At some point in your life, if you’re fortunate, a close friend or family member may ask you to give a wedding speech. It’s easy to agree to, although making your speech a good one that the attendees will appreciate and remember is easier said than done. But, by following a few simple guidelines you can make it one of the most memorable and positive moments of your life, and enrich the wedding for everyone. The happy couple will be grateful, and you will have done your duty well.
Here’s your seven-step roadmap, a few potholes to avoid, and some wedding outfit suggestions while we’re at it.
- Time It Right
- Evoke A Feeling
- Tell A Story
- Focus On The Couple
- Build The Walls, Then Hang The Photos
- Play Three Of A Kind
- Memorize To Be Memorable
For the formal, ballroom groom: The Prestige, a double breasted velvet dinner jacket, red-carpet ready. Wear with black trousers, french cuff shirt, and a self-tie black silk bowtie.
Time It Right: Aim for a 3-4 minute speech.
The best speeches in the world last 12-15 minutes. These are given at conferences & TED Talks, by professionals that have mastered their subjects over a lifetime and who practice their presentations extensively in advance. You don’t need to carry that much weight on your shoulders, though - if you can handle the mic comfortably for 5 minutes, 10 tops, you’ll give a great speech. The attention of your audience might drift if you drag it out longer, so aim for 3 - 4 and then you can feel free to embellish a little on the day of, while still hitting the sweet spot.
Evoke A Feeling
Define your aim at the start: how do you want the audience and couple to feel at the end of your speech? They can feel excited, warm, tender, joyful, grateful or any combination. Consider how you’d like them to feel, put yourself in their shoes, and choose your messaging and theme accordingly. Remember, we’re not speaking to the mind here, but to the heart. Less facts, more feelings.
For the outdoor, casual groom groom: Platoon, a green linen/wool/silk casual suit, with soft shoulders and patch pockets. Wear with an ivory dress shirt, a brown knit tie, and suede dress shoes.
Tell A Story
This is simply the most powerful and effective manner of human-to-human communication, from the oldest myths to the simplest bedtime story. Without a narrative to structure your speech, you’ll be left with a list of facts, jokes or anecdotes. Your audience needs the story to tie it all together and take it home with them. Simply start with “This one time” or some other obvious lead-in to your tale of adventure.
Focus On The Couple
While in a way the speech is a little bit of spotlight time for you, holding the mic and all, you can gauge your success in part by how much of the time the audience spends during your speech watching the bride and groom’s reactions. You are the storyteller, but you’re not the hero of the story. You’re the lens, the glasses the listeners get to put on for a few minutes. Focus on the story of the couple, seen through your perspective. Anecdotes about your own journey of self discovery in writing the speech, or difficulties getting to the wedding just fog up the glass.
For the father of the bride: Casablanca, a timeless classic, the slate grey three-piece suit. For extra panache, choose a double-breasted 6x3 waistcoat, and polished black oxford dress shoes.
Build The Walls, Then Hang The Photos
You can’t decorate a room before the framing is together and the paint is dry. So start with the basic framework of your speech first, and the jist of the overall story. Then see which anecdotes and jokes work in service of that structure. If you try to build the structure around the jokes instead, they can feel somewhat like a string of non-sequiturs. This approach has a lot of benefits. When memorizing your speech it’s easier to remember key thematic points - not punchlines. Then you’ll find your punchlines easy to recall when they make sense in context, tied to your broader story structure.
Play Three Of A Kind: Use the ‘Rule of 3’ writing format
Write your speech like a grade 9 English essay, or like a screenplay in miniature form. Act 1, Act 2, Act 3. Take your 3 main acts and break each down further into 3 points, if it makes sense to. You can list your points at the start of your speech as well, just like we did in this article, for people to follow along.
This format works for the same reason songs on the radio usually have 3 choruses. A familiar structure helps both the audience and you as the speaker stay oriented and remember where you are in the story.
For the groomsmen: The Godfather, the most versatile and re-wearable option. A solid mid-navy flatters most complexions, can be worn casually at future weddings, and can even be broken apart to wear as a separate sport jacket and trouser. If you need one suit to handle everything life can throw at you, this is it.
Memorize To Be Memorable
Strong public speakers make eye contact with the audience, speaking to them instead of at them. So if at all possible, try to memorize your speech ahead of time so you can look up, and at the head table, as you speak. For peace of mind, write out your main ideas, in point form, and keep your notes with you, but pocketed. Knowing you have them to fall back on will ease your nerves, and make you less likely to need them. And if you do need to pull them out, the point form layout will prevent you from just reading off the page. Write your notes out as far in advance as you can, and rehearse once a day, but don’t stress out too much - you don’t have to be perfect, after all. A slight lack of polish can help you seem more relatable.
Bonus - The Thou Shalt Nots
- Don’t talk about your kids. Your kids are inherently much more interesting to you than to anyone else. People will feign interest, but it’s more often polite than genuine.
- Don’t try to salvage a failed joke. Don’t assume the audience didn’t get it. Either way, it didn’t land, so move on. Linger like a sitcom after a successful joke, and move on quickly after a dud, not the opposite.
- Avoid cheesy jokes about weddings and marriage generally. If a joke could be told at any wedding by anybody, don’t use it.
- Don’t get emotional too quickly. The audience can’t catch up to you if you don’t lead them and let them warm up. They won’t sob with you if you tear up the moment you stand in front of the mic. The key to controlling your emotions is rehearsing in front of a person.
- Avoid embarrassing stories. This is tacky and likely to create an awkward vibe. The only roast you want at a wedding is coffee.