in them and connect them with a tag or key ring.
• Highlight, emphasize and underline key words and phrases. Do this while you are practicing.
Once you are satisfied with your delivery during practice, you may find it useful to put 'headings' in suitable places. Make these large and bold. It is then easier to find your place if you do need to refer to the cards, and easier to spot the next subject.
Check your transport arrangements - do you know the way there? And will you have a parking space booked? Have you allowed for the possibility of the train being late (ask yourself "what if" questions).
• Check out the venue beforehand if possible - where will you sit, where will you speak from, etc.
• Check any equipment - microphone? Lectern? Autocue!!?
• Check you have a glass of water to hand (and where is the toilet?!!).
Make sure that you can tell the jokes!
If you find something funny it can sometimes be difficult to tell it to other people without ending up in a fit of giggles. This is amusing for the guests but does rather spoil the punch line. You may have an excellent joke or story but are forever stumbling over the punch line. To get over this problem:-
• Rehearse the joke out loud until it no longer makes you laugh.
• Rehearse it in front of a mirror, until you can get all the words out smoothly.
Remember you might find a joke funny which others do not. If in doubt, check with friends.
Practice as many times as necessary to get the phrasing, the pauses, the timing exactly right.
One speaker recommends you should practice an hour in total for every minute in the speech. So for a four minute speech, four hours practicing. This is not excessive.
Speak the speech - don't read it in a dull monotone. Speak it as if you are talking in conversation. Modulate your voice up and down. The larger the audience, the greater the modulation needed.
How to "visualize"
How many people will you be speaking to at the reception? Bear this in mind and visualize them - imagine yourself projecting your voice and 'presence' to the back. If you visualize them you will be less likely to get stage fright on the Big Day, when looking at a sea of expectant faces.
• Imagine yourself speaking clearly, don't rush it.
• In your mind's eye see the audience - make eye contact with them and move your gaze around the room as you should try to on the day itself for optimum effect.
Visualization is a great tool for any learned skill, including public speaking.
Try not to have your eyes glued to your card. Read a phrase, look up and make eye contact, deliver it, look down for the next phrase. If you make a point of establishing eye contact with a different section of the audience each time, by the end of the speech you will have looked at and included everyone.
Practice your imaginary eye contact.
Visualize how you will effortlessly recover from any little problems that might occur on the day:
• You spill your glass of water - possible recovery => step back from the spill, cover it with your napkin, apologize to the person sitting next to you and ask for their help, turn back to guests and continue ... e.g. "well I knew I had to do something dramatic to get started".
• The microphone is broken => you project your voice magnificently.
• You lose your voice the day before => now this is a difficult one! Have you got your speech completely written out (or typed) with headings and highlights? - then perhaps someone else can stand in for you, preferably after some hoarsely whispered guidance on the rhythm and timing which you had planned.
• What would I say/do if ? ....... (what else could go wrong?)
• If you consider all the options, nothing will faze you on the day.
Practicing - and the reduction of stage fright
There are techniques you can use if you feel assaulted by stage fright on the day (see "Performance"). You can also plan for the possibility of stage fright, and take action in advance to prevent or reduce it. It need not overwhelm.
Remember that most public performers will say that some level of nerves is necessary as it demonstrates that you really care about the quality of your performance and its effect on your audience.
• Start by re-defining stage fright as being 'keyed-up and alert, ready to give of your best'. This is not quite so 'punchy', not such a good 'sound bite', but it is a more helpful way of looking at things. Make 'stage-fright' work for you! That way it doesn't seem so frightening.
• Even after effective practice you can still expect to have butterflies, but you should find that once you start speaking on the day they will fly in formation.
• If you can stand the fear, practice in front of a friend (this is an excellent dry run because it is often more frightening than the real thing). Choose someone who is an encourager by nature and ask them to give constructive advice on your delivery, projection etc. If you do this it will help you enormously in getting over your inhibitions.
• Try recording yourself onto a tape. You will hear your weak points and your strong points. Do this a few times, work on the weaker areas and you will hear a steady improvement. Check your modulation, does it need greater emphasis?
