UPDATED APRIL 2021
1. Pick A Focus
First, decide what you want to achieve from your speech. Do you want to use your way with words to reflect on how happy the day is? Or do you want to liven the mood with some hilarious jokes? While doing both is possible, constantly chopping and changing between two themes will make your speech less effective. Instead, think of your speech as a story, taking listeners on an easy-to-follow journey filled with emotional highs and lows.
2. Plan A Structure
Now you’ve found your focus, it’s time to plan out a clear structure – this will allow you to say everything you want to say, and deliver it in a cohesive manner. Traditionally, wedding speeches begin with a line about why you’re up there in the first place; explain how you came to know the bride and what great friends/colleagues you’ve become (unless you are the bride, we don’t recommend skipping this step). Next is usually when the funny stories come in, followed by a few words about the groom’s positive qualities, before finally bringing things back to the present day as you wrap things up with some well wishes.
3. Get Personal
Tried and tested formulas may be a safe bet, but don’t be afraid to inject some personality into your speech. As Suzan St Maur, author of Wedding Speeches for Women, says: “The main advice you should give should be serious and from the heart – for example, if you’ve been happily married for years, share your own perspective. You can add in a couple of jokey lines before that if you want to, but focus on what's heartfelt – it’s valuable.”
4. Choose Anecdotes Wisely
Before including any potentially awkward anecdotes, Guardian columnist Grace Dent advises seriously thinking about who’s in the room, and how much detail they really need to know. “Save the gritty, grubby and incriminating stories for people who'll adore them at the bar afterwards,” she says. Rude jokes aside, she also stresses the anecdotes in your speech should be ones the majority of the room can go along with and enjoy hearing about, rather than specialist jokes that only two other people in the room will get: “Don’t let your toast become a giant in-joke that only a few people understand. A toast should appeal to everyone, be inclusive and unite a room, even if it makes it a bit bland.”
5. Make The Start & Finish Count
Gravitas and presentation skills expert Antoinette Dale Henderson stresses that, as with most speeches, most people will only remember what was said at the beginning and end – so ensure your opening and closing sentences are the most powerful. “Tying your final words in with what you said at the start can work really well,” she advises.
6. Don’t Forget Thank-Yous
Assuming your speech follows the traditional groom or best man formula, remember to say your thank-yous near the end. “Thank the groom and/or best man for his or their speeches and propose a toast to the bridal attendants,” says St Maur. “Although, in theory, the traditional best man role is to say thank you on behalf of the bridal party, be sure to include any ushers, pages, flower girls, etc.” This is also a great time to mention absent friends and family.
7. Remember, You Don't Have To Follow Convention
Whether you're a bride or bridesmaid, chances are your speech will be a bit of a bonus. If the usual suspects – groom, father of the bride etc – are speaking, you have some license to get a little more creative and leave the box ticking to them. Do something different – whether it's a poem, series of anecdotes cleverly woven together or, if you're comedic enough, a funny song, to keep guests entertained and leave your mark.
8. Practice Until It’s Perfect
Practice your speech out loud, using flash cards or notes as prompts. Then, when you feel comfortable, test out your delivery skills on one of your close friends to gauge the reaction (if they laugh or cry, that’s a good sign). This is a great opportunity to ask for notes, too – were you making enough eye contact? Was your voice too monotone? Did any of the jokes fall flat? Taking stock of your friend’s reaction and adjusting your speech accordingly is key to nailing it on the night.
9. Remember Less Is More
Dale Henderson believes the best speeches are short and sweet, and advises limiting your toast to eight to ten minutes to leave guests wanting more: “Attention spans are minuscule, especially after a few bubbles. So although everyone will be delighted to hear your words, they will thank you forever if you limit your content.” Try timing yourself as you practice to ensure you hit the mark. And keep in mind that less is more when it comes to sappiness too – emotions are good, but going overboard can feel uncomfortable if it’s forced.