Planning modern wedding speeches: Who should take the mic?

Who should give wedding speeches? Switch up the traditional line-up and make your wedding reception your own. Check out these expert tips on planning your wedding speeches

Bride and mother of the bride or mother of the groom giving speech at wedding

Speeches used to be a low point at most weddings. A stressful burden for those who had to do the talking and an endurance test for those doing the listening, they were generally regarded as a bit of a joke. Even that extra glass of fizz for the toasts often felt like a bribe.

Not any more though: these days, the speeches are more likely to be a central moment of the day and something guests really want to be part of.

We asked Heidi Ellert-McDermott, founder of the witty speech-writing service Speechy and author of The Modern Couple’s Guide to Wedding Speeches, to give us the lowdown on everything we need to know about who to ask, what to say and how to say it.

The Modern Couple's Guide to Wedding Speeches book by Heidi Ellert-McDermott
The Modern Couple’s Guide to Wedding Speeches by Heidi Ellert-McDermott

Who should make a speech at a wedding?

You don’t need to stick with tradition, the honest answer is whoever you like!

“Start by asking yourself who exactly you want to hear from on the day,” says Heidi. “If you didn’t know anything about a traditional wedding speech line-up, who would you want to give a speech?”

Like most aspects of a wedding, there are no longer any hard and fast rules. “No one – not your dad, the groom or the best man – has to speak. Sure, the traditional speakers may add something special to your day and be the right choice for you, but this isn’t necessarily the case.”

Instead, Heidi advises casting your net wider than tradition suggests. “Family dynamics have changed dramatically over the last few decades and the line-up is finally recognising this,” she points out. “Brothers, bridesmaids and mums are all vying for a bit of airtime, so couples are freer to put together a much better, more exciting line-up.” So, who might you consider asking?

Should the bride give a speech?

We’ve come a long way from the old male-dominated arrangement (what was that about anyway?) – and it’s about blooming time too. But which women should be invited up to say a few words? Well, how about you?

As someone who gave a speech at her own wedding, Heidi is a huge advocate for both halves of the couple delivering a toast. “Of course, no one should feel pressured to do anything they don’t want to do on their wedding day, but at least have a think about giving a speech,” she says.

“Mine ended up being one of my favourite moments of the whole day and something I’ll look back on fondly for years to come. I’d encourage other brides-to-be not to dismiss the idea as simply another ‘to do’.”

brides giving speeches during their wedding reception
Left image: Shutterstock. Right image: Ryan White Photography

What should the bride say?

Heidi believes that rather than thinking of it as making a feminist statement, giving a bride’s speech is a joy – and one not to be missed. “It’s a once-in-lifetime-opportunity to drop a lovebomb on everyone you care about.

“No one speaks ‘on behalf’ of you, and you can personally thank all your favourite people (and a few plus-ones) for coming,” she smiles.

“A great speech is the ultimate gift to your parents, friends and other half: a moment in time where you acknowledge just how much they mean to you.”

It’s your big day, so when it comes to making a speech, say it your way!

How to overcome nerves

“Times have changed. We’re working with more and more brides – and they’re all very different. Some are confident, some are shy. Some are naturally funny, some are more sentimental and romantic,” says Heidi.

“I like to remind brides that no one is expecting you to be a stand-up comedian or a modern-day poet. Everyone in the room will just be delighted to hear, first-hand, how you feel about getting hitched.”

Of course, if you decide that you’d actually rather just sit back and sip the champers, that’s fine – but consider asking the other brilliant women in your life to step up to the mic instead. Perhaps your maid of honour would give a great speech. Most mums usually have a few words of wisdom to share. Or maybe your partner’s sister has some advice on how to handle her sibling in the years ahead. And, remember, the best speaker might not even be seated at the top table…

Mother of the bride makes a speech at a wedding
Image: Paul Govers Photography

Get more of the family involved

Take a look at guests from the younger and older generations. Regardless of whether your grandparents decide to reveal a nugget of wisdom, or an embarrassing moment from their babysitting days, anything they share is guaranteed to get the room smiling. “Cheeky marriage advice from your granny will always go down well – the ruder the better, generally!”

And then we have the youngsters, an idea that works especially well if you and your partner already have children, but can also extend to any little person who means a lot to you.

“Their contribution depends on their age,” cautions Heidi. “If it’s a teenager, you might suggest they give you marriage advice using quotes from their favourite Harry Potter book or Star Wars film. Or it might be quite endearing – and revealing – to hear your eight-year-old stepdaughter’s advice on how to look after her dad in the years ahead.”

And she has another genius suggestion: “You could even consider getting younger children to hold up comedy cards (à la Love Actually) when you or your partner deliver your speeches,” suggests Heidi. “There’s nothing better than a four-year-old heckler to get people laughing.”

Who should start the speeches?

Traditionally you’d expect to hear from the father of the bride first then the groom, best man and any other guests. But you can switch it up to whatever suits you.

An idea that works well at boho, festival-style weddings is what’s known as Scandi-speeches, where guests are invited to stand up, say a few words and propose a toast if they so fancy. The Scandinavians have been doing speeches like this for decades and it’s a great way to ensure you hear well-wishes, heartfelt sentiments and funny anecdotes from lots of your friends and family. It also takes the pressure off the traditional speakers.

By putting a note in the invites (and announcing a reminder before the meal is served), couples can let their guests know they’re welcome to raise a glass at any point over dinner. “Spontaneous speeches can be a lot of fun and a good way to ensure your guests feel more involved in the day,” says Heidi.

How many people should speak at a wedding?

Once you’ve started thinking about who might add something brilliant to your speaker line-up, you may feel you’re spoilt for choice. But, if you don’t fancy the Scandinavian idea, how do you narrow down the number of speakers – and do you even need to?

Heidi advises having no more than five speakers (“at the very most!”) and if you’re having that many, be clear that their speeches must be between five and ten minutes long. No speech should exceed 1,300 words.

Maid of honour gives wedding toast
Image: Pocket Square Photography

When should the speeches happen?

If you have a few speeches to get through, they don’t all have to be delivered at once. “Guests do not want to listen to an hour of speeches! If you’re having more than three speakers, my advice is to schedule the speeches throughout the wedding meal; one before, two after the main course, and one final funny one after dessert,” says Heidi.

What do you say in a wedding speech?

Ideally you want all of the speeches to work well together and cover all of the right points without too much overlap, so you might want to give your speech-givers some guidelines.

Across the speeches, you should have; someone paying tribute to each of the newlyweds, and one, or both, of the newlyweds paying tribute to the other and their guests.

In the mix, you want some humour, some great storytelling and some lovely sentiment.
You want to get everyone in the room rooting for your marriage and in the mood to party. You want tears, laughter, insights and maybe the odd revelation or two.

Now, it’s over to you to think who’s most likely to deliver that – and relish the opportunity to do so!

Tips for giving a great speech

The key to delivering a good speech is to be prepared. Start by writing down all of the points you want to talk about and then you can start shaping it into a speech. Remember to introduce yourself and how you know the newlyweds (if it’s not already obvious).

It’s a good idea to get familiar with what you want to say and how you want to say it, delivery is key especially if you’re slipping in a few jokes. While you’re practicing, time yourself so you know how long it takes you to say it comfortably and this will help you determine whether you need to cut anything out or add on more.

If you’re being asked to do a speech, you probably know the couple well, so draw on your memories with them and what you know about their unique love story. Keep in mind what kind of stories they want their entire family to hear as well!

Here’s to some wonderful speeches!

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