It’s The Best Time of Year! Tips For Writing a Great Wedding Speech This Summer
I run a small agency devoted to executive communication. And as part of that work, we ghostwrite a lot of books, tweets, emails — and of course, speeches. We do this for executives, leaders of large organizations, and founders of important technologies. It’s fun!
One thing I particularly enjoy about helping founders and leaders communicate is it’s a chance to help them be an even-better version of themselves. Another is helping them truly inspire people with an idea. Moving audiences to change the way they think, feel, or act.
From a larger, life-purpose perspective, I do this work because I like a world where good ideas succeed. But there’s much more tangible, day-to-day reward that I’m simply addicted to: seeing an executive truly move her audience with a powerful, clear thought.
And it’s actually enthralling to see that for anybody*, so I am always giddy when wedding season comes around and friends and friends of friends start flooding me with requests for wedding speech advice and assistance.
(*No assholes. Helping assholes persuade people is a financially enriching way to really be a piece of crap).
Sometimes a client wants to pay us for a wedding speech, but more often it’s a friend. Regardless, I’m a sucker for weddings so we always do them for free. It’s a beautiful celebration with your favorite people — every wedding should be as great as it possibly can be, and so should your speech!
So in that spirit, here are ten ways to make your wedding speech meaningful and moving.
1. Always start with a joke. Even if it’s bad. (In fact, I think it’s part of the genre to start with a bad joke). The reason for this is the same as the classic “conference” technique for executive keynotes: a laugh (or in business, a video), right at the beginning of your time onstage is like a “reset” button. It puts all of your audience in the same emotional place, no matter how good or bad or funny the speaker was before you. You now have all of your audience at least in the same place and can work from there.
2. Great weddings tell a story. And good speeches help that story. No matter how beautiful or well-designed a wedding is, the best ones are where we walk away with a full appreciation of the bond between the bride and the groom. Use your perspective as parent, sibling, best friend to show what makes them both unique and so well suited for each other.
3. Keep the jokes going, but not too many. Weddings are a happy time, and emotional moments are a beautiful part of them. But it is possible to cry too much, and it is possible to be too flippant. A good serious-to-funny ratio is about 2:1, sometimes 3:1. Always be a little more serious than funny, and plan your jokes to give people a welcome relief to your most emotional moments. (Adam Sandler movies do this reasonably well, if they do anything).
4. Avoid sex, beds, bedrooms, and sleeping. These are tempting topics because they’re loaded with humor and usually have “it-all-worked-out” punchlines. But no matter what, at least ONE person will be a little off-put, and that’s all you need for it to become how your speech is remembered for the remainder of the evening. The joke’s risqué-ness will overshadow the rest of your great speech, so just avoid it.
5. This is a gratitude speech. Wedding speeches can take many shapes. Usually it’s “I love you,” sometimes “It’s good luck,” and in disaster scenarios it’s a “me” speech. But the best wedding speeches are gratitude ones. Whether friend or parent or sister or brother, you’ve been given the mic because of your history with the bride and/or groom. Reflect on your gratefulness for that history — what dad could be luckier to have a daughter like yours? And of course, share your gratefulness for being a part of their future. I assure you it isn’t lost on them how lucky they are to know you. Share your own gratitude with the entire audience, and you’ll leave everyone in the room deeply moved.
6. Thematize. This is just because we’re dealing with the spoken word. It’s much harder to follow good ideas when we can only hear them, than when we can read at our own pace. And chances are, you’re starting your first draft in writing! So it’s easy to take for granted how all of your thoughts fit together. Try to help your audience by thematizing. “I want to share three memories,” or, “my son has always been generous, and so is the bride, I want to share a few thoughts about generosity.” Whatever it is, create an anchor for your audience, and the meaning of your speech will resonate long after you’ve handed over the mic.
7. Last lines are everything. This is just Inspiration 101! However you end your speech, practice the end dozens of times. The delivery, the timing, the pause, the toast. Everything. You can read all of your speech before then — reading is perfectly acceptable (and often encouraged) at a wedding now. But make sure your final lines don’t feel like reading. Just practice those and you’ll do great!
8. Be you. Ignore all of this advice if you have to. You were chosen to speak from a place of love. Let your own love shine authentically through, and that will be intoxicating to the audience. I’ve seen readings of a bride’s diary, dance performances as toasts, even celebrity cameos. Be yourself, and have fun! Weddings are a celebration. Just make sure the fun is for the audience, not you and the bride or groom. Which brings us to Rule Number 9:
9. Avoid inside jokes. These are the surest way to violate Rule Number 2, and it’s critical to remember your audience is everyone, not the bride and groom. You can joke with the bride and groom during any of the other 525,550 minutes in a year. Make their wedding great by sharing with the family and friends they’ve invited.
10. When it’s all over, be gracious. Your speech will be lovely and moving, and a lot of people will want to tell you that afterwards. You’re mingling now, and wine is flowing. Accept the compliments with grace, gratitude, and politely move the conversation back to the conversant. It’s rule one of being an inspiring person. Here’s an example:
Them: “That was such an excellent speech! I absolutely loved it!”
You: “Thank you so much, that means a lot to me, how do you know the bride and groom?”
Them: “That was such an excellent speech! I absolutely loved it!”
You: “Thank you so much! I worked on it for hours, and was even editing last-minute before going up there. Those speeches are so nerve-wracking!”
As a final bit of advice I would remind you not to fret too much. Weddings can often feel like a culmination, or a reflection back on a young phase of life. Which makes your speech feel like it’s a momentous marker. But weddings are a beginning. There’s no pressure!
One of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard was by the grandfather of the bride. He stood to say everyone at his wedding, some 40 years prior, had told him it should be the happiest day of his life. He then turned to his wife and announced to us all that every single day of life had gotten better every day he knew her. And he admonished the bride and groom: “I hope for you, too, this is the worst day of your life.”
The lesson here is the fact you are giving a speech means your bride and groom want you there, with them, at the beginning of their lives. And a great friend or parent or sibling isn’t defined by a great speech. Instead, the speech is just one small moment in your lifetime of being so important to them. I’m certain that will shine, no matter what you say. And I’m certain you can make many, many more days the best ones of their lives.