You know when you're at a wedding and the speeches are about to begin, and you take your seat with a heightened sense of anticipation, because this is the moment when the magic happens. The moment when two people who have chosen to spend their lives together publicly declare their deepest feelings for each other. When their loved ones speak from their hearts about what this auspicious occasion means to them. When your gaze is riveted to the podium hoping to hear words that will allow you to connect with their joy in an authentic, intimate way.
And then the speaker stands up and launches into one of those leaden cookie cutter affairs ("I want to thank the out-of-town guests for coming..."), or mawkishly sentimental cliché-a-thons ("He was always there for me..."), or cringe-inducing TMI jobs ("She has definitely traded up since her last wedding"), and all you want to do is hurl a bun and make a bee-line for the bar.
I can become extremely worked up just thinking about lousy wedding speeches. I can't figure out why people who plan their weddings years in advance, hire a fleet of professionals to handle everything from the catering to the calligraphy (not to mention a Wedding Nazi to micro-manage every detail of the day so that absolutely nothing is left to chance)--and who spend enough cash on the proceedings to purchase a small Caribbean island--are the same people who either view the speeches as a complete afterthought--or who stand up and speak when they haven't got the faintest clue about how terrible they sound, how much they're alienating their audience, or how little they know about what delivering a great speech involves.
The speeches! The heart and soul of the entire wedding celebration! The culminating moment of the whole affair! It's as if the bride and groom had planned a formal wedding and then told the bridesmaids and groomsmen to wear whatever the hell they felt like wearing. I'm sorry. I just don't get it.
The tendency to deliver a heinous wedding speech cuts across all socioeconomic boundaries, by the way. I've attended weddings where Ivy Leaguers have risen to their feet and sounded like complete bozos. I sat through one wedding where the cost of the centerpieces alone could have put my kid through college, and where the father of the bride spent his entire speech taking caustic, passive-aggressive shots at the groom, whom he clearly thought wasn't good enough to marry his daughter. I've also attended weddings where speakers without any formal education or speaking experience took the microphone and just killed.
But what if I want to deliver a great speech, but don't know how to write one? I hear you ask. What if I totally suck at delivering one? To which I say: you're already way ahead of the pack because at least you realize that you suck, and acknowledging your inadequacies is the first of the twelve steps you must take towards achieving speechifying brilliance.
And you should want to achieve speechifying brilliance (or require the speakers at your wedding to aspire to it), not only because you owe it to your audience to rise to the occasion with aplomb (as opposed to subjecting them to speeches so excruciatingly boring and bombastic, they'll feel as if their heads are about to explode)--but also because a great wedding speech can magically transform the entire atmosphere of the proceedings. The right words, crafted to hit all the right notes (heartfelt, touching, funny), delivered with perfect pitch, timing and tone, can lift everybody's spirits in a way that no centerpiece--no matter how exquisite--can possibly accomplish.
Not that a lovely floral arrangement isn't important. I'm for attention to detail on every front. It's just that the speeches are the last thing people consider (or consider spending money on, if they're not gifted scribes)--which is nuts, in my view--since a great speech is a thing of beauty too. And more than any other element of the wedding, great speeches are what make the occasion unforgettable. Your guests may walk out the door with a centerpiece at the end of the evening, but it's their memory of the speeches that they'll take away. And since they're only going to recall the spectacular and dreadful speeches (the middling losers--by far the majority I've suffered through--will immediately fade), if you want yours to be remembered for all the right reasons, then you have to think as carefully about planning them as you would every other aspect of the wedding.
Given my feelings on this subject, I'm on a mission to eradicate the deadly wedding speech--one clunker at a time. In the weeks ahead, I'll be blogging about what a wedding speech should be, what it shouldn't be, who should deliver one, who shouldn't, how to troubleshoot a potential stinker, and how to craft a gem that will charm and move your audience.