Have you ever been asked to write a tribute, ceremony or give a speech?
Has a family friend asked you to be Toastmaster for the evening? For many people, this presents a challenge that causes considerable shoe-quaking. Suddenly, a trip to the dentist seems preferable. Others relish the opportunity yet would appreciate tips to spice up their repertoire. Planning your Wedding? If so, this is for you. I'm going to share with you my simple yet effective tips and tricks that I use everyday to produce a great speech or ceremony.
The simple approach to creating a speech, ceremony or personalised tribute for someone is to address three key areas. Research, Content and Delivery. The questions you ask of your subject, and your personal memories form the Research. The Content is the written word you create - and Delivery is your performance or style. Follow my 15 point plan and you will cover all of these with ease.
- Content and Mood Blocks
- Identify Essentials
- Identify Climax
- The Prop
- Practise Practise
How well do you know the person or persons you are going to be speaking about? In my experience most couples prefer a Celebrant they share a personal synergy with, so it makes sense to take time and establish rapport.
Even if you know them well, if you are Father of the Bride or Best Man, don't just write it from your perspective, solely from memory. Have a conversation with the Mr&Mrs To Be and spend some time sharing and remembering stories.
Whether you know them well or not, ask lifestyle questions and take a note of responses. You don't need to use all of your research in the speech, but it will give you a bank of information to refer to. What's their catchphrase? Their dream car or job? Childhood dreams? Bad habits? Some of these can be used to add a little humour too.
If it's a Wedding speech, I would recommend 3-5 minutes tops. At a delivery rate of 110 words per minute, your overall speech should contain 330-550 words. A full ceremony at 20-30 minutes will contain around 2200-3300 words. Don't be tempted to speak at the same speed as you read silently. The ideal delivery speed is much slower.
4. Content & Mood Blocks
I use a longer template for ceremony design, that can include an Intro, Welcome, Bride&Grooms story, Reading, Exchange of Vows, Legal Declarations, Reading, Farewell, etc. I use an A4 sheet of paper for each section and attach a coloured post-it note to indicate the mood or tone for each section. Blue for serious, orange for funny etc. This makes it easy to play about with the structure.
I would recommend doing the same with your Father of Bride, Groom , Best Man's or Maid of Honour's speech. Moreover, this is an easy way to structure a speech for any family event. Take the Post-Its with you as prompt cards.
If you are giving a Wedding speech, then the following key topics should be the title of your Content Blocks. Then label the pages with the Post-Its so you get a clear overview of how the flow of mood and emotion changes when you swap the content blocks around.
Toast to the Bride and Groom
This is also known as Father of the Bride speech. (Or Mother!) The tone should be heartfelt and affectionate. Include these areas as your Content Blocks:
- Intro or Ice-Breaker
- A welcome to the wedding guests and special thanks to anyone who has travelled a great distance.
- Stories about the happiness the Bride has created over her life. This could be something humorous from childhood, but NOT embarrassing. Be sure to state your pride and how beautiful a Bride she is.
- A genuine welcome to the new Son-in-law and his parents on becoming part of the family – normally done in terms of how lucky the bride is to have found the perfect groom.
- Pride and confidence in the bride and groom’s future together as husband and wife. You can use an anecdote or famous quotation here, and it can be humorous if you wish but not rude.
- Wish the new Mr & Mrs well for their future together.
- A toast to the health and happiness of the bride and groom.
The Groom’s Speech
The groom's duty traditionally is to reply on behalf of himself and his new wife. His main duty is to thank everyone and it should be from the heart. Include the following as your Content Blocks:
- Intro or Ice-Breaker.
- A sincere thanks to the Father/Mother of the Bride for their speech, and the toast.
- A thank you to the Bride’s parents for bringing up a beautiful daughter and for supporting The Groom and welcoming him as a new family member.
- Thanks and appreciation to his parents for all they have done in raising him.
- A thank you to the new Mrs for agreeing to be his wife. Maybe followed by an amusing story about something that happened when they were dating. This is a good opportunity to elaborate on a story touched on during the ceremony.
- Expression of love for his new wife and a promise to do all he can to ensure her the solidity and faithfulness of the marriage.
- Thank you to all who have created something special for the wedding, such as thanks to cousin Emma for making the floral arrangements.
- Thanks to the guests for coming, the day would not have been as special without them, and for all the wedding presents.
- Thank you to the Best Man and any Ushers for their help .
- A thank you to the Bridesmaids for helping and supporting the Bride, both practically and emotionally and how gorgeous they look.
- The toast to the Bridesmaids.
