Public Speaking Experts Share How to Give a Killer Wedding Speech

Woman giving a speech at a wedding while bride hugs her

Photo by Kate Headley

Public speaking isn't easy, especially when you have the added pressure of giving a speech at your friend or loved one's wedding in front of all their extended family members and guests you've never met before—in a wide range of ages and cultures, no less. You want to be the guy or gal that totally nails the toast because that's what the happy couple deserves, and you'd hate to be the one that screws it up. But before you panic or sign up for a year of Toastmasters classes, take a deep breath. We've got your back with a slew of expert tips to help you deliver the best wedding toast of all time.

Read on for a comprehensive guide on what you should include in your speech, how to nail the delivery, and questions to consider to get the brainstorming process started—all from noteworthy speakers and well-established speechwriters.

Wedding Speech Tips
Catherine Song/Brides 

Wedding Speech Template

Every killer wedding speech has one thing in common: the right flow. Factor in these guidelines to help you find your own organic rhythm.

1. Open with a startling statement or question. Don't lead with a joke or a reference to how nervous you are. "The goal is to engage your audience, not make it a boring one-way message," says award-winning motivational speaker Jaime Pfeffer. "You'll lose them if you do this."

2. Address your audience. 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."

3. Zero in one to three points. Seasoned speaker Susan Bender Phelps, CEO of Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership, says her top guideline is to select one to three aspects of the newlyweds 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." This is an excellent way to structure your speech and keep your message focused.

Wedding Speech Tips

Now that you've established the right framework for your words, take note of these essential tips for acing the delivery from a few speaking pros.

1. Rehearse. Then rehearse some more. The better prepared you are, the more confident you'll be and the better your speech will be, says author and professional speaker Barry Maher. A good rule of thumb is to practice the speech enough that you can remember the points you want to make and the order in which you want to make them. That way, you can look out to the crowd and make eye contact every so often.

2. Record yourself practicing. Use your phone to take a video of yourself practicing, suggests Kate Kenfield, speaker and 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 practice your speech in front of someone else. "A second opinion can help you craft your piece and make it that much stronger," she says.

Don't forget body language! Rehearse the speech in front of a mirror and notice things like your facial expression, eye contact, and hand position.

3. 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 of13 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. If you need a drink to loosen up the nerves or can't refrain from participating in a toast without being rude, stick to one glass of Champagne before you address the crowd.

4. Let nerves work to your advantage. A little nervousness can actually liven up your speech. "I get worried if I'm not a little nervous," says Maher. "I'll actually try to make myself a little tense to get my energy level up." The key is to harness that energy and communicate it in a positive, genuine way; tensing up to the point that you forget your words or panic won't make for a great presentation.

5. Be yourself. Keep in mind that you're not putting on a show, only sharing your personal perspective. Trying too hard to force the funny can yield the opposite of the desired effect, cautions Matt Dalley, co-founder of Simply Eloped. "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," he says.

6. Keep it short. The ideal length for a speech is three to five minutes, with five minutes being the absolute maximum you should speak for. That's it. "I’ve never been to a wedding where anyone said, 'That was a great wedding, but the best man speech was just too short and that ruined it,'" says David Litt, the speechwriter for former President Barack Obama and author of Thanks, Obama.

7. Don't embarrass the newlyweds. It's a wedding toast, not a roast. While this should go without saying, keep the bachelor/bachelorette party jokes out of it, and remember that grandma and possibly a few colleagues are in the audience, notes Laurie Battaglia, a keynote speaker and workplace strategist. "It's okay to look back at childhood and refer to something funny, but ask yourself if you'd like 200-plus of your closest friends knowing that story about you."

8. 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."

Answer These Questions to Get Started

Here are some questions to ask yourself to start brainstorming.

  • Who will speak before you? After you? How will this affect the content of your toast? (Perhaps you want to include a reference to their speech, thank them for an introduction, or introduce the next speaker).
  • Is there someone you should thank for making the event possible and inviting you to speak?
  • What would you want to hear in this speech if you were in the audience?
  • Is there a favorite story or memory that the couple would want you to share with their friends and family?

