Writing the speech is often a daunting task because of the importance of the occasion, the pressure to be both poignant and funny and, of course, general fears about getting up to speak in front of a large, attentive group.
“For many people, public speaking is not something they do that much,” Simon Bucknall, author of The Best Man Speaker: The Definitive Guide to the Best Man Speech, said. “Certainly there are plenty of people for whom it will be the biggest speech they’ve given in their lives in terms of what’s at stake.”
But don’t freak out just yet, because we have some simple but useful tips to help you craft a great wedding speech, whether you’re the maid of honor or best man, from people who’ve done it and lived to tell the tale.
How To Start
For a lot of us, getting started is the biggest challenge. You’re probably sitting by yourself, staring at a blank document on your computer with zero idea of where to begin. Bucknall recommends that, before you draft your speech, first think about who you’re acknowledging in your toast ― the bride and/or the groom ― and then make a list of qualities that person possesses. Maybe they’re compassionate, hilarious and extremely organized. Then start thinking about some personal stories about him or her that support those qualities.
At this stage, Bucknall suggests calling another one of this person’s close friends, family members or maybe even their intended for a quick chat. One or two of these conversations will help you gain some additional insights about the person of honor and should help get those creative juices flowing, too.
“At my own wedding, my best man interviewed my mother,” Bucknall, who came in second at the 2017 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, said. “I feel very confident that one or two stories featured in his speech could have only come from one of my parents. And it does take the loneliness out of the process a bit.”
Now that you’ve chosen your two to three qualities and stories, use those key pieces to give your speech some structure so you’re not just aimlessly rambling on (you want the speech to clock in at no more than five minutes). And it really doesn’t need to be complicated: quality one, story one, quality two, story two.
“The golden tip for public speaking generally ― it’s one of the things I learned in Toastmasters that’s absolutely invaluable ― make a point and tell a story or tell a story to make the point. So for a wedding speech, here’s the person, here’s a quality they have ― ‘they’re so loyal’ ― and then tell a story about that.”
Other Things To Include
Thank guests, other members of the wedding party and the hosts of the occasion. You may also want to acknowledge people who wanted to be at the wedding but couldn’t for some reason, whether it’s someone who couldn’t attend because of a travel issue or friends or family members who have died.
Give some genuine, heartfelt praise, not just for the friend or family member who asked you to make a speech but also for his or her new husband or wife. After all, this speech isn’t just about your BFF or your brother ― it’s also about the couple as a whole.
Weddings are personal occasions and so full of emotion. Your speech should include personal touches or details that match that. “Audiences are very sensitive to whether the speech is really for them or whether it’s something that’s just been pulled off the internet or just been dashed off,” Bucknall said. “The care with which the speaker points out, hints at or references things ― whether it’s in jokes or at particular individuals ― those little nuances matter enormously.”
Don’t forget to end by asking guests to raise their glasses to toast to the newlyweds.
Things NOT To Include
Tempting as it may seem, copying another speech you found on the internet is a big no-no. “It completely torpedoes the point about them being personal occasions,” Bucknall said. “So cutting and pasting or using template scripts, I just think that’s nonsense.”
Steer clear of crude language. That means skip the swearing and any explicit stories, no matter how entertaining you think they are. “Crudity is still too common, particularly from male speakers,” Bucknall said. “It’s just not needed. The reason it happens, of course, is because the speaker is panicking about being funny. It’s disastrous.”
It might seem obvious but please don’t include any mentions of the bride’s or groom’s past boyfriends or girlfriends.
Don’t make fun of the new husband or wife. Some gentle ribbing might be appropriate if it’s directed at your friend or family member, but painting their new husband or wife in an unflattering light is not a good look. “It’s a day [for them] to be golden,” Bucknall said.
Some Final Thoughts From Viral Wedding Speech Stars
Take a page from Kelsey and Maddie Hallerman, who gave a rather epic speech at their sister Caitlin’s wedding in 2015. It ended up going viral and has since been watched more than 7 million times. The musical toast consisted of a medley of some of the bride’s favorite songs, but the co-maids of honor changed up the lyrics to include references to their childhood and the newlyweds’ love story, too.
“The first step was trying to pick the songs. Michael Jackson, Tina Turner — that was the music we grew up on and the music we knew Caitlin would love,” Hallerman told HuffPost. “Once we had our songs, we began working on the lyrics. We knew we wanted to tell a story, from Cait as a kid, to her and John meeting, to their eventual engagement and marriage. With that framework, we were eventually able to knock out each song.”
John Boswell, who was best man at his brother David’s 2016 wedding, also decided to do something less traditional and performed a toast set to the tune of “Whole New World” from “Aladdin” ― fitting because the bride’s name is Jasmine. With help from his wife and sister, he composed a speech that wowed the bride, groom and their guests.
“I like to work from an outline or big idea and then work backward,” Boswell said. “So, first, what’s the overall goal or idea? Then, how do we get there. Is there something special that comes to mind ― a story, or song, or experience? And then work from there to format the toast and fill in the details.”
Now, going the unconventional route isn’t for everyone. So you shouldn’t feel compelled to do something really out-of-the-box (like the viral toasts you see on YouTube) if it feels awkward or unnatural to you. There’s nothing wrong with doing something simple but meaningful.
“Don’t sing a song or do something extra because of a pressure to be different,” Hallerman said. “If going the heartfelt and sincere route feels more authentic, then you do you. We wrote a song because we have so much fun expressing ourselves that way, and we knew Caitlin would love it. ”
And if you are going to do something unconventional, make sure you fully commit to it, Hallerman said.
“You really have to go for it. Don’t hold back or worry that your voice doesn’t sound good,” she said. “Our voices were terrible. I mean truly horrendous — we listen back to all the cracking and screeching and our stomachs churn. But we didn’t care in the slightest! We just wanted to put our all into it and have fun.”
Now stop procrastinating and go forth and write something awesome ― whatever that means for you.