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Wedding Speeches: A Beginner's Guide

This article originally appeared in Wedding Ideas magazine.

Readings and speeches are a lovely way to personalize your day. But for most of us, delivering those words can be a daunting task. So if you are hiding behind your hands and considering faking laryngitis, take a deep breath because the good news is that with a few coaching tips, just about anyone can deliver some winning words. Still not convinced? Here's how to move your audience to tears -- for all the right reasons!

While including a reading is not a legal or religious requirement, most couples choose to include two or three to help make their ceremony unique. "Readings are commonly used to reflect a couple's love and commitment to each other, along with hopefully bringing some romance, thought, fun or humor to the occasion," says leading wedding planner, Liz Taylor.

Including a few readings is also a great way to give a special role to close friends and family who are not already part of the wedding party. Perhaps you have a much-loved uncle who you would like to get more involved, or an overseas friend who couldn't commit to being a bridesmaid? Giving a wedding reading is a great honor and most people will be over the moon to be asked (once they have had a stiff drink!).

When you have chosen your R-team, you will, of course, need to give them something to read! "If you are having a civil ceremony, you have lots of freedom in terms of what can be used -- anything from a poem written by your nephew to lyrics from your favorite song can work brilliantly," says Liz. "The only rule is that your reading cannot contain any religious or spiritual references, so be sure to have your chosen text approved by your registrar beforehand." Stuck for ideas? Search online, visit your local library and listen to songs for inspiration -- you'll be surprised where you find your perfect match! Alternatively, you could even pull a Carrie Bradshaw and write your own poem. And no, limericks are not recommended.

If you are having a church wedding, your choices will be a little more limited. "Christian services usually incorporate one or two passages from the bible to reflect the underlying spiritual element to the ceremony -- sometimes with an additional non-religious reading," explains Liz. Been a while since Sunday school? Ask your church minister for ideas on suitable passages from the bible. Wish to include a non-religious reading too? "What will -- or will not -- be accepted as a reading largely depends on who will be conducting your ceremony, as some ministers are happy to include both biblical and secular readings, while others will have a much stricter viewpoint and want all readings to be religious," says Liz. Save on time and tears by discussing your possible choices with your minister first. We're guessing Slip Knot lyrics might not go down too well...

Once you have your readings chosen, you will then need to tackle the two words guaranteed to strike fear in any (sane) man or woman: The Speeches. Well delivered, they become one of the most intimate -- and memorable -- parts of a wedding. But done badly, the whole experience can make a bride want to jump head first into her wedding cake. Knowing what to say is admittedly tricky, but thankfully the perfect speech does not depend on writing Apollo-worthy jokes or channelling power ballad passion. Being yourself usually does the trick. Want to be more heartfelt than hilarious? That's fine. Want to toss in a few funnies? Relax because anything remotely funny is guaranteed to get a laugh because you are surrounded by people who love you -- not Simon Cowell and his cronies.

Finally, remember to keep your friends on side by thanking the people you should! It is usually the father of the bride's duty to thank guests for coming, compliment his daughter and welcome her new husband to the family, before toasting the bride and groom. The groom should then remember to thank guests and both sets of parents, say a few gushing words about his bride and best man before thanking and toasting the bridesmaids (yes, there is a lot of thanking to be done!). And last but not least, the best man's job is to talk about the happy couple before again toasting the bride and groom. Well, if something is worth toasting, it is worth toasting twice!

One of the U.K.'s top speech writers, Lawrence Bernstein, gives us his seven top tips for a stumble-free speech:

1. Put in some prep work. Beating nerves is all about preparation in two areas: writing the speech and giving it. Try mapping out a framework that combines a sensible balance between sincerity and humor as an over-sentimental speech can be dull but a stand-up routine can miss the point entirely.

2. Phone a friend. Contact friends and family who have known the bride and groom at different stages of their lives to gather unusual anecdotes and insights -- but do think about what your audience wants to hear. There is nothing worse for grandma than a best man's speech focusing exclusively on the groom's drinking exploits in Amsterdam dressed as Spiderman.

3. Practice makes perfect. Great material is irrelevant if it's delivered badly. Get to know your speech so well that you only need to glance at your notes to remember what comes next.

4. Keep it short and sweet. Make sure your speech doesn't drag by keeping it to around 10 minutes, timed when speaking slowly. On paper, that's about 1,000 words.

5. Manage the shakes. Paste your speech on a card or rest it somewhere you can see it. Holding
a shaky piece of paper will put you off before you get going.

6. Present like a pro. Pause for effect-- your audience needs time to digest the story before they get the punch-line -- so give them time to get it.

7. Watch the Dutch courage. Having a good drink may feel like the easy way to get through your speech, but it won't seem so sensible afterwards.

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