Wedding Speech Examples to Make Your Own

So, what does it look like when all these elements come together? Wedding vow and speechwriter Katelyn Peterson, owner and creator of Wedding Words, offered us three examples of successful toasts to inspire your own.

"Hi, I’m Maya, the bride’s older sister. With Lucy being three years younger, we fell right into our respective roles as sister-rivals growing up. 

We constantly fought over stolen clothes, monopolizing the phone back when landlines were a thing, and what boy band to blare from the car speakers. I’m still Team Backstreet Boys while Lucy is forever indebted to NSYNC.

Looking back on those memories, I should have stepped up and granted Lucy permission to wear my favorite sweater for picture day, to hand her the phone once in a while, and to let her play, “Bye Bye Bye.” Even I can admit that’s a good one. 

But despite Lucy being the younger sister, she has always been more patient, more accommodating, and more thoughtful than me. 

And that’s because when it comes to the people she loves, she’s all in.

She’s the one to prioritize their desires.

She’s the one to compromise first. 

And she’s the one to support their dreams as if they were her own. 

This is why it makes me so happy to know that Lucy has found a home in David. He matches her in compassion, thoughtfulness, and warmth. And I know he’ll spend his life prioritizing her desires, being ready to compromise, and supporting her dreams as his own.

Cheers to Lucy and David! May you always feel loved because you always put each other first."—Maya

"Hello, everyone. My name is Luke and I’m the best man. I met Robert eight years ago when I became his neighbor. 

His reputation preceded him as I had heard about the “Block Party King” before my closing papers were inked. 

Rob has never been the guy to wear fancy clothes. In fact, I’m still in shock seeing him in that tux tonight. And he’s never been the guy to show off even though the work he’s put into his vintage Mustang could make Henry Ford himself envious. 

But when it comes to cooking, he should receive an award. His pulled pork is a staple at our summer block parties and his homemade barbeque sauce has remained our neighborhood’s best-kept secret. 

But the most satisfying part about his delicious dishes is that there’s always plenty to go around. And Rob makes sure your plate is never empty. 

I have no idea how he pulls it off, but Rob has a covert ability to scoop seconds onto your plate without you ever seeing him do it. I hope you all came hungry tonight, folks. You’ve been warned! 

The first time I met Jasmine I could immediately tell she was an amazing person. 

She laughed at his jokes which I never thought anyone would get. 

She supported his career and the nonstop travel involved. 

But most importantly, whenever we’re all hanging out, Jasmine is the one always topping off Rob’s plate with more pasta, more chicken, more of everything. 

When she’s around, it’s never empty. 

And that’s when I saw what a perfect match they were for each other. I know they will always put each other first, make sure their needs are met, and will never allow the other to go hungry.

 So let’s raise our glasses to toast the newlyweds! 

As you begin this next chapter together, may your plates and your hearts always remain full."—Luke

"Good evening, family, and friends. I’m Daniel Lee, the father of the bride. I’d like to welcome you to this special occasion where we get to celebrate the love between my daughter Allison and her new wife, Kristin. 

Standing up here today, I’m reminded of all the moments that led to this significant one. The dance recitals that ended with standing ovations and the soccer games that concluded with winning scoreboards. 

But while those were fun and rewarding times, those aren’t the moments I cherish most with Allison. 

The memories that make me smile the brightest are those in-between the big stuff moments.

It’s the makeshift magic shows in our living room using a bedsheet that Allison confiscated from our linen closet to convert into a curtain. 

It’s the countless tea parties she hosted with exclusive invitations just for me and her beloved stuffed bear, Buttons. 

And it’s the way she’d beg to stay up for just five more minutes but was asleep on the couch by minute number two.

Those everyday, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments with Allison are the ones that gave color to my life and filled my heart with a happiness I never knew could exist.

So, my beautiful daughter, as you begin your life with Kristin today, I have one wish for you: May your warmest memories come from the ordinary moments throughout your marriage, and may those moments give you a reason to smile brighter every day. 

Cheers! I love you both."—Daniel

If you're still finding it hard to come up with the right words, check out these quotes and sentiments to inspire you.

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