Emperors in the Colosseum would signal the fate of a gladiator with the lifting of a thumb, and not much has changed. This is the age of mobile technology, and there is nothing worse than looking up after a minute of your wedding speech to see one of the guests looking down, phone in hand, and a scrolling thumb providing its own telling feedback on the impact of your big moment.
In the age of Twitter, I’m often asked to help clients avoid this fate in 140 characters. Fortunately, I can often cut that to nine:
Whether you are the groom, best man or father of the bride, the same principle applies. Every speech needs to create an impact if people are going to enjoy and remember it, and there is no better way to make that impact than by making it one hundred percent relevant to your audience.
Less is More
Relevance comes in different shapes and sizes. From a big picture perspective it means focusing on saying something that will amuse the majority of guests, rather than a detailed story involving only a few. This is a fundamental rule of any form of communication, but when it comes to speeches, there is a tendency to push common sense to one side and tell people an awful lot about what you know, at the expense of what they really want and need to hear.
For example, many wedding speeches begin with a hugely detailed section ‘about me’. For best men this might be how you know the groom, why you’re such great mates and how he asked you to be his best man. For fathers of the bride it might be how proud you are, how moved you are, how happy you were when they got engaged, and how nervous you are about giving a speech.
This may all be true, and it may also be incredibly interesting to you. But an audience is likely to be stifling the yawns and reaching for their phones before you have even got going.
Engage Your Audience from the Start
Relevance means approaching things back-to-front. It means engaging the audience’s interest from the start; demonstrating that it is really worth them giving you their complete and undivided attention before you even start to explain why you are there.
So, if you are a groom, best man or father of the bride, by all means introduce yourself, but then imagine you are in the audience before you start writing. This isn’t about you, it’s about them and the person you are talking about. You are simply a conduit for sharing relevant, interesting and amusing information about that person.
In short, if a speech isn’t relevant it is highly likely to fail; audiences have short attention spans. The twitching of a thumb may no longer spell the end of a life, but it can provide a clear indication that your speech is facing an early death.
Guest post by Lawrence Bernstein of Great Speech Writing
Image from Tom Biddle Design and Photography