So you've been asked to make a speech at a wedding and you're both flattered and terrified. You have a dozen ideas running through your head, ranging from a flash mob to a poetry reading and at the same time your mind is blank and the page is too. To combat the intense fear that being assigned a wedding speech can evoke, Bustle talked about tips for writing a wedding speech with wedding expert Lauren Beamon, at Elle Audrey New York, and let me tell you, these tips will squash your writer's block.
The best speeches make you laugh or cry. They're talked about for years. They make you see the wedding speech writer in a different, more profound light. They make the whole room fall in love with the couple and convince you that fairytales are based on real life. But that's a lot of pressure on your shoulders when you only have a few days or few hours to write a speech. The reality is though, that if you've been asked to make a speech, you know the couple well enough to do so. So all of the laughs and tears are already within you, it's just a matter of getting them down on the page. Here's how to comb your mind for the wedding speech you already have inside of you:
1. Be You, Pick A Theme
Remember that you were asked to make a wedding speech because the bride and groom want to hear from you, specifically. If you're a total cheeseball, they'll be expecting a speech that moves them to tears. If you're a goofball, they'll be expecting a speech that cracks the room up. If you try to write a speech in a tone that's not natural, it won't translate well. So harness your voice, pick a theme, and tie all of your stories and anecdotes to that voice and theme. The most moving speeches come from a place of honesty and authenticity. So tell the stories only you can tell and tell them in the way the couple expects you to tell them, and then surprise them, too.
2. Do Your Homework
The goal of a wedding speech should not only be to honor the couple, but to provide guests a behind the scenes look at the couple. If you're close to the couple, you already know how they met, and why they're great together, so you might just need to take some time to go through old pictures to remind yourself of additional stories that are worth sharing. But if you haven't spent much time with the bride or groom, you'll have to take the time to interview someone close to them.
Reach out to friends or family members who have not been asked to give speeches and mine for funny or sweet stories. What you find might not only be great fodder for your speech, but also a surprising treat for the couple. The best speeches are infused with memories, stories and anecdotes. According to Beamon, once you have a draft, practicing your speech is crucial.
"Even if you have stood in front of large crowds before, it never hurts to say the words out loud, or even record yourself and play it back to see how it sounds out loud," Beamon tells Bustle. "This will give you the opportunity to know your words inside and out, ease some nervousness, and make changes if needed," she continues, as sometimes things sound better on paper than they do when spoken.
3. Don't Forget To Introduce Yourself
Even if you know everyone in the room, start your speech off by explaining who you are, how you know the couple, your impressions of the couple, and what you're there to do. Think of this introduction as a thesis, and use it to set the tone and framework of the rest of your speech. If you have something funny to say off the bat, don't be shy about going for it, the quicker you evoke something in the audience, the quicker you win their attention and engagement.
4. Balance The Mood
"A walk down memory lane can be a great starting place for a wedding speech but be careful to not step too far down the wrong memory lane. It is also important to remember that no matter how funny you are or how much the couple can handle being roasted, you should never embarrass the couple," Beamon says. "One resource that the speech reader forgets about is using their environment to enhance their speech," especially if you're looking for some extra tie-ins to really make your speech unique. "This means that if the mood of your speech is more sentimental in nature, like you're a parent toasting to your child — maybe ask the DJ to softly play a special song from their childhood in the background as you present your speech. The layout of the space can drastically assist with balancing out the mood whilst giving a speech." This all takes planning so make sure you start your speech early so you have time to coordinate if needed.
5. Keep The Objective In Focus
A wedding speech is a toast. It's a long-winded and entertaining way to say "congratulations and cheers to you," so make sure that no matter where you go with your stories that you always keep praise and congratulations as your compass. The subtext of whatever you decide to share should be: "these two people are great individually, and together." From a planner's perspective, Beamon reminds us that "weddings run on a very specific time schedule; so holding the audience captive with a 30 minute speech will not land well, no matter how endearing it is. Be mindful of your time and your audience."
6. Use Good Quotes
If you're going to use a quote, it better be a good one. The more surprising, the better. Avoid overly romantic or cliche quotes that could easily be found on a Google and dig deeper for quotes that wouldn't be tagged for weddings typically. Good places to search for great wedding quotes: in the pages of the books or the lyrics of the songs the couple loves, the work of prolific philosophers, psychologists, or more comically, celebrities or characters who have said deeply evocative things that might pertain to love, indirectly. For example, "If you're a bird, I'm a bird." from The Notebook is a far less impressive quote to pull than, "Real love amounts to withholding the truth, even when you’re offered the perfect opportunity to hurt someone’s feelings," by David Sedaris because it's surprising, funny and moving all at the same time. And most importantly, not overly used in wedding speeches.
7. End On A High Note
The subtext of your concluding thoughts should be: "and that's why they're a great match." Make it clear that no matter where you went in your speech, it was all to provide proof that this is a great couple worth celebrating. If you talked too much about one person, balance it out here. Your final words should be a toast to the couple and their future that leaves guests either cackling or clutching their hearts.
No matter what kind of speech your write, make sure to practice reading it aloud, over and over again. By the time you read it at the wedding, you want to be so comfortable with the word and flow of it, that you barely need to look at your notes. The more honest the speech is, the more natural it is, and the more time you spend with it, the easier it will be to perform it in that cinematic way you hope.