Common misconceptions about the grooms speech
Lots of people start with the misconception that, to be good, a speech has to be full of gut-busting anecdotes, flowery language, and clever references. But what makes a wedding speech great is that it comes from the heart and says something special about the people involved in the wedding. You can’t achieve that with a generic script full of this year’s popular marriage jokes. So where do you start?
Three false ideas about wedding speeches
First, banish the thought that a wedding speech has to be longer than a minute or two. English weddings tend to feature longer speeches than American ones, but even so, it’s advisable to have your say in less than five minutes. For a listening audience, five minutes is a long time!
Second, banish the thought that the guests will judge the speech’s success on whether you’re ready for open-mike night at the local comedy club. Guests will be eternally grateful if you’re reasonably prepared, don’t stumble and mumble, and don’t blather on all night. Other than that, most listeners are more forgiving than you might expect. Remember: your guests are at the wedding to share the tender emotions of the day, not to write a movie review. If you speak to them warmly, sincerely, and briefly, they will be happy.
Third, banish the thought that you can read your speech from a manuscript so you don’t have to practice it much. Manuscripts are awkward to manage, interfere with your eye contact, and tell the audience loud and clear, “I’m unwilling to talk like myself, so I’m going to read these fancy words I think you’ll like better.” Very experienced speakers can use a manuscript successfully, but if you don’t give many speeches, you’d be much better off keeping a few note cards to remind you of your main thoughts, and otherwise speaking “off the cuff.” This isn’t as tough as it sounds, and your guests will love it (and I’m going to tell you how to do it!). Practice is crucial-you’ll be emotional enough on the big day without trying to give a brand new speech from scratch!
Now, let’s get on with planning that grooms speech!
A wedding speech of any sort is what’s called a “ceremonial” speech. Ceremonial speeches, according to Celeste Michelle Condit, Ph.D., celebrate the shared values of the community. If you take a minute to brainstorm a short list of values that are celebrated at weddings, you’ll probably come up with items like fidelity, family, commitment, loyalty, and love. These are the kinds of ideas that will be central to your speech.
A groom’s wedding speech also has some business to take care of. Your job as a guest of honor is to thank your guests and your hosts. If there are family members or friends that you and your bride want to specially honor, your speech is a good place to do it.
Before you write your speech, you need to do some brainstorming. First, make a list of the people you want to thank. You should thank your guests for sharing the day with you. If any parents or other relatives helped with planning or financing the wedding, you should thank them for “giving you such a perfect day” or something along those lines. (Mentioning money is “not done.”) You can also thank attendants for their support, honor grandparents, or whatever else you like. However, do try to keep the list short. This isn’t an Oscar acceptance speech! If you’re having trouble limiting the list to the essentials, arrange to split it with your bride so that she thanks some of these people.
Next, brainstorm a list of the values that are important to you in marriage. Some possible items are mutual respect, a sense of humor, loyalty in bad times, willingness to give more than you get, honesty in all things, taking pleasure in the other person’s successes, being willing to admit that you’re wrong, being willing to be the first person to say “I’m sorry”… Put some effort into making up a list that’s truly special to your relationship with your bride. It’s okay if the items are quirky or unusual-this is about the two of you, not Ken and Barbie!
Now, look at your list of people to thank. Most of these people will be thanked with a single sentence stating what they did for you. But one to three individuals or couples will each be the focus of a story about one of the values you just listed. You’re going to tell how the person or couple demonstrated this value through his/her/their actions, and how this influenced you. You can start by choosing the people and then remembering stories about them, or you can start by choosing the three most important values from your list and matching them to people. In general, you want to highlight the people who are most important to you!
Take your time over this task. Sometimes it helps to look through old photos or think over favorite memories. If you can include both your parents and your bride’s parents, that would be great… but if you’re meeting your in-laws for the second time at the wedding, it’s not mandatory that you talk about them. If you want to include a deceased relative or friend as the focus of a story, this is one of the more tasteful and uncontroversial ways to commemorate people who are missed. Don’t worry if the stories aren’t gut-busters or tear-jerkers; a simple, clear story can be surprisingly moving. (Do worry about making your story clear!) The reason that you’ll be able to speak “off the cuff” with some practice is that most people are good at telling stories that mean something to them.
Finally, let’s write the speech!
Start by thanking your guests for sharing the day with you. You don’t have to start with a joke! Unless you’re the class clown, a joke will probably come across as stagey and fake rather than as funny. Instead, get down to business by telling the guests, in just a sentence or two, how glad you are to see them. Then you say, “I’d especially like to thank…” and you launch into your first story. Make sure you say explicitly what you learned from the person you’re honoring-and make sure you say his or her name! Practice the story until it flows naturally, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Try to keep it short and sweet-you can certainly write it out as long as you don’t rely on a manuscript at the reception.
Next, you say, “I’d also like to thank…” and thank half of your list of people who will get one-sentence or two-sentence acknowledgements. Then you tell your second story. Then thank the other half of the list of people who get short acknowledgements. Then tell your third story. Now you’re into the home stretch! You’re going to tell one last little tale, which is about what marriage to your bride means to you, and what your hopes for the marriage are. This is a good place to wrap together some of the ideas you’ve mentioned earlier in the speech, if you can.
The simplest way to end is with a one-sentence toast. You can toast the guests (“May you always be as happy as I am today”), your bride (“To Evangeline, the light of my life”), your parents (“To Mom and Dad, who showed me what marriage means”), or the bride’s parents (“To Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who must be among the best parents in the world because they raised Evangeline”).
If you decide to tell fewer than three stories, do the short thanks before you tell any of the longer stories. You’ll need to work with your stories a bit to make everything flow together smoothly. And don’t forget to practice!
No surprise, but Toastmasters International offers quite a few tips for giving successful speeches.
Have fun with it!