I got married a few weeks ago. Like most grooms, I had to give a speech. And like most grooms, I tore a good deal of my hair out over what to say.
It’s easy to see why people go on Youtube, search for ‘best wedding speeches’ and start plagiarising. It’s easy to see why people spend £100 on a couple of corny cut-and-paste jokes online. It’s easy to see why people take a punt that none of their guests will have seen ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, and just copy Hugh Grant’s speech word-for-word. But none of those are good ideas because good wedding speeches are one-offs.
I managed to scrape something together on the day. It wasn’t ideal. I certainly didn’t feel prepared when I stood up and turned on the mic and saw 120 pairs of eyes gazing at me expectantly. But it was enough. It worked. People laughed in the right places and understood what I was saying. And the reason it all turned out OK was that I followed three rules, which will improve almost every speech you’ll ever deliver.
1. Keep it short. My speech was five minutes. It can be longer than that, but be careful – too long and you risk going on a bit, telling stories or in-jokes that half the people in the audience don’t find remotely funny. Seven or eight minutes is a decent rule of thumb.
2. Have light and shade. People want to laugh, but they also want you to be serious about why you’re there. They want you to reveal a bit of yourself, maybe even demonstrate a bit of vulnerability. So by all means tell that story about the time you accidentally climbed into bed with your father-in-law, but don’t forget to follow it with a story that demonstrates the close relationship you have with your partner.
3. Commit the anecdotes to memory. It’s fine to write out the speech word-for-word and read it out. But when it comes to the anecdotes, which you might have told a million times before, try speaking off the top of your head. It sounds more natural. It allows you to connect with the audience. And even if you lose your way a bit, you know that you’re holding the full script in your hand, so you can revert back to that at any time.
The truth is that there’s no formula for a good speech, let alone a good wedding speech. But by bearing in mind these three basic principles, you’ll give yourself a great shot at writing something that’s memorable for all the right reasons.