Struggling to Write a Wedding Speech? It’s All in the Details

Massive parties with 10-piece bands and champagne fountains gave way to backyard microweddings and Zoom celebrations during the pandemic. But one tradition has stayed strong, and even thrived, over the last year: the wedding speech.

Love them or hate them, “a speech gives people something to talk about, and it’s an amazing bonding juice,” says Heidi Ellert-McDermott, the founder of Speechy, a British company that creates bespoke speeches for weddings around the world. “It can really kick-start a party.”

Public speaking, whether it’s in front of 10 people or 100, can be intimidating, and if you’ve ever sat through a lengthy, cliché-riddled wedding speech, you know it’s not so easy to pull off a memorable toast.

“We’re all so acutely aware that no one has any idea what tomorrow will bring,” said Marisa Polansky, a founder of the Brooklyn-based speech writing service Speech Tank with Kristine Keller. “The fact that two people want to tackle that tomorrow together feels especially noteworthy. As such, there’s more pressure on speeches to bring a weightiness or gravitas to the event, I think. But it’s an opportunity, too.”

If you’ve been charged with saying a few words about the couple, there are a few things to remember that will help you ease your anxiety and inspire you to speak from the heart.

Ask Yourself ‘Why Me?’

If you’re staring at a blank page, take a step back and think about your relationship to the couple. “Start by asking yourself why you’re giving the speech,” said Tess Barker, 38, a Los Angeles-based comedian who has a “deep résumé as a bridesmaid.” Thinking about your relationship to the couple can help you focus on memories you share, and remind you that you’re not giving a State of the Union address — you’re simply speaking to someone you care about.

Don’t Do It Alone

There’s a tendency to think of the speech-writing process as something solitary, but Speechy’s Ms. Ellert-McDermott suggests making it a group effort. “Don’t confine it to this secret thing that has to be done in a dark room the night before when you’re panicking,” she said. Ms. Ellert-McDermott suggests inviting the couple or other friends to brainstorm with you. Gather stories or find out traits or quirks about the couple that other friends or family love.

Ditch the Thank Yous

Don’t start your speech by thanking the guests, the DJ, the florist, the parents, and the band. “Anyone who has listened to an Oscars acceptance speech knows that thank yous are boring,” Ms. Ellert-McDermott said. You can thank people individually, and instead center your speech on stories, humor and emotion. A quick, “Thanks for coming” won’t ruin a speech, but it shouldn’t be the focus.

Find a Theme

Instead of talking about everything there is to know about the couple, narrow it down by identifying a theme. “It will help you stay focused and not be too long-winded, and build an outline,” said Carla Eustache, 38, the owner of Style Perfect Events, which is based in Charlotte, N.C. Ms. Eustache said she has noticed an increase in speeches about resilience and perseverance since the pandemic, but your theme doesn’t have to be lofty. It can center on the bride’s obsession with finding the perfect taco, or the groom’s horrible singing voice. “If you can spot a theme in all the randomness, then that’s how it all comes together,” Ms. Ellert-McDermott said.

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Cut the Clichés

It’s easy to panic and Google a wedding speech template, but cut-and-paste jobs rarely make memorable speeches. If you find yourself writing a string of clichés, toss your speech and get down to basics, said Jason Mitchell Kahn, a New York-based wedding planner and the author of “Getting Groomed: The Ultimate Wedding Planner For Gay Grooms.” “When a client comes to me,” he said, “we focus on three points to hit: how you met, what you loved about them before they met each other, and how you’ve seen their lives enriched as they’ve commingled.” Another tip: Don’t say things like “they’re perfect for each other,” because, as Ms. Ellert-McDermott said, “nobody’s perfect.” Also, try to avoid quotes. “We’ve never heard a good speech that started, ‘As Jane Austen once said,’” said Ms. Keller of Speech Tank.

Know Your Audience

The pandemic has caused many weddings to become smaller and more intimate, which means speeches can get more personal and casual. The key is to read the room, whether it’s virtual or in person. “Don’t talk about a wild night in Vegas on drugs,” Ms. Barker said. “Remember there might be grandparents there.” She also suggests addressing both of the newlyweds. “When someone just gushes over one of the parties, it can get awkward.” Another key to avoiding awkwardness is not leaving people out. “Inside jokes always fall flat,” Ms. Eustache added.

Keep It Short, and Speak Up

Longer doesn’t equal better. Most speech-writing experts suggest three to five minutes, tops. “No one ever gets upset if a speech is too short,” Ms. Keller said. Most experts also prefer holding a piece of paper to scrolling through a phone or device, since that can affect the flow of your speech. Leave the phone at the table, practice, memorize as much as you can, and don’t forget to breathe. With the popularity of outdoor weddings becoming a post-pandemic trend, Mr. Kahn offers another important tip: “Always have a microphone,” he said. “There’s nothing more frustrating than a good speech that people can’t hear.”

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