How to deliver a knockout wedding speech

If only writing a thumper of a wedding speech was the end of it.

No, if anything getting it all down together is the easy bit. Even when it feels like it might never come together.

Delivering a great wedding speech can be daunting, but equally it could end up among the best moments of your life. Here’s my top eight tips for making your wedding speech as memorable as possible.

1. Controlling nerves

Or, alcohol.

Unfortunately, while it might be great for confidence, alcohol has a spectacular tendency to reduce your ability to do a good job. The key is in walking that notoriously rickety plank of confident and capable. Like when you’re suddenly great at pool but just sober enough to keep quiet about it.

To be serious, a couple to keep you feeling limber is a good idea. But save the big stuff until afterwards, when you’ll deserve it. And that’s coming from a man who once gave a best man speech at 9:30pm and didn’t observe such sound practice.

Remember, it’s the most important day in the lives of some of the most important people in yours.

2. Rehearse appropriately

Rehearsing your speech is a given but it’s important to rehearse appropriately.

The main thing here is to rehearse your speech aloud, and rehearse your speech in the same style as you’ll deliver it.

Reading it aloud will give you confidence in the timing and delivery, but be wary of the difference between your living room and a broad room full of half-cut wedding guests. It can be helpful to read your speech aloud in the open air — walking around somewhere quiet in the countryside will give you the space to try different things.

The more you read it aloud, the more your memory will kick in to smooth you along on the day and reduce the reliance on your notes.

3. Using notes

It’s a simple one, but have notes available without your speech becoming a recital. The bullets-on-a-notecard approach is best for giving you support without encouraging you to read a script.

If you’re using notecards on the day, practice rolling through them and maintaining eye contact with who you’re addressing (that might change from the room to the wedding party, depending on your speech). Make sure the notecards are of good enough quality not to be flappy — you’ll be looking sharp on camera, after all.

If you’re planning to memorise the speech, just make sure you’ve got something to fall back on. The first wedding speech I did was from memory, and it gave me an unreasonable confidence that I could memorise any speech — which left me scrambling for some notes on my phone when my memory emptied after a few beakers of wine.

4. Check the mic

Don’t wreck the mic. Make sure you understand the mechanics of the room. If there’s a microphone, try and practice with one (or, at least, holding something as if it is one). If you’ve rehearsed without one and haven’t used one before, it can feel unnatural and cumbersome — you don’t want that alone to knock you off your stroke on the day.

If there’s no microphone — it’s highly likely that there will be — practice projecting your speech. How it sounds when you read it aloud to yourself, and how it sounds when you project, can be slightly different and might change your pacing.

Best man speech, February 2019

5. Own your pace

While getting the length and timing of your speech right is important (check out some tips for that here), make sure you’re comfortable with your pacing.

On the day, delivering a speech can feel different to anything you’ve practiced. Be aware of your pace. If you’re a naturally fast talker, remember to tailor yourself so that everyone can catch what you’re saying — you owe that to the content you’ve worked hard on. If you’re a slow speaker, just give it enough enthusiasm to keep everyone engaged.

When it’s going well on the day, the temptation can be to rattle through and make the most of the energy in the room. But take your time. Use appropriate pauses to allow for laughter and engage with your audience.

6. Know your posture

How do you stand when you speak? What instinct do you hands have?

An open posture can help with projecting your voice, allowing you to keep good eye contact with the room and giving you a composed, charismatic air. But it’s not necessarily something that happens without practice.

Be aware of your hands. You might be on the shaky side, or you might find that you’re more comfortable holding something than you are not — if there’s no microphone the tendency can be to reach for a drink to hold. A bunch of stiff notecards might look better in the photos (experience, again).

Either way, be your natural self up there and engage with your audience.

7. Using props / gimmicks

…isn’t a great idea.

It’s rare that a speech with a prop or gimmick goes well. It’s usually just a distraction, for you and the audience.

The feeling with gimmicks is that they increase the likelihood of a speech not quite connecting, rather than the opposite. Be mindful of that if you have any big ideas.

Photos / slides / props can all seem like a good idea in practice, but getting it right on the day can be challenging — from the delivery to the lighting of the room, there are all sorts of variables that can make your life harder.

This sort of thing can tip a speech into being more about you than the bride or groom. It’s a fine line.

8. Enjoy it

Without getting all just-go-out-there-and-enjoy-yourself, your wedding speech is likely to be among the best 8-minutes of your year.

Know your speech well enough to soak up the atmosphere. This is your moment to the wedding party proud — you’ll lift the room, people will talk to you about it afterwards, and you’ll feel pretty good about yourself. Remember, everyone there is on your team.

Be your confidence best. Enjoy it. Make it matter.

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