How to Start A Speech

A Practical Suggestion to Overcoming Initial Hurdles in Delivering A Wedding Speech

A wedding speech is a form of public speaking. And although it is somewhat less formal than other forms of public speaking which are delivered more frequently—such as election campaign oratory and business presentation—it is still a public speech, so you need to know some basic information about a public speech.

Now, Wikipedia has a description of public speaking, so this practical suggestion will not repeat its contents but only highlight what things you should do when chance has come, most probably not out of your personal desires, and you have been assigned the one-in-a-lifetime duty of delivering a wedding speech. Let's take a look at them.

Dress Code

“Well, doesn't it sound obvious?” you may ask. “Aren't people going to a wedding ceremony already limited in their choice of dresses to wear?” Yes, it's true that most wedding ceremonies require their attendees to follow some pre-established dress codes, usually suits for men and formal dresses for women. But it is also common for the organisers, the bride and groom, and their relatives to don some sort of uniform dress so that people will know that they are part of one big hosting team. (And in my experience, this kind of predisposition has allowed me easy inquiries into the location of a men's room: All I've had to do is spot someone in the uniform dress and ask him!)

If you are not a relative of either the bride or the groom and not a member of the organising committee (who has a clear job description for preparing and conducting the ceremony), your job of delivering a wedding speech makes you a quasi part of the wedding organisers. You need to be prepared to present yourself in their chosen uniform dress when there is one. If you have not been told so, you have to ask the person who invited and asked you if they wish for you to resemble the other members of the hosting team. Certainly, you wouldn't want to risk hurting their feelings by coming to the ceremony, standing up and rushing out your wedding speech in your Tarzan-like custom—when everyone else is in formal attire—forgetting that this wedding is neither a film shooting by an eccentric director nor an exotic party deep inside a tropical rainforest.

If you are female, it seems you will have more freedom than your male counterparts in choosing your dress. Still, you need to make sure with the wedding personnel that you won't have to put on a certain badge, ribbon, scarf or flower to give the impression that you are one of them.

In short, as a person—in most cases, the only one in the ceremony—who delivers the wedding speech, you are somewhat part of at least the bride or the groom due to the nature of the speech. A wedding speech contains anecdotal accounts of either the bride or the groom, or both, so that the other guests—who you are trying to lead to eventually raise their goblets, cause them to ting and utter something like “Yea! Happy to Susan and Nauss!”—will have an acceptable reason for wishing the couple a happy-ever-after life. The guests will see that you, out of your closeness with the groom (or the bride), have rightful authority in telling about his or her most darling personality and campaigning for the couple's right in engaging themselves in such a union. So, when those guests see your outer appearance similar with the wedding organisers, they will subconsciously accept your argument and will be willing partners in toasting with you with all their might, “Hip hip..., Yea!”

Nervousness

speech image nervousness Many people get nervous when it comes to giving a public oration such as the wedding speech. Some people even get anxious, and still some, glossophobia. It's normal. The question is: “How do I handle this?”

If we observe meditatively, our nervousness in public speaking usually has to do with our prejudice of how others may judge us. Yes, speaking to an audience will to some extent entail the audience's impression of us. But if we can direct their attention fully to the anecdotes and charming personalities of the couple, they will easily forget who's giving the speech. So the trick is to keep your efforts and attention as fully as you expect from the audience in telling the story of two wonderful human beings who have fallen in love and found their half soul. After all, the wedding ceremony itself is the centre stage for the couple, isn't it? There should be no reason, therefore, to swap roles during the play; you are just a messenger.

And how do you keep full efforts and attention? By preparing the speech in writing and practising it at least a couple of times the night before. Don't tell me you haven't done this kind of activity before. Don't tell me you haven't at least mentally thought of the words you would be giving in a speech and looked at yourself in the mirror while reciting them? If, for goodness' sakes, you truly haven't done this before, then you should come clean to your inviter and tell them that you do not qualify for the job because you are not old enough to have found someone who has swept your feet and made you do all kinds of crazy and silly things in order to snatch her heart and love, losing your rational thinking and making a fool out of yourself in the process. Go and tell your inviter you ain't the chap.

Consume a good amount of water as it has practically proven its usefulness as a calming agent in a human body. If you are keenly prone to nervousness, avoid coffee and other stimulant beverages, and be careful with your alcohol intake because “at low concentrations it can actually stimulate certain areas of the brain.” (Wikipedia)

Gestures and Body Language

It will be best if you are seated close to the bride and groom because when you deliver the speech the audience will have easy neck turns of looking at you and the couple, albeit your standing position. And you will make frequent references to the couple's names so people won't forget that the speech is a story about the couple, not you. (See “Nervousness” above.)

If for some unknown reason, you have been assigned a seat at one end of a table while the subject of your speech are waiting eagerly at the other end, then you must make the move yourself. When you have been introduced and announced to be giving a speech, take a sip of water to clear your throat and balance off any amount of alcohol you may have gulped, stand up, bring all the flash cards and notes and your glass of water, and walk to the vicinity of the bride and groom.

