It is not unusual for best men, fathers of the bride and grooms to feel vulnerable about standing up to speak. The trick to delivering a successful wedding speech is to create a perception of confidence to make your audience feel that you are in charge (whatever you are actually feeling at the time).
Here are eight tips to help you deliver your wedding speech with confidence and authority.
Take Your Time
Think about the most powerful or influential speakers you know of. As a general rule they will either speak very quickly or very slowly. The former takes a lot of work, but the latter is actually very easy, and a great trick to earn yourself the confidence of the room.
Look at a video of Derren Brown. He speaks very slowly and clearly. His audience knows he doesn’t need to rush; he’s in control of the situation and taking it at his own pace. Not only does it make the process of public speaking easier, it also simply sounds more controlled.
I suggest an average wedding speech should be 8-10 minutes long. However, if on the day it takes you 12 minutes instead of nine, don’t worry worry at all. It’s worth writing your script with pauses written in for effect, and you should also pause during interruptions such as applause, rather than speaking through it.
Print Your Speech onto Cue Cards
Writing your speech down onto cue cards is useful for the simple reason that they are smaller than a sheet of A4. However, the biggest thing you gain from having cue cards is the confidence they inspire in both you and your audience. From the audience’s perspective, you have clearly prepared for the speech you are giving. From your own perspective, having the cards there will remind you that you are equipped to deliver this speech, and psychologically, this puts the ball in your court.
Holding Your Cue Cards
Hold your cue cards at about chest level and about half a foot in front of you. This way, when you look up at the guests your speech will still be in your eye-line. You should not simply be looking down at a piece of paper. Look up; make sure the guests know that they’re your focal point; that they’re what’s important to you.
When you watch a speech by somebody doing nothing more than looking down and reading from their notes, you can’t help but think they may as well just hand the piece of paper out and request half an hour’s silence for everybody to get up to speed. The reason they are watching a person rather than reading a sheet of paper is because they want someone to talk to them, to engage with them; someone in whom they can have confidence.
Learn Your Speech
You don’t have to know it word for word, but you certainly should have practised it beforehand. The actual process of printing the speech onto cue cards will actually make it easier to remember, because you recall the words in different contexts. Glancing down at the cards during the speech itself should quickly stimulate that memory.
You may be shaking during the speech; you may even be terrified. However, what you must not be is miserable; or at least you mustn’t look it. A frowning speaker is a reluctant speaker; someone out of their depth, perhaps. Nothing gets you the respect of a room like standing in front of 50, 60, 100 people and simply grinning back at them. It shows the audience that they’re in for a good time, and allows them to trust you to give them that.
As obvious as it sounds, speak clearly and loudly. If the people at the back (or front!) can’t hear you you’re already facing a losing battle. Also, emphasise key words. Imagine you’re telling a story without a script. You’ll say some words louder than most and change your inflection on others.
A Little Bit of Performance is Good
Pick relevant people to look in the eyes. If you’re talking about the groom’s brother then look at him! If you’re telling everybody the bride looks beautiful, show them. Gesture to her, even.
You don’t have to bound around the stage, yelping, to get people’s attention, but you also won’t be interesting to watch simply standing still. These little touches can make the difference between a good speech and a great one.
You’ve Already Won
The most important thing to remember is that the people in the audience all want your speech to go well. They are all sufficiently good friends with the bride and groom to have been invited to their wedding and, as such, have a personal stock in every aspect of it going well.
You are not going up against a hardened Glaswegian stand-up audience, fighting against hecklers, and struggling to keep the room’s attention. They want to laugh; often they’ve had a sufficient amount to drink for it to be difficult not to. It’s a happy occasion, everyone is in high-spirits, and a giddy crowd is a responsive crowd. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Guest post by Lawrence Bernstein of Great Speech Writing
Image from Steve Gerrard Photography