Wedding speeches can truly be hit or miss. When they’re a hit, the evening reads like a hotly anticipated line-up of live entertainment at The Apollo. When they’re a miss, it’s… well… you know how it goes... a bit awkward, a bit dry, and a bit too long for everyone’s liking.
People love to have a good belly laugh at wedding speeches, but they also love to hear special words about the bride(s) and groom(s) that make them go “aww” and even produce a tear or two. So writing a speech with this in mind is, by no means, an easy feat. But if you’ve been “honoured” with this ever-envied and much-feared assignment, then we want to help you nail it. Here’s our top tips…
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to start off by saying how stunning and beautiful the bridesmaids look tonight [cheering response]. Also, to the mothers of the bride and groom, who often get missed out — Jill and Lyndell — you ladies are looking smoking HOT!” [laughter and cheering]
Take-away tips: Like this Kiwi bloke, Alex Pattrick of Canterbury (quoted throughout), see if you can find an original way to do the classic wedding speech cliches. Also, use expression and volume in your voice (shown through the font size here) to add emphasis to your punchline. The bolder you go, the bigger the response.
Planning the speech
- You wanna keep it short—aim for less than three minutes. If you’re a talented speech maker, you can probably get away with five. But overall, we are talking somewhere between 400-700 words. A good idea is to write more to start with, and then edit it down so that it’s nice and tight, with only the best bits left in.
- Start planning your speech months in advance. You probably won’t be able to think of all your best material a few days out from the wedding, so it’s a good idea to jot down any humorous or heartfelt anecdotes on your phone’s memo pad as they come to mind.
- Plan out the structure. Once you have a brainstorm of all your potential ideas, choose which ones you think will be the best to use. Then think about how you might sequence them, giving thought to the transitions between. It’s really important your speech flows and hits all the right notes:
- Introducing yourself and describing your special friendship with the bride/groom
- Talking about your friend (positively) in more detail
- Celebrating the love and connection between the happy couple
- Wishing them well for the future and raising a toast
- Don’t neglect to plan, write, and practise. People who skip these steps and overconfidently rest on being naturally funny or good at speeches will—more often than not—underdeliver and disappoint. As they say, practice makes perfect!
“Well it’s a great honour to be standing up here. And in all honesty I’m a little nervous doing this, but I feel a bit comforted by the fact that I’ve actually rehearsed this speech in front of a live audience at my local rest home [laughter response]. I think I did well, [pause] they all pissed themselves [double laughter response].”
Take-away tips: An unexpected punchline is a real art, as is a double dosage. Both techniques have a great pay off in warming up a crowd if you deliver them right. This joke was found by Pattrick on the internet *somewhere* and worked a treat.
Writing the speech
- Include a few jokes. There are many different types of humour: wit, sarcasm, irony, funny stories, dad jokes, puns, shock factor (if it’s appropriate), terribly dry but hilarious acrostic poems, or plagiarized jokes off the internet. Other styles of humour include the ever-popular self-deprecation, the roast/burn (play nice, though), and you can also include a dash of self-aggrandizing humour (jokingly narcissistic) if you’re feeling bold.
“In many ways they complement each other perfectly. Rachel is beautiful, intelligent, hardworking, level-headed, and Phil [pause] is not.”
Takeaway tips: Roasting is best done on your close friend, not their partner, as you have a lot more rapport with them to fall back on. A compliment for the bride was also achieved through this burn, which went down well!
- Dish some juicy (not too juicy) details. What was the early ‘goss’ from the bride/groom when they first met their future lover? Did they like them a lot but couldn’t cope with their fashion choices and had to give them a makeover? Did they not like them at all to start with, but were eventually worn down by some seriously hard grafting? What were your first impressions of the bride and/or the groom? You’ve got the inside scoop and people wanna hear it.
- Make sure to say the mushy stuff. Tell everyone what is so special about the bride(s) and groom(s)’s connection. Share what has meant the most to you in your personal friendship with the bride/groom whom you are particularly speaking about. Get a little deep and vulnerable, and don’t be afraid to say, “I love you.”
- Remember who you are writing for. Your most important audience members are the happy couple. If you set out to embarrass them too much, they won’t enjoy it and you’ll end up embarrassing yourself. Know the difference between a 21st speech and a wedding speech. They are very different. Stay “above the belt” and keep your humour clever, classy, and kind.
