Photo: Jill Thomas Photography
Public speaking ain't easy, especially when you have the added pressure of giving a speech at your best friend's wedding, ahh! You want everything to be perfect, to be the guy or gal that totally nails that toast because that's what the bride and groom deserve, and you'd hate to be the one that screws it all up. But before you have a panic attack or immediately sign up for a year of Toastmasters classes (not a terrible idea, BTW), take a deep breath and just relax. You've got this as long as you keep the below tips in mind.
Remember: It's about your audience
Forget messing up or seriously stressing about how others will perceive you. As speaker and life strategy coach Mark Black, CSP, points out, focusing on yourself only enhances nerves. "Instead, concentrate on your audience and how you want them to feel. This will help you to speak from the heart, allowing your speech to do what it's supposed to do: make the couple feel special while also engaging the audience."
Rehearse, and then rehearse some more
The better prepared you are, the more confident you'll be, and the better your speech will be, tells author and a professional speaker Barry Maher. A little nervousness is fine too. In fact, according to Maher, it can even liven up your speech. "I get worried if I'm not a little nervous," he says. "I'll actually try to make myself a little tense to get my energy level up."
Record yourself practicing
Have a smartphone? Then whip that baby out, and use the camera to video yourself practicing, suggests Kate McCombs, speaker and NYC-based sex educator. "It can be a little uncomfortable to watch yourself, but you'll be able to identify distracting mannerisms, such as the verbal pauses 'um', 'uh' and 'like'." It's also a good idea to have someone else go over your speech before you give it. "A second opinion can help you craft your piece and make it that much stronger."
Lay off the booze
Although it may be tempting to look for some liquid courage, alcohol definitely won't do you any favors, warns keynote speaker Amy Morin, author of "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do". "It may cause you to slur your speech and forget your lines, so wait until after your toast to celebrate," she advises.
Be yourself and keep it short
Trying too hard to force the funny can yield an opposite than desired effect, cautions Matt Dalley of Our Big Day NYC. "I've noticed that keeping it short and sweet, heartfelt and warm and coming across as authentic and focused on the couple is something we are all capable of and generates some very wonderful moments."
Select three points to hone in on
Seasoned speaker Susan Bender Phelps of Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership says her top tip is to select one to three aspects of the bride and groom that you love and appreciate, along with no more than three short stories to illustrate each of these points (or that one point). "The simple, succinct story or stories where the bride and groom are the hero will work best."
Don't lead with a joke
Or, "Hi, my name is..." Instead, start with a startling statement or a question, recommends award-winning motivational speaker Jaime Pfeffer. "The goal is to engage your audience, not make it a boring one-way message. You'll lose them if you do this."
Don't embarrass the bride and groom
It's a wedding toast, not a roast! While this should go without saying, do keep the bachelor/bachelorette party jokes out of it, and remember that grandma is in the audience, notes Laurie Battaglia, a keynote speaker and workplace strategist with Living the Dream Coaches, LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona. "It's okay to look back at childhood and refer to something funny, but ask yourself if you'd like 200+ of your closest friends knowing that story about you."
Use your notes
Reading your speech straight from a piece of paper is a big no-no, however, having a couple of note cards handy is encouraged. "You're likely to be nervous, excited, and exhausted, which can make you forget your lines," explains Morin. "The audience won't care if you glance at your notes. In fact, there's a good chance they won't even notice."