Put your glass somewhere within your reach, preferably a nearby cupboard or coffee table. Avoid putting your glass on the same table where space is crammed with other people's silvers and glasses. I have had personal experience of dining at a table so crammed the person next to me kept forgetting which was his water goblet and drinking out of and emptying mine. You wouldn't want to run out of water before running out of speech.

Then introduce yourself informally (remember, it's not a fund-raising event), but carefully (remember, you somehow represent the bride and groom). Feel free to mention a fresh anecdote that has just happened among the guests (not part of your speech plan) prior to your speech. Example:

Hi... Thank you Nauss for the encouraging introduction. To tell you the truth, I haven't been much of a public speaker myself. I did sign up and took the public speaking class you mentioned, but it was only because you asked me, about six months ago, to deliver this speech.

But yes, the class taught me a bit and I got to know a few new friends. In fact, when I was walking through the hall, I was pleasantly surprised to see one my lecturers here. Welcome, Mrs. Daunty. Thank you for telling me how to turn cold sweats into a cool speech!

After the impromptu start, take out all the flash cards and notes you may have prepared (see “Nervousness” above), and off you go and speak.

While speaking, try to keep a balance count of looking at your audience and the bride and groom: after every look at your audience, look at the bride and groom—especially the person whose story you're telling—so the audience will build the habit of looking at the couple and subject of your story and, hence, relate as many events in the story as possible to the bride and groom. Yes, the story may be about the bride, but it is you who is telling it. Like the director of a film, you have this grant responsibility of keeping the focus on your subject. By turning your neck from the audience to her repeatedly, you are sending a telepathic message to the listeners: “Look, isn't it wonderful to see the primary character of my story here, alive, well and speechlessly full of emotions?”

Practise well your speech so you won't be just reading off your flash cards or notes. In fact, it's much better to prepare just cards of the speech's outline than every word you're going to say. Imagine yourself telling a story to a group of children without constantly reading off a book. The effect would be that your story will be more compelling and all the more personal and lively than if you were citing every letter and word typed in the book. The reason for this is simple: When we write, we tend to be in more formal style than when we speak. Since a wedding speech is much less formal than other forms of public speaking, it is naturally more fitting to utter your speech in a similarly less formal style.

If you are a man and your subject of speech is the groom (and both of you are not gays, I have to add), then tap his shoulder once in a while when it is appropriate to show especially strong feelings about his character just described. Example:

Another characteristic that I find typical of Nauss is his natural bravery in the midst of scary events. I won't forget when we were camping in Borneo. It was early dawn and our fire was just almost out when we spotted a tiger lulling in the distance. Realising that we couldn't risk being attacked first, Nauss quickly inflamed the fire back and made a go-away sign with the fire at the tiger. At first, it seemed to be considering what response it should give back to Nauss. Perhaps it was thinking to actually launch an attack it wasn't sure it wanted to do. Or maybe it was thinking how silly Nauss was behaving with all the fire and stuff. But after an excruciating minute or two, the tiger agreeably moved away and out of our sight, and we felt calm again. Thank you, Nauss, for your bravery... (tapping on his shoulder)

Smile lavishly but appropriately. Exude an aura of happiness all the time. A wedding is probably one of a few happiest events in someone's life. Send this message to your audience.

Use your hands to help you describe more vividly an important scene or an emotional feeling. Example:

Then we went to a river nearby. It was so hot we didn't see another way of swimming and cooling off in water. For the first time in our lives, we were naked in a river... (your hands stretching downward your body as if mimicking it without any clothing)

If you consider yourself to be a bit taller than most of the people there and the chairs they are sitting on, bow frequently so it will be even easier for them to go back and forth between your face and the couple's.

The Speech

“What to write on my speech?” you begin to wonder. “Could I just copy and paste one of the zillion speeches available on the net?”

Well, you could, but that would make your speech a little too eyebrows-lifting and put yourself in an awkward position when the groom has never been “a superb football player” (in fact, he is not a sports fan at all) and you have never played with him “in defence for your local village side”.

So, write and tell your own speech.

Reminisce all the events that have truly transpired between you and your subject (the bride or the groom, or both). Now, you could emphasise, exaggerate and foolishly brag about some aspects of the events to make your speech more lively and humorous, but you would be firmly confident that none of the guests would be looking through you as if you were a ghost.

As a rule of thumb, if you plan to spend about five minutes, you will do well with five events. You can get away with less number of events if you can elaborate each event with precise visualisation and description of emotions involved. This is another reason you need to practise first. (See “Nervousness” above.)

Spend some time to selectively choose the events you will be telling in your speech. Again, your objective is to engage the listeners' attention as fully as possible so they will be thinking about the bride, the groom or both during your speech. Consequently, only the most memorable, laughter-baiting, or otherwise tearful events will reward you with the most spirited cheers when, at the end of your speech, you finally ask the guests, organisers, relatives and whomsoever being present there to raise their shiny glasses by heralding, “So, what say you to Susan and Nauss? Let's toast and express our wishes for their happy-ever-after marriage!”

“Hip hip..., Yea!”

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