- Don’t do “guess you had to be there” jokes and avoid anecdotes that can’t be explained quickly. These usually fall flat.
- Don’t try too hard to be funny. If it’s not your strongest suit, you’re almost best to steer clear of it. When an attempt at humour comes off lame, it is definitely worse than no humour at all. So play to your strengths, and if that for you is being sentimental and heart-warming, then shine doing that!
- Don’t make it all about you. Yes, you want to entertain the guests, but your primary purpose behind everything you say should be to celebrate your wedded friends. You don’t have enough time in your three minutes to get carried away talking about yourself. So, besides one or two necessary details or a self-directed joke, keep to the topic!
- Don’t ignore the bride/groom’s requests for what content to exclude.
“Phil’s asked me to refrain from talking about past girlfriends [pause], so sadly that’s cut down the speech by two seconds.”
Takeaway tips: A soft burn goes down way better than a hard burn! A pause is also your best friend before a punchline.
Rehearsing the Speech
- Practise your speech out loud. See how it flows off your tongue, and edit anything that needs tightening up.
- Reduce your speech down to a few bullet points. Once you’ve read over your speech several times, make a short list of key points to refer to, and practise going through it in more of a freestyle manner. It will make your story-telling on the night way more engaging!
- Revise and memorize your jokes. While it’s best if your speech on-a-whole sounds natural and not memorized or read off a piece of paper, some jokes will perform best if they are crafted carefully and delivered exactly as practised. Therefore, memorizing some phrasing will help you not to trip up on your words so you can nail your punchlines.
- Test out your speech on a group of friends—ones who know the bride(s) and groom(s) well—to see how it flies with them. Afterwards, check for their approval on all your jokes. You need to be organized enough to do this a week before the wedding so that there’s time for you to make any necessary revisions and practise the new version.
- Don’t memorise it off by heart, word for word. This approach can have the effect of sounding stiff and less genuine. It also takes more concentration to remember what you’ve memorized than to freeroll something near enough to what you had come up with and rehearsed. You want your audience to feel relaxed listening to you, which they will if you look and feel relaxed.
Now, I’m sure you’re dying to hear an example of a ‘terribly dry but hilarious acrostic poem’ as mentioned above. Wait no longer…
Oh, and picture the likes of Hamish Blake (from Hamish & Andy) saying it, and you’ll get the vibe.
P - People... like you.
H - Hey man, I really like you
I - I like you the most
L - Love. What is love?
R - Really good bride
A - Awesome profile pic
C - Could we have imagined Phil would end up with you?
H - Hell, no!
Takeaway tips: Delivery is everything. Know what humour style works best for you and rock it. But also consider what will be well-received by your audience. While this poem wouldn’t be met with hysterics at every wedding, it sure was at this one.
Delivering the Speech
- Enjoy a drink. That’s one drink, not five. While getting drunk or tipsy before your speech is not a smart idea, having one or two sensible drinks can help you out. It may give you a little boost of confidence and lower your inhibitions, and this can help you to relax, be yourself, and really go for it with your story-telling.
- Charge your phone if you are using it to display your notes. You’ll also want to change your lock screen settings so that it doesn’t time out while you are speaking.
- Accelerate your energy after any punchlines. Whether they fly or fail—especially if they fail—you’ll want to read the room right. Give the necessary pause for people to react, and then plough full steam into the next topic, so as to not lose any momentum or your audience’s attention. Don’t be discouraged by any weak reactions, as some jokes may be enjoyed, despite not quite reaping a laugh.
- Look confident and smile!
- Don’t read your speech word-for-word from a piece of paper or your phone/Ipad. As suggested above, if you can, just go off a short list of brief bullet points, as queues to jog your memory. However, if the idea of not having your speech written down stresses you out, perhaps carry it with you as a safety net, or even just the most difficult section—and if you end up referring to it, remember to look up frequently.
- Don’t fidget, sway, shuffle, or do any other nervous habits. When you practise your speech in front of your friends, it’s a good time to check if you have any unconscious nervous mannerisms that come out when you’re speaking. If left untamed, those will detract from what you are saying and weaken your impact. Videoing yourself can also prove eye-opening…
- Don’t stress if you lose your way for a second—just take in a deep breath, smile, figure out where you were up to, and if necessary, move on to your next bullet point.
- Don’t peter out with: “And yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say, really.” Go out with a bang, raise a toast, say something sweet, and get those glasses clanging!
And yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say, really.