75 percent of women and 73 percent of men have a fear of public speaking. If you’re among those who would prefer to be trapped in an elevator than be handed a mic in a room full of people, then being asked to give a wedding speech may immediately make you break out in a cold sweat. It’s important to keep in mind that being asked to speak at a loved one’s wedding is a huge compliment and honor. Whether you’re the M.O.H., the mother of the bride, a sister, or a family friend with a story to tell, take a few moments to read our speech writing and speaking tips below.
1. Write it Out. Being able to deliver a winning speech off-the-cuff with no preparation only happens for speakers who are incredibly comfortable, skilled, and experienced. If you’re a coach or a motivational speaker, you can probably nail an unplanned wedding speech. For everyone else, plan to be prepared. Write your speech out in advance (note: “in advance” does not mean the night before or an hour before in the ladies’ room on a cocktail napkin). At least a month before the big day, start writing. You may love what you write the first time, but don’t be frustrated if you find you need to go through several drafts before you have organized your thoughts into a coherent and sentimental message.
2. Practice Reading It Out loud. If you worry that you’ll feel silly practicing your speech in front of your bathroom mirror, get over it. Writing an outstanding speech is step one. Delivering an outstanding speech is a different skill, which means you have to practice it separately. Practice reading your speech out loud several times until you’re comfortable with the flow of the words, the cadence of your voice, and until you know exactly where you want to pause for emphasis.
3. Don’t Put the Pressure of Memorization on Yourself. If you’re a master thespian, you may be able to memorize a page-long speech no problem. For everyone else, especially if you know you’ll be nervous about your speaking gig, keep your notes with you. If you blank mid-speech, you could end up rambling and the important message you wanted to share may be lost. One of the benefits of lots of practice (see step 2), is that you’ll be familiar enough with your speech that you can (and should!) occasionally look up from your notes to make eye contact with the crowd (especially the bride and groom).
4. Don’t Make It All About You. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to make an effective speech. If you’re the M.O.H., you likely have years of memories with the bride, and you may be tempted to start all the way back at the beginning (“I’ll never forget when Katie and I met in Mr. Johnson’s science class in sixth grade…”) but try to keep your storytelling relevant and focused on the bride and groom. Certainly, you want to express why your bestie means the world to you, and why you’re thrilled she’s found the love of her life, but if you find the first four paragraphs of your speech don’t use the groom’s name once, try to refocus your storytelling on something memorable that is relevant to the bride and groom, like how they met or how your girl knew her groom was the one.
5. Use Humor with Caution. Your speech can certainly be funny, as long as you add some sincere comments about the couple and your hopes for their future, and you don’t take the jokes too far. Remember that the groom’s 92-year-old grandmother flew in from Milwaukee to be at the wedding. She may not find your story about the night the groom drunk dialed the bride to ask her out on a first date as funny as you and your former college roommates do.
6. End with a Statement About the Future. It’s customary to end your speech with a toast to the bride and groom, but you may be struggling to find a way to transition from your storytelling and well-wishing to the “let us all raise our glasses” part. Wrap up your speech by wishing the bride and groom a long and happy life together filled with love. Everyone in the room will be happy to toast to that.