How to give a wedding speech that won't embarrass your friends and family
Whether your wedding is right around the corner, or down the road, The Corners has just what you need to make your day extra special!
I almost died parasailing in Mexico. I've had a lung collapse, an appendix explode and accidentally poisoned myself with a potted plant. I've seen "The Emoji Movie." But when it comes to the most frightening moment of my life, those all take a distant second place to one memory.
Giving a speech at my sister's wedding.
And apparently I am not alone. According to Statistic Brain, 74 percent of people suffer from a fear of speaking in public, or glossophobia. But it's something we all have to do at some point – and then are hopefully still able to look our friends and family in the eyes afterward.
To help, I talked with Theresa Flynn, division director and ambassador for Toastmasters International, an educational organization running clubs across the country based around helping members learn and master important communication, public speaking and leadership skills, and asked her for some tips and tricks to giving a wedding speech that'll help you be a hit in the ballroom – and not on YouTube.
1. Lay off the liquid courage
Ernest Hemingway once famously said, "Write drunk, edit sober." You, however, are not Ernest Hemingway. And, like in so many social situations, while you may think those shots of liquid courage made your jokes even wittier and your stories even more emotional, the slurred reality was likely far more sobering for everyone else in attendance.
"Weddings are a great opportunity to have a lot of fun – and for some people, fun is booze – but even if you've practiced your speech a lot, you aren't able to focus on delivering the message you want to," Flynn says.
Flynn notes you don't have to completely ignore the open bar, just pace yourself accordingly and take care of yourself throughout the day. Weddings, Flynn admits, can be stressful, but there are other ways beyond downing some Jack Daniel's to help keep your blood pressure settled and your mind at ease before the big moment.
"Hydrate, pace your eating – don't overeat but don't not eat – take care of yourself physically, and a lot of people look to biofeedback," she explains. "Not the hippy-dippy stuff but take a moment, stand there, assume a power pose, breathe deeply, make sure you've got oxygen going on and feel your own energy. Be present for anything."
And then feel free to go nuts afterward. You've survived your few minutes of stress; now you have a whole night for fun.
2. Vet your stories
Everyone wants to genuinely move their audience and their newly betrothed friends or family to tears or laughter – and you don't want to ruin the surprise of a perfectly placed little anecdote. But you know what REALLY ruins a speech's story? If maybe it was something the bride or groom didn't tell anyone else – or didn't want anyone else to know. Now suddenly you've turned this joyous occasion into a Very Special Episode of "This Is Us" (or, worst case scenario, a Very Special Episode of "Maury").
"If you think it's really funny that the two of you got called into the principal's office at some point, maybe it is funny – and maybe their parents don't know about it, and you've created a huge conflict," Flynn warns.
You don't want to recite your speech to the happy couple before the big day, but Flynn recommends quietly vetting any stories that might concern you – similar to how you might ask carefully around Christmastime about potential present ideas.
"Hopefully you'll have plenty of advanced warning, so you can really informally ease it into conversation and not make it obvious," Flynn notes. "Feel it out a little bit. It doesn't have to be absolutely everything vetted, but anywhere you have any little bit of a question."
3. Don't push boundaries
A wedding beautifully brings two different people together into one united couple. But it also brings hundreds of different personalities, religious beliefs, political leanings, ages and more together into one room. So maybe your speech isn't the best time to workshop your edgy Donald Trump joke or explain in oh-so-horrifically vivid detail that time you walked in on the couple back in college.
"The line is not fine or delicate between cute and amusing versus offensive, so try to stay away from the offensive," Flynn says.
4. Try out Toastmasters
So you've practiced your speech to no end. But are you tired of giving it to an audience of the mirror? One of Toastmasters' dozens of clubs in the Milwaukee area might give you the preparation, professional input you're looking for and practice in front of actual responsive human beings – not to mention other leadership and communication skills that you can use outside of the wedding and at the workplace.
Some clubs are exclusively created for the employees of certain companies. Others, such as Flynn's group, Prostmasters, which meets every second and fourth Thursday of the month at noon inside the Schlitz Park complex, are open to any and all who are interested.
5. Time is of the essence
We've all been there. The speech starts, and it's nice; the jokes are worth a chuckle, the sincerity is deeply felt and you can tell the person is a little nervous, so you're automatically sympathetic. And then the speech moves into what feels like hour three, your plate of freshly delivered food has not yet rotted and … can somebody put a mirror under Great Aunt Cynthia's nose quick?
"When you're practicing ahead of time – and practice is really important if you don't do this very often – time yourself and look at a physical clock," Flynn recommends.
It's not just how long your speech is, however, but also where it lands during the festivities.
"If you are the only thing between the happy party and dinner, make it short," Flynn adds. "If you are after dinner, be aware that people are going to be a little drowsy from all the delicious, fabulous carbs from dinner, so maybe you can make it a little longer, but their attention might wane.
She recommends making your speech less than three to four minutes if it lands near the beginning and less than five to seven minutes at the end of the party. Anything more than that, and even perfectly performing all of "Jammin' in New York" will begin to bore. And speaking of knowing your place …
6. Know your place
Your wedding speech might feel like the most important thing in the world to you, a massive orb on your back that you're carrying around all evening like a modern day Atlas. But this moment, while very important to you, isn't about you.
"The happy couple is the reason why everyone is there. The happy couple is the star of the show. You are not," Flynn says. "So do not detract from the happy couple, do not get in the way of the food and the rest of the party, and keep it light.
"Look out and see all these happy people – and be ready to reflect that happiness."
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