Being asked to deliver a toast or speech at a wedding is an honor. Are you ready?
A wedding speech is among the most common speeches we encounter. More of us are likely to give one than any other kind. No matter what your profession, you might have a mic thrown at you.
I've written all kinds wedding speeches: best man, maid of honor, father of the bride (or groom), mother of the bride (or groom). You get the idea.
Below, I offer my advice for how you can write your own wedding speech. Whether you are writing a short toast, or a long congratulations, you can do this. If not, drop me a line.
Wedding season approaches as I write this, and for many of you, a great many plans are underway. Caterers, flowers, honeymoon locations. So much needs to be decided.
The wedding will go perfectly from the first note of the organist to the last toss of rice. Then, everyone rushes to a beautiful reception in hopes of celebrating this great love, chatting with old friends and family, and enjoying a glorious meal. Here! Here!
Then ... someone steps up to the mike, pulls out an index card, and starts to mumble a few awkward stories partly pickled by a lack of preparation and, perhaps, one too many stops at the open bar.
“You might not know me, but I knew Jessica when we were in college, and let me tell you, she was lucky to graduate,” the bride’s best friend begins.
We learn Jessica sometimes skipped class because of a hangover, once dated the captain of both the football and basketball teams, and really can’t stand the way her new husband likes boating so much.
Everyone laughs where they think a joke was supposed to be and claps when they believe he is finished. The bride cringes. This is not the wedding memory she wanted. This was not how it was supposed to go.
Why take a wedding speech seriously? It is the one chance we have to honor a loved one publicly outside of a eulogy. It is a time of great joy, and with this, an opportunity to lift up the bride or groom with smiles and laughter. Old family friends, colleagues and business associates may be there, as well as friend who “knew you when.” Not only is your audience more than the bridegroom, but it may wind up on YouTube. Do it right.
A good wedding speech is generous, funny, and warm. It goes from 3-7 minutes, so there is not much time to meander. Five minutes is a usual duration, allowing around 750 words to get it said.
What are the rules? On one hand, there are the norms: maybe thank certain guests for coming, acknowledge the bride and groom’s parents, and go on the honor the person(s) you are addressing.
You must know, though, there are no rules. I had a client who wanted to dance in the middle of his speech. Another wanted to exchange movie lines with his daughter. One father wanted to tip his hat in honor to the man who raised his son well after his wife divorced him for the new man. Others have offered symbolic gifts, broken out into song, and showed photos from when they were young.
As you can see, few speeches allow such creativity as does a wedding speech.
What can you do to prepare one?
Remember Your Goal
You are honoring someone. It is about them. Whether it is your spouse, a parent, a child, or a good friend, you want to let them you know appreciate them. Don’t embarrass them. Many a relationship is ruined by telling a story that the person preferred remain locked in the archive forever.
Keep It Simple
Eloquence doesn’t need to be complicated. While being thoughtful is important, sounding like Shakespeare will not help.
Have a drink later if you like, but if you took the time to prepare your thoughts, make sure you are capable of telling them.
What could be more awkward than instead of telling your best friend, “I treasure those days playing in the schoolyard,” you say, “Do yoush remember ... member that whatchamacallit where we would, um, swing?”
Keep Stories Short
Tell anecdotes, but remember your audience just needs an overview. Get to the punch line quickly and they will want more. Drag on with details no one cares about, and they will be looking for the guy with the hors d'oeuvres tray.
This is a wedding celebration, not a condo association budget report. It isn’t a National State of the Union either. The Cold War will not be reinvigorated because of anything you say. Smile often, and enjoy the opportunity to ham it up, and toast a new day!
Summing It Up
No rules, but never forget to honor the bride and groom.