At Shropshire Speakers, we sometimes get enquiries from men who are facing the prospect of speaking in front of 100+ guests at a wedding, either as the Father of the Bride, Best Man or Groom.
This is a unique challenge in our society, and for many men, a wedding speech will be the biggest public speaking challenge of their lives. Often, the prospect of having to stand-up and ‘entertain’ can be an acutely nerve-wracking experience.
Having been a Best Man myself, and having spoken dozens of times at our regular Toastmaster meetings and also at club competitions, I have put together the following simple tips which can help reduce the stress, and hopefully help get you to the point where you will deliver a speech to be proud of. However, I would emphasise that these tips are a ‘starting point’, and to deliver a quality speech requires time and effort.
- 1. Do your research
- Regardless of how well you know the subject of your speech, asking friends and family can help to draw out the raw material to construct your speech from. Spend time speaking to people close to the subject to gather as much information as you can. Make notes from any conversations, as this will help you to structure your speech later on.
- 2. Think about structure
- Once you have your material, think carefully about how this can be organised into a coherent, structured speech. Look for themes and common elements. Think about an opening, a main body and a conclusion. Avoid writing the speech out word-for-word at this stage, because the general ideas are more important.
- 3. Distil your message
- Think carefully about what the central message of your speech is. What do you really want to say about the subject? The structure of your speech should build towards delivering this central message. The raw material you gathered previously should support your message.
- 4. Don’t be controversial
- Professional speakers will often check in advance if there are any subjects that should be avoided. It is prudent to follow this example. The best speeches will still bomb if you inadvertently offend someone. I would also suggest avoiding any crude or risqué jokes unless you know your audience won’t be offended: “if in doubt, leave it out”.
- 5. Don’t nick material off the internet
- How many occasion speakers use Google as the starting point for finding material? Don’t bother. Most people will have heard the gags before, and they will cheapen your speech.
- 6. Keep it simple
- Avoid too much content. A Best Man’s speech would ideally be 10-15 minutes. A groom or Father’s speech 5-10 minutes. How many of us have sat through a 45 minute epic?
- 7. Practice
- The goal is to have the speech clear in your head, but not to appear over-polished. Ideally, if you are confident enough to do so, deliver the speech without notes (this will make the speech appear more natural and enable you to engage with the audience). However, cue-cards and notes are fine. Try to avoid reading directly word-for-word from a sheet of A4.
- 8. Cover the practicalities
- Find out as much as you can on the day. Is there a PA system? Can you test it? Where will you be standing? What order are the speeches in? Top tip: visiting the room before anyone arrives (if you can) and standing in the spot from where you will deliver the speech can help calm your nerves.
- 9. Avoid alcohol
- My suggestion: save the boozy celebrations until after the speech.
- 10. Control nerves
- Unless you are super-confident and / or an experienced public speaker, then some nerves are to be expected. However, you should strive to avoid letting the nerves detract from the speech. It is ok to be nervous – the audience won’t mind, as long as you have taken time to prepare an appropriate and fitting speech. Try to remember that your job is to pay tribute to the subject of the speech (daughter, groom, bride, etc), and that above all, if you achieve this then you will have done your job.
Remember also that the audience will be on your side, as they will (hopefully) be in a good mood and ready to enjoy themselves. When delivering the speech, take your time, don’t rush, and use short pauses after punchlines to cue the audience to respond (ie laugh).
- 11. Join Toastmasters
- Search online for your local Toastmasters club and go along to see what it’s all about.
Toastmasters is all about improving one’s public speaking and leadership skills.
As a member, you’ll get to practice speaking in front of an audience in an environment where it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. The more you put in, the more you will get out, but after just a few sessions your confidence and delivery will improve.
These pointers have scratched the surface. If you want to succeed, you should take on the responsibility of preparing a classy speech, which will mean an amount of affort and practice. However, the feeling of sitting down after having delivered a speech to be proud of, is one that will stay with you for life.
As a follow-up, I recommend The Best Man Speaker by Toastmaster and Champion Public Speaker, Simon Bucknall. (There are elements of this book which will help even if you are not a Best Man).