Dear Harper’s BAZAAR: My best friend just asked me to speak at her wedding–and I am terrified. Public speaking is not my forte, and I have been to more than my fair share of weddings where the maid of honour makes a complete fool of herself with a drunken diatribe or the best man loses his train of thought and turns what should have been a short, sweet and possibly funny speech into a full-on roast. How do I avoid making all the common mistakes? — Anonymous
We turned to Marisa Polansky and Kristine Keller, speech writing experts and co-founders of the new speech writing service, Speech Tank for their know-how on writing the perfect wedding speech, how to manage the fear and loathing that comes with being asked to speak (read: not drink as much as you’d like to for hours and all of a sudden take up comedy) and actually come to enjoy the act of public speaking at your dear friend’s reception.
Dear Anonymous: The lukewarm chicken marsalas have been consumed. The choreographed first dance has been executed. And the part-time-actors-turned-hand-models-turned cater-waiters have just distributed the champagne glasses. Clink, clink, clink. You hear a knife tapping a glass or—wait, is that the Jaws theme song?
All of a sudden, the only thing holding you back from breaking it down to that great drum solo in “In the Air Tonight” is…your toast. And are those inflatable saxophones? Damn, you haven’t seen one of those since Jerry Brownstein’s Bar Mitzvah. Okay, just gotta get through this, you think.
But how? There are so many obvious don’ts when it comes to a wedding speech, but what about the dos? What do you do when it’s your turn at the mic?
First, focus. Choose a theme and stick to it. Think of your speech like a paper; put forth a hypothesis and support it. Slot in stories that work to corroborate your theme. That time you got trapped in an elevator with the bride and she made you laugh until the firefighters arrived? That story works perfectly if you want to show how she makes the best out of any situation.
But not all stories are for all ears. For everyone’s sake, stay away from any memories involving shots of Fireball. Or body shots. In fact, think of your toast as your only shot. If you want to succeed, you must consider your audience. Before you share an anecdote, visualize your 92-year-old grandma and your 11-year-old second cousin. If it’s right for both sets of ears, proceed with confidence.
But don’t get carried away! Keep it short. You don’t want to lose the audience’s attention, and that means keeping things brief. Sure, the crowd wants to hear a story about the couple, but they don’t want to hear every story about the couple. Your speech should be more CliffsNotes and less Tolstoy.
In short: edit, edit, edit. You’ve likely used these skills before, when sending text messages to your hot neighbour–so use them here, too. Then, practice out loud in front of people you trust. Did you get “aaws” when you were supposed to, and laughs when you thought you were being funny? Make notes and try again. May this be the only cliché you use in your speechwriting: practice makes perfect. No one has ever left the stage and said, “I practiced too much.”
Most important, remind yourself to relax. Remember that there’s a reason you were awarded this honour. Trust that the couple believes in you, and get to believing in yourself. Now, doesn’t that clink clink clink sound a little more like music to your ears?
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US