Words by Beth Forsyth
When I agreed to make a ‘best woman’ speech at a friend’s wedding, I wasn’t fazed by the prospect. After all, I had plenty of time to prepare (it was months away) and as I write about weddings for a living, I convinced myself it would be a breeze. Yet when I sat down to write the speech four weeks prior to the big day, I found myself staring at a blank document on my screen, gripped by fear at the thought of standing up in front of 200 guests. It was time to ask for help…
“Beating speech nerves is about having one that you’re looking forward to presenting,” Andrew Shanahan of grooms’ portal I Am Staggered (iamstaggered.com), which can help stressed grooms write speeches, tells me. Okay – I’m definitely not looking forward to it, but that’s because I haven’t got the foggiest idea where to begin. Andrew reassures me that as I still have time on my side, all will be well. “Timing is crucial when it comes to writing a speech,” he says. “You put way too much pressure on yourself if you leave it until the week before. If you start panicking, then rational thought can easily go out the window. You also leave yourself no time to practise or collaborate.” Collaborate? You mean I can get other people involved? In fact, it turns out that chatting to other people who know the bride or groom is one of the best ways to get started on ideas for the speech. “Speak to other people; send out emails; chat at the stag or hen do – these are all good ways of gathering material for your speech,” suggests Andrew.
Begin collating all these ideas on a document on your computer and have a stab at a first draft. “When it comes to structure, keep it simple: beginning, middle, end,” advises Andrew. Next, you need to filter and refine what you have and pick out the points that are good. “Talk to other people for their help on this, too,” he continues.
Getting the right length is crucial and – you’ll be pleased to hear – short is good! Andrew suggests that five to eight minutes is ideal, which equates to an overall word count of around 750 to 1000 words. Chris Tait at Wedding Speech Builder (weddingspeechbuilder.com), where you can shape your speech based upon hundreds of ready-made content options, agrees: “Any longer and you’ll start to lose your audience.”
Chris also reckons that the opening line of a speech is the most important thing you will say. “It’s your opportunity to get people’s attention. The best way to do that is with humour,” he suggests. “One tried-and-tested strategy for getting the crowd on side is to make yourself the butt of the first joke. Think about what you’re renowned for and be prepared to offer up anything even vaguely amusing about your looks, habits or personal circumstances. And if you really want to impress, a topical icebreaker that connects a recent news story to the wedding or marriage can work wonders.”
While it’s good to inject some humour, avoid in-jokes. “These will switch an audience off and you’ll never get them back,” says Chris. “Think about whether you really need to recite a whole story. Your speech needs humour but no real detail.”
Content-wise, it’s also worth bearing in mind that making a speech is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share your feelings on the bride and groom. “The best speeches are the ones where people talk honestly about how they feel,” suggests Andrew.
When you stand to take the microphone, take a deep breath – this will relax your body and keep your voice steady. “Consign the opening line and the next two lines of your speech to memory,” recommends Chris. “Then, if necessary, read the rest word for word, but try to raise your head and speak to the audience as much as you can.” Practise reading the speech a good few times before the big day, recording yourself and playing it back if you think it’ll help. No matter how confident you’re feeling, it’s worth having the speech printed out in its entirety (Andrew suggests a 12-14 point font in 1.5 line spacing for ease of reading) as it’ll be much more reassuring should you have a last-minute panic. “Remember though, a wedding audience is one of the kindest you’ll encounter. They’re all rooting for you and on your side,” says Andrew.
If you’re still quaking in your boots after reading this, consider hiring someone to help write your speech (hunt out one from the many options online) or be honest with the bride or groom about your worries. Chances are, they’d rather skip the formality than have it ruin your enjoyment of the day.
Still filled with trepidation at the thought of speaking? Palma Brannan explains how hypnotherapy could help
“Being anxious about speaking in public is very common and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a type of social phobia; we feel as though we are going to be ‘on show’ and that we’ll be judged.
Hypnotherapy helps by engaging the resources of the unconscious mind so that anxious thoughts and feelings are replaced by positive ones, leading to a feeling of confidence. Also, when you’re in a trance, the hypnotherapist will help you visualise yourself making your speech successfully – your subconscious takes that in as reality, helping you gain a positive experience, which will add to your confidence. Two-to-three sessions should suffice, but you could also try this confidence-boosting technique at home.
Find a quiet place to sit or lie where you won’t be disturbed; close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, counting down from 10 to one on each out breath. Now, imagine you’re watching the wedding video. It’s at the part where you’re about to speak – see yourself making the speech and everything going well. You are calm and collected, the guests are listening attentively, and at the end you get a huge round of applause and feel great! The more your mind replays this success, the more confident you will become. While in this relaxed state, you can also give yourself positive affirmations about the forthcoming event – it’s important to keep them positive as your subconscious will pick up on key words, so rather than say “I won’t make a mess of my speech”, say “I will make a success of my speech”.