• As you rehearse your speech - Visualize the event, visualize how the reception will go, visualize yourself speaking, and most importantly visualize the guests laughing at your jokes - and give them long enough to laugh after each joke before continuing.
If you are afraid of stage fright on the day, visualize now! Visualize suddenly getting tongue tied, and then pausing, gathering your thoughts looking at the guests, smiling at them and continuing onwards.
Persistent Practice Prevents Poor Performance
A few notes on alcohol
Some speakers unfortunately try to get over their stage fright by drinking alcohol. Nothing is more embarrassing to an audience than a tipsy speaker. It is amazing how silly a drunken speaker sounds. By all means have one drink, but if you really want to do a good job, save the majority of the drinking until afterwards - by then people will be buying them for you!
It's also a good idea to lay off tea and coffee. Caffeine will make your jitters worse. Stick to soda water, mineral water or fruit juice, but not too much because you do not want to be caught short during your speech. Did you remember the location of the toilet?
Stage fright first aid
On the day you will probably experience a certain amount of stage fright ("keyed up readiness - remember?"). Don't be afraid of it - no actor / comedian / speaker ever delivered a successful performance without a measure of fear.
However, stage fright can have unfortunate side effects - sweating, shaking, heart beating furiously, etc. There are steps you can take to minimize these effects before you speak, namely:
Find the time to take long deep breaths - breathe right in, deep into your belly; slowly breathe out. Do it repeatedly. It works.
• Breathe in for four counts.
• Hold your breath and tense your toes for four counts.
• Breathe out for four counts.
• You should feel tension easing.
• Repeat with feet, ankles, calves, knees etc., right up your body to your neck, chin, lips, eyelids, forehead and scalp.
• You should be able to sneak this in without anyone noticing while sitting at the table.
• If you have the time, repeat these exercises as necessary.
When all is said and done, even if you have practiced endlessly and got your delivery perfect, on the day you will probably feel nervous to some degree. In your nervousness you might imagine that you're shaking like a leaf and everyone can see quite plainly that you're scared stiff.
Consider these points:-
• The audience are on your side - most of them would be scared stiff themselves. They're with you, not against you.
• If you don't transcribe your speech onto cards and you do shake while holding a piece of A4 paper, the shakes will be amplified by your speech flapping around like a windsock. See "Preparation".
• In practice almost every speaker is far more nervous than they look. You might feel nervous, but if you practice, prepare and deliver according to these guidelines, people will in all probability come up to you afterwards and say what a good job you've done.
• Get your audience to laugh with you - an excellent way to defuse your own tension and nerves.
• BE CONFIDENT. You have prepared everything that could possibly be prepared for this moment.
• You have practiced a lot, your cards are in your hand, highlighted and underlined. You can have done no more. Be confident in that. The audience wants you to do well and will not be critical. Remember that and be confident in that as well.
• STAND UP. Wait for complete silence - don't be afraid of silences and pauses, they can be as eloquent as words. Don't hurtle into the speech to get it over with as quickly as possible.
• Establish eye contact with the audience. Look around at every section of the audience. Remember your visualization? Put it into practice now.
• Weigh your phrases, don't rush them. Really use your pauses. After a punch line, wait for them to jolly well laugh and don't start again until they have stopped laughing.
• Should they not laugh at a joke, it's not the end of the world. Some lines are intended mostly as links and aren't necessarily meant to be riotously funny. Move on to the next line and whatever you do don't accelerate through the speech just because they didn't laugh at one point where you thought they would.
• Remain measured, using your pauses to allow the audience to digest your words, get to the end, propose whichever toast is yours to toast, and sit down to take your applause.
A quick note for the Best Man: don't read all the greeting cards the Bride and Groom have received.
A lot of people dread the Best Man's speech because so many Best Men spend absolutely ages at the end of their speech endlessly droning through a stack of cards which all say much the same thing. By all means read two or three of them, perhaps ones specially chosen by the Bride and Groom.
You should by now be armed with everything you need - give it all you've got!
Good luck and best wishes for a successful day.
PS: Did I mention...
Persistent Practice Prevents Poor Performance