The Best Man’s or Maid of Honour's Speech
The Best Man or Maid of Honour can reply on behalf of themselves and the Bridesmaids. These are the key headings for the Content Blocks:
- Intro or Ice-Breaker.
- Thanks to the Groom for the lovely comments about the Bridesmaids.
- A humorous anecdote about what a hard job it was being the best man and getting the Groom to the wedding on time.
- A more sincere comment about how the Groom was actually the best Groom ever and what an amazing man he is.
- A funny story about the Groom and past exploits. DO NOT mention past girlfriends, sex, honeymoon, gentleman's clubs etc.
- Congratulations to the Groom on his choice of Bride and best wishes for the future.
The Best Man or Maid of Honour should conclude by reading selected messages from Cards, Emails etc.
TIPs for the MOOD
Stick the Post-It notes with MOOD to your Content Blocks and ensure the "SERIOUS" bit comes roughly in the middle. You should start with a good intro, or cheeky ice-breaker if appropriate and end on a high. Write the first few words of each Content Block on the Post-It too and use as a prompt.
5. Identify the Essentials
Ensure you have covered the essentials, thanking who you need to etc. make sure you mark the Post-It note with a star to indicate the importance of this section. Keep humour out of the thank-yous. Peppering them with humour reduces their sincerity, so make sure you mark the MOOD as sincere.
6. Identify the Climax
This is about timing. Make sure your guests hear the most important point you have to make. Most will not take in everything you say, so use voice projection or slow down your speech to a more sincere tone to highlight the crux of your message.
Check the flow of mood and emotion by looking at your Post-Its. An easy-peasy way for you to ensure listeners will not get bored. Don't be too serious for too long etc, break it up a little and ensure you end on a high.
These can be linguistic devices, unexpected staged incidents, props, songs, pretend phone calls, poetry or other tools that you can use to really do something special. As I stated earlier, most guests won't give you 100% attention all the way through your speech, it's human nature. So it's a nice touch to give them the unexpected and introduce an element of surprise. (Not shock though!)
9. The Prop (My favourite device)
I say the prop is my favourite device because it's a really easy way to delight your audience or guests. It just keeps things interesting. The prop doesn't need to be showy- in fact most of the ones I use are very subtle. However, this is a sure-fire way to add some extra tingle to your speech. Here's a real-life example of a prop I created to go with my ceremony content.
"So, ladies and gentlemen, how did Fiona and Andrew get to this point? Some of you may know the story, but for those who don't, the couple have allowed me to enlighten you. It all began at school, in the Maths class. Neither Fi nor Andy were particular fans of Mr Jones, but gradually came to like each other. A teenage romance was blossoming, and one day Andrew passed a romantic note to Fiona. Unfortunately, Mr Jones caught him and confiscated the note. Now, by a strange co-incidence, I have the note here today! (Hold up the prop note for all to see) And Fiona can finally find out what it said........."
You can now take the note story anywhere, perhaps leading into a heartfelt promise or thank you etc.....
Ok, you have all your research, your Content Blocks, Mood post-its and tips. All you need to do now is write the words you want to say. Remember, for your Wedding Speech you only need to do around 330-550 words so you don't need vast amounts for each block. Keep it simple, from the heart and you won't go wrong. To give you a comparison, there are 2078 words in this article.
Say out it aloud to yourself in front of a mirror first of all. Then, ask a few friends to listen and be your practice audience. Take some constructive feedback and make notes.
As part of the rehearsal, ask for other people's opinions on your etiquette. They can help boost your confidence that you've said everything you were supposed to, and ticked all the boxes. MAKE SURE YOU GET EVERYONES NAMES CORRECT!
Use your feedback to make any edits to your speech. Does it need shortened or lengthened? Do you need more humour? Has someone just thought of a funny story that could link in with what you already have?
14. Practise Practise
You should deliver your speech on the Wedding Day as if it were effortlessly flowing from you. If you are nervous, good for you, it means you care and that you are normal! Don't try to address nerves by attempting to "own the stage" or "own the room" - you'll risk coming across as naff. Focus on giving instead; Opening up to your guests and really being vulnerable and from the heart. Ask someone to listen again beforehand, just to make sure you don't sound as if you are reading from the page. Do it as if you are recounting a fantastic story.
It is a cliché, but so true. Just relax and be yourself. It's you who everyone has come to celebrate with. Remember to breathe, and the best advice is NOT to drink alcohol before you do the speeches. Alcohol will not give you confidence or help you relax. It can really impair your judgement. You'll want to ensure you do your best. Use your prompt Post-It's but try not to read from the page on the day.
Good Luck! May your Wedding Ceremony and speeches go without a hitch!
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