Welcome to summer: the time of weddings. SO MANY weddings. A month ago, I was Maid of Honor at a very dear friends’ wedding. I knew I was going to be giving a speech at the reception. Even as a professional speaker . . . this one felt intimidating.
As a voice coach, I help people with high stakes speeches all the time – this should be easy for me, right?But speeches like this – for once in a lifetime events, for people you really care about – are capital “I” Important.
And they should be important – it’s good that it means something to you! It’s frankly an honor to be asked. I don’t want you to let those high stakes paralyze you – you can do this. The only way to really mess this up is to not prepare at all (even if, ahem, it’s the night before). The “I’ll just drink a lot of wine and wing it” method might work in movies, but in real life that usually leads to rambling and a really uncomfortable time for both you and the audience.
So here is my handy guide to getting past procrastination (no matter what your process) and writing a speech that will rock.
Before we dive in, here are a couple of very important points to consider:
FORGET EVERY WEDDING SPEECH YOU HAVE EVER SEEN, particular in movies!!!!! Forget the audience laughing and crying. Forget any results. Let this be personal! You are you, not Hugh Grant, not Julia Roberts – and your friends are not Cameron Diaz and Dermot Mulroney. Oh, and there probably won’t be any musical underscoring from John Williams.
It’s not about you. Really it’s not. This speech is about sharing a special moment with the couple.
Technical (Write it)
Where do you start? For me, I felt completely overwhelmed by all the things I could have written. The bride has been my rock for years. We’ve shared laughter, tears, and even one random night when a dude jumped locations and, unbeknownst at the time, made out with both of us. (I knew that was a detail I was NOT going to include in my speech). The groom is a man among men – a man I am deeply proud to know. How could I tell them in two minutes how much they mean to me? (Yes- two minutes. That is about as much time as any wedding planner has allotted for each speech.) Again – It’s not about you.
To prevent rambling – write it in advance! (Even if that is- ahem, on an airplane flying to the rehearsal dinner.) Get it on paper. My favorite method is using a giant sheet of paper to brainstorm, and distill from there. If you prefer a screen- there are apps such as MindVector that can help you lay it all out.
I found it helpful to make it a story. A story has a beginning, middle and end. Remember the five paragraph essay from high school? An intro paragraph, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion? That’s a good starting point.
Within that story, use the rule of threes. For every section of your story, you only need to come up with three examples. People don’t process more than three things at a time. (I admit I crammed in slightly more)
I was able to outline my story in a way that organically made sense to me:
The bride (since she was the first one I met): Three strong memories I had of her.
How they met: A very short story about it
The groom: Three examples of how amazing he is.
Their life together.
A short wrap up and my wishes for their future.
Here’s a secret: this doesn’t have to be the best written speech ever. In this case, heartfelt truly trumps perfection. And again – the attention will be on the bride and groom. In other words, it’s not about you.
Preparation (Practice it)
Now that you have a script, find someone to read it out loud to. I read it to my boyfriend just to hear the words, then found another friend to read to. This helped me distill even more, make bullet points of what was important to me, and understand the flow of my story. (I don’t recommend reading in front of a mirror – this is a chance to feel how your words land on an actual person.)
Delivery (Give it)
A big piece of advice: Remember that wine example? DON’T drown yourself in liquid courage. (A little is fine- it’s a wedding- too much makes you this dude:) And remember to eat. Blood sugar crashes make alcohol hit your system in great haste! I happen to be terrible at remembering to eat when I get stressed, so if you are that person, maybe put a little timer in your phone.
Ok – it’s your big moment. You are about to make your speech.
Remember your feet: no matter what, you are connected to and supported by the ground. Let the ground take the responsibility of holding you up. Practice with this. It helps with nerves (especially leg shaking) to literally ground yourself.
Remember to breath! The number one thing we do when we get nervous is forget to breath. Make sure you are not depriving your brain of oxygen and sending your body into a flight fight or freeze zone. Breathing will also help you feel the emotions. Wedding speeches are a unique situation where bursting into tears is perfectly acceptable. Stay present! Again- authenticity trumps perfection.
Don’t be afraid to connect to the audience as well as the couple – so many people I’ve seen want this to be a perfect moment and end up burying themselves in their notes. They forget that the objective is to share with the audience. Connection can mean eye contact, it can mean speaking to different people through out audience. There is no formula for audience connection. It just means you have to allow yourself to let go of the perfect image of yourself and really talk to the people present.
Allow for the unexpected. It’s not about just getting through this one, again, it’s about sharing a moment with special people. Your speech may change (mine did slightly) based on how you are feeling out your audience. Other things may come to mind. And frankly, you may scrap what you wrote entirely if the moment moves you. All of that is ok. Your preparation will give you confidence to trust yourself in the moment.
Finally: enjoy yourself! If you mess up, so what? This is an audience that is already on your side. Breathe through it, and move on.
I posted the original text of my speech below. It changed a little in delivery, I found moments of humour that I hadn’t even thought about, and yes, I totally cried. But I’m so glad I didn’t let my fear get in the way of getting to share this moment!