Public speaking isn't easy, especially when you have the added pressure of giving a speech at your best friend's wedding in front of all of their extended family and guests you've never met before, in a wide range of ages and cultures no less. You want everything to be perfect, to be the guy or gal that totally nails that toast because that's what the happy couple deserves, 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, by the way), take a deep breath and just relax. We've got your back, with a slew of tips to help you deliver the best wedding toast of all time.
Read on for a comprehensive guide on what should definitely be included in the speech, how to nail the delivery, and questions to consider to start the brainstorming process—all from noteworthy speakers and well-established speechwriters. Armed with these expert secrets to an exceptional wedding speech, you'll be heralded as the best toast-maker for years to come.
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 and have everyone present hanging on every word.
1. 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." It can be helpful to ask the hosts of the event for a brief synopsis of who you can expect to be in the audience. Once you have a better idea of who you're speaking to, it will be easier to cater the content to their tastes and steer clear of any inappropriate anecdotes.
2. 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." We would also suggest not beginning your speech with a reference to how nervous you might be or a remark about how the speech might not be so great. It is best to exude a sense of confidence during the delivery or you might end up losing the audience from the get-go.
3. Select three points to hone in on. Seasoned speaker Susan Bender Phelps 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. Coming up with an overarching theme that is supported by the aspects you want to focus on is another great idea for presenting your personal memories and observations in a way that really grasps the crowd's attention and makes an impact.
Wedding Speech Tips
Now that you've established the right framework for your words, take note of these essential tips for acing the delivery.
1. 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 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." The key is to know how to harness that energy and communicate it in a positive way. Letting your emotions show as you deliver a heartfelt speech is endearing and highlights how genuine your words are, but tensing up to the point that you forget your words or panic won't make for a great presentation.
2. Record yourself practicing. Have a smartphone? Then whip that baby out, and use the camera to video yourself practicing, suggests Kate Kenfield, 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."
Don't forget your body language! Your physical mannerisms should emphasize the tone of your toast, not be at complete odds with it. Rehearsing the speech in front of a mirror can help you make note of things like whether or not you're smiling, maintaining eye contact, and how to position your hands.
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 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. If you have to have a drink to loosen up the nerves, or can't refrain from participating in a toast without being rude, stick to just one glass of champagne before you address the crowd.
4. Be yourself. Trying too hard to force the funny can yield an opposite than 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." Keep in mind that you're not putting on a show, only sharing your personal perspective, so you don't have to push for jokes or focus on keeping everyone laughing. If you're naturally a funny person let that come through organically, and if you're more of a sentimental sort be sure to use that to enhance your toast. The most important people, the couple of the night, will be able to tell if you're not acting like yourself and even an audience of strangers can usually pick up on it too.
5. 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 (anything more and you will start to lose the crowd). 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: My Hopey, Changey White House Years. Litt explains that while everyone has definitely sat through a speech that they thought could have been shorter, no one has started to penn a toast with the thoughts that it would go over the time limit. This is another advantage of rehearsing beforehand and timing your delivery.
6. Don't embarrass the newlyweds. 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 and possibly a slew of colleagues are 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." The anecdotes and general tone of your speech will not only be a reflection of the couple, they will also paint a picture of the type of person you are. So keep the message positive and it will reflect positively on you.
7. 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." A good rule of thumb is to practice the speech enough that you can remember the points you want to make and the order that you want to make them in. That way you can look out to the crowd and make eye contact every so often.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to start brainstorming ideas for your speech.
- Who will be speaking before or after you, and how will this affect the content of your toast? (Perhaps you would want to include a reference to their speech in your toast, thank them for an introduction, or introduce the next speaker).
- Is there someone you should be thanking (like the parents of the couple or whoever is hosting) for making the event possible and inviting you to speak?
- What would you want to hear from this speech if you were in the audience?
- Is there a favorite story or memory that the couple would want to be shared with their friends and family?
If you're still finding it hard to come up with the right words, check out some of these quotes and sentiments to inspire your speech writing.