It’s that time of year, and several of my clients are working on wedding toasts.
Fortunately, the same skills you use to communicate effectively in business will get you through this very personal assignment.
Public speaking is public speaking, whether you do it in a board room or with a glass of champagne in your hand!
First, Think About the Occasion
Whatever your role in the festivities, this will dictate the kind of speech you’re going to give. That’s because weddings are ceremonial occasions—and when it comes to ceremonies, you can’t go wrong by playing your assigned role.
So, first: Who are you, in relation to this group?
Father of the Bride? Groom’s best friend? Flower girl’s 3rd cousin?
Think about what’s expected from someone in your role. (If this kind of thinking leaves you scratching your head, ask a friend to help you out, or give me a call.) And get ready to lay it on a little thick, if need be. Nobody wants to hear a wedding speech that tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
- If you’re a parent of the bride or groom, you’ll probably want to talk about what they were like as a little kid and how proud you are of the fine man or woman they’ve grown up to be. Then you’ll want to welcome their fiancee to your family, and thank the fiancee’s family for being so welcoming to your child. (Remember what I said about laying in on a little thick?)
- If you’re a friend or sibling of the bride or groom (particularly the best man and maid of honor), you basically do the same thing, except your stories can be a little funnier or edgier. Don’t get outright raunchy, though; it’s too easy to offend someone’s grandmother, and have that end up on the bride or groom’s plate. If you’re a friend, you welcome the fiancee to your circle of friends.
- If you are the bride or groom, you can either use your speech to thank the people who helped you reach this great day (and helped you grow up to be worthy of such a fabulous mate); and/or you can thank everyone who’s there for making your special day even more wonderful. If you say anything about your spouse, keep it clean and positive; let someone else joke about how he drank his way through college or she once got picked up for shoplifting.
Now, Brainstorm the Specifics
You’ve got the outline for your speech. Now you need to take your words beyond the strictly ceremonial.
There are two ways to come up with the specific details, stories, events, and experiences that will make your speech sing:
- If you’re an introvert (someone who recharges by getting in touch with your inner life), you’ll probably want to sit quietly by yourself, or with a friend or two, and think through the possible things you could talk about. Jot down some notes so that you can refer back to them later as you mull this over.
- If you’re an extravert (someone who recharges out in the world of people, places, and things), you may want to pull together some people that know the bride or groom and work out your ideas by seeing how they land on this “focus group.”
Whichever approach you use, though, be sure that, when you decide what you’re going to talk about, you purge absolutely every hint of negativity—and I mean bitterness, jealousy, regret, ambivalence, disparagement, or anything else of that sort—from your words.
If you’re over the fact that the groom stole your girlfriend in college, you can (lightheartedly) mention it.
If you haven’t quite recovered yet, don’t go there!
Okay, the Fun Part: Practice, Practice, Practice!
You have to practice to give a good speech.
Yeah, yeah, I know you think you’ve seen lots of people get up at weddings and “just” open their mouths and talk. But what you think you’ve seen didn’t really happen.
The people who look like they’re “just” saying a few words have practiced their butts off—either for this speech, or a whole lot of others that came before.
Practice out loud. Often. Slowly. With a great attitude.
In other words, practice sounding and feeling like you want to sound and feel on the day of.
If you practice mumbling through your speech while you’re feeling insecure, that’s what you’re teaching yourself to sound and feel like; so don’t do that!
And One More Tip
Just to insure that all your hard work doesn’t go flying out the window, I strongly recommend that you consider not eating or drinking until after you’ve spoken.
When you’re nervous (and you will be, since you’re human), it’s very easy to miscalculate and shovel in way more food or drink than you know you should.
Make a plate for yourself and stash it somewhere. Pour a drink and hide it with the plate.
Stay focused on the tremendous and loving favor that you’re doing for the bride or groom…
enjoy giving the best wedding toast you can…
and then go join the party!