Speeches are a moving, heartfelt tradition that take place at many weddings. After the deed is done, with the newlyweds’ friends and families gathered around, a few select people stand to address the crowd. They detail their relationships with the couple, what they love about them, and their wishes for the couple’s future.
Yes, this tradition is rooted in an incredibly sweet intention.
And yet, speeches can go incredibly wrong.
Here are our top three dos and don’ts for wedding day speeches.
Wedding Speeches: The Basics
Just for the record, there are a handful of things you should already know or have assumed. For example:
Don’t use profanity
Don’t give a speech if you weren’t invited to
Don’t be rude or unkind
Don’t use your speech to air personal grievances.
As a rule of thumb, if it seems like a bad idea for a speech, don’t do it. If you can imagine a wayward movie character doing the same thing you’re about to do and making their fictional audience uncomfortable, skip it!
Don’t: Ramble, Digress, or Meander
Writing and giving a wedding speech is harder than you think. It’s easy to lose sight of your audience’s experience and begin talking at length about uninteresting (or worse, inappropriate) things.
Our first lesson of the day: don’t ramble until the cows come home. We’ve all heard horror stories about speeches running on for an hour and no one stepping in because it would be rude. It’s up to you to regulate the length of your speech and its quality.
The fix? Practice with another human being. Read your speech to friends, family, your own spouse, even the couple (with their permission—they may want to be surprised!). They’ll help you identify boring parts, bad jokes, and keep you on time.
A tip: it’s very easy to talk for too long. Before you write your speech, pick a time limit—typically, three minutes is a great spot. It’s better to be short but sweet than long and rambling.
Don’t: Speak in Riddles
You and the bride go way back, we know. But your wedding speech shouldn’t be entirely composed of inside jokes and little quirks that are meaningless to the rest of the guests. Even things like childhood nicknames—unless they’re central to the story, just use the bride’s real name.
Cutting out those inside tidbits can be disappointing. You want to revel in this long relationship you’ve had with one of your very favourite people (we assume—otherwise, why would you be giving a speech!). But the real joy comes from letting the audience come to see the bride like you do; you don’t want to cut them out or make it challenging for them to understand your meaning.
The bottom line: save for maybe one inside joke, keep it all in the realm of common knowledge.
Don’t: Be Embarrassing
This one should be a no-brainer, but for many, it isn’t! As a trusted friend or family member invited to give a speech at a loved one’s wedding, it is not your job to humiliate them. This is a toast, not a roast.
This was always the threat: after they got sick in the back of a taxi after a long night out drinking, perhaps you said, “oh, this is a story I’ll tell at your wedding.” But unless they are well and truly on board with this plan, skip it.
If you want to tell an embarrassing story during your speech, please ask the person the story is about first. They may not be over it; or other people present at the wedding may not know the subject had done such things.
If they ask you to keep your speeches PG-13, respect those wishes. Wedding speeches are an opportunity to celebrate fond memories with the people we love, not to embarrass them in front of their closest friends, family, and coworkers.
Do: Be a Storyteller
Ever sat through a very long, cringey speech? There’s nothing like it. You so badly want it to end. And yet, that monotonous, ambling voice drones on.
Don’t be that person. Instead, do be a storyteller.
While relying too heavily on inside jokes, exclusive nicknames, or embarrassing stories are definite no-nos, we heartily encourage you to relay great stories during your speech.
But here’s your challenge: make the story engaging. Speak with clarity and confidence, be animated; make the audience feel like they’re really there. These engaging speeches almost always go over well; if you do it right, you’ll be one of the most memorable aspects of the wedding.
A tip: write your speech like it is a story. Not with the whole “once upon a time” spiel, but like it is a dramatic event. What information do you reveal when? How do you say the punchline? Writing your speech this way from the very first draft will make it easier to make your story come to life.
Do: Show of Your Sense of Humour
Weddings can be weepy affairs. Not because guests are sad, but because they are proud and happy for the newlyweds. Parents will glance up at the head table and see their child, all grown up. Childhood best friends will remember all the difficult moments they experienced growing up together and will think “hey, we made it through.”
A lot of people will be very emotional.
The salve? Cut the tension with your classic wit and well-timed humour.
Again, this humour shouldn’t be unkind. But showing off your own personality during your speech, making a few jokes, and reminding everyone that a wedding day is a fun, joyous event will save everyone a lot of tissues.
Do: Stay Focused
While the crowd does want to see your personality and learn about your relationship to the couple, you should stay focused. In other words, don’t make it all about you!
Sometimes, when we have an audience, we can feel compelled to overshare, to ramble, to improvise; these are almost always bad things when it comes to wedding speeches.
Do everyone a favour: focus on the newlyweds! After all, they are who the day is really about; this audience didn’t magically assemble just to hear you give a speech. Everyone present is there because they love the newlyweds.
So give the people what they want: a funny, animated, loving speech all about everyone’s favourite people.
Keeping these dos and don’ts in mind, you’ll do an excellent job delivering your big speech. Just remember: practice makes perfect; it’s always good to get a second opinion; and don’t forget to have fun.