How to Give a Killer Speech

Believe us, we know. Public speaking is not for everyone.  Just when you’re thinking you’ve survived the endless stream of group presentations and oral reports from your past, it happens. They ask YOU to stand up at their wedding. The gesture is beautiful, of course, and you immediately let them know how honored you are…but we know what’s happening behind the scenes.  Deep down, you’re thinking, “Crap–” (or perhaps something less blog appropriate) “I have to give a speech.”

Fear not! Having been to a few weddings ourselves, we’ve picked up on some of the do’s and don’ts. And for those of you who are thinking, “Not me! I’m a great public speaker. I give a speech any time more than three friends get together! In fact, I majored in Toast Giving in college. Meryl Streep just asked me to write the acceptance speech for her next Oscar!” stay tuned. We have a few notes for you, too.

1. Practice it

You’ve heard your teachers, coaches, and parents say it a thousand times. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice it. Trust us, winging it comes across as lazy. Write it out and test it in front of someone before the wedding. You’ll get feedback, have time to tweak things, and feel more prepared. Thank us later.

2. Stay off your phone

Though convenient, using a phone to write down your speech is a big no-no for toasts. Not only are they unreliable (lost wifi, battery died, accidentally deleted the note, etc.), but they don’t look great. When you’re looking through the photos and videos of the wedding and see yourself with that annoying blue light shining up your face, you’ll be wishing you had just picked up a pen.

3. Keep it short

The average attention span of an adult is eight seconds. Let me say that again. Eight. Seconds.  Yes, you probably have hours of touching stories and childhood memories to tell, but you’re gonna have to hold back. After three minutes, you’ve lost your audience to daydreams about the buffet.

4. Remember your drink

We’ve seen it happen too many times. You’re wrapping up your speech when you realize -“Egad! I have nothing to toast with! I can’t toast with water…it’s bad luck! This will be the end of me! The wedding is off! Everyone out! It’s ruined!” Save yourself from scrambling and remember to grab the champagne.

5. Try to stay sober

Speaking of champagne…try not to get drunk. Yes, you could use some liquid courage. Yes, there is an open bar. But staying sober until the big speech is a small price to pay if you want to avoid heavy documentation of your flush face and slurred speech that will be remembered for years to come. Self control, people.

6. Be original

Don’t fall into the trap of using wedding cliches.  It’s easy to start off with the classic, “Jenna, you look absolutely amazing! And Tom…well you tried.” You may even get a good chuckle out of the joke, but it’s something we’ve all heard before.  You may not think it, but people would much rather hear your original thoughts than played out wedding puns. So go out there and show ’em what you got!

7. Mention the bride/groom

I’m not kidding, this happens. A lot. It goes like this:

A bridesmaid will tell countless stories showcasing her wonderful friendship with Susie, talk about what a wonderful person Susie is, and let you know that no man will ever come between them. Eventually she will add in some version of, “Oh, and Phil, I know I don’t know you that well, but you seem great!”

Or worse, she won’t mention Phil at all.  Remember, this day is about the bride and groom. Out of all their friends and family, YOU were chosen to speak for them. That’s probably because you, out of everyone, know what they want to hear on the happiest day of their lives.

8. Tell stories with a point

If you’re telling a funny story about the bride/groom, there should be a reason for it. Does this story end up showcasing how kind they are? Does it show how dedicated they are to relationships? Does it play a part in the story of how the two got together? If not, you might end up spending five minutes talking about an inside joke no one understands.

9. Know your audience

A second good reason to practice your speech in front of someone is so they can tell you if you’re being inappropriate. Remember that Great Grandma Gertrude is in the audience, and the bride and groom most definitely do not want her to hear about “that one time” when you “got super wasted and ended up naked in a Chile’s parking lot.” (<– not making this up)

10. Don’t forget the toast

When you’re finished with your speech, let everyone know by raising your glass and saying “cheers!”  It’s a classy replacement for, “That’s it!” or “Okay I’m done now” (<– people really do this). Saying “cheers!”  or “to the bride and groom!” let’s people know that it’s time to clap.

And after all this, you deserve the applause.

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