It’s that time of the year again — wedding season! The time for fancy dresses, botanical garden venues and (hopefully) open bars has finally fallen upon us and it’s about time we brushed up on those public speaking skills of ours just in case our coupled friends ask us to give a speech or toast at the special occasion. Wedding season can bring forth a lot of public speaking anxiety, because, well there are so many instances in which people may have to address a large crowd. There are speeches made at the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony, the reception, and potentially a few inebriated, emotional speeches made at the bachelor/bachelorette parties — let's be real.
If you've found yourself crossing over from the wedding guest list to the wedding party lineup and want to make a good impression in your newly appointed role of best man or maid of honor, then below is your crash course in giving a good wedding speech. It's actually a lot easier than it sounds —with a little preparation and a great deal of confidence you can absolutely give a wedding toast to remember!
Who gives the wedding speech or toast?
Most wedding receptions have several rounds of speeches — not to be mistaken for the several rounds of speeches that traditionally occur during the rehearsal dinner the night before. Wedding reception speeches are often given by the following attendees:
- The best man/maid of honor
- The hosts (the individuals who funded the ceremony)
- The newlyweds
- The guests (at the discretion of the hosts/newlyweds)
Each wedding speech or toast given at the reception and the persons delivering them serves a specific purpose. While this is the order that one would follow if the couple is aiming for a more traditional ceremony, keep in mind that the decisions of who presents and when they do it are at the discretion of the couple and the hosts depending on their personal preferences.
When are wedding speeches given?
With all of these potential opportunities for speeches, how do we decipher which speeches happen and when? Well, if you're tasked with speaking at the wedding reception, just know that any last-minute changes you need to make to your speech or toast should be done before the guests receive their first course. Once the guests have received their first course this is usually the best man's cue to start the speech-delivery portion of the evening. The traditional order of the speeches goes as listed above: best man/maid of honor, hosts (parents), the newlyweds and then — potentially — the guests (with minor changes to the order or timing at the discretion of the couple/hosts).
How to give a great wedding speech or toast.
Giving a tasteful and meaningful wedding speech/toast takes preparation and practice. The more weddings you're asked to speak at, the more you get a feel for how to give a good speech. Above all, giving a good speech or toast requires understanding the role that you play in the wedding party since that role in some way corresponds to the nature of the speech or toast you'll be giving. Let your role be your guide when it comes to writing your speech.
Best man/maid of honor.
So, your coupled friends have asked to take their relationship with you to the next level by asking if you'll be the best man or maid of honor at their wedding — what an honor! Then reality sets in that this is, in fact, a pretty big responsibility. Between ensuring that bride(s) and groom(s) are cool, calm and collected in the months leading up to the big day, you're also tasked with giving congratulatory speeches that acknowledge the newlywed’s best qualities and why they’re good for each other. This can be a daunting task if you're new to the wedding party scene or absolutely hate public speaking; remember, just breathe. Here are a few rules of thumb you should follow when drafting your best man/ maid of honor speech or toast:
• Pick a theme and stick to it.
As the best man or maid of honor at the wedding, you're responsible for making the newlyweds look good in your speech. These are your close friends, after all. When writing your speech, pick out a few good quality that they have or point out what you admire about them as a couple and use this as a guideline for the rest of your toast. Acknowledge why those qualities make them a good match or why it'll lead to a lasting union.
• Be anecdotal.
On par with the "pick a theme" tip above, let that theme that you've chosen lead into an anecdote that further exemplifies the qualities of the couple that you've chosen to highlight. Surely you have a spark notes version of their initial "meet cute" that resulted in their current union. If you're a close friend, you've had the opportunity of watching as their relationship evolved, use that to your advantage!
• Know your audience.
It's good to use anecdotes in your speech; it's bad to choose the wrong kind of anecdote for the occasion. Try not to tell any inappropriate stories about one or both newlyweds in hopes of getting a few laughs. Try to keep it light, at least for their granny's sake.
Hosts/parents of the bride(s) and groom(s).
The apple of your eye is finally tying the knot, yay! Surely you're feeling a lot of emotions about this, so how do you best condense all of those emotions into a brief toast? It sounds difficult, but it is doable! The hosts of the wedding — whom of which are traditionally the parents of the bride but can also be at the discretion of the newlyweds, are tasked with giving a toast to the couple, the other set of parents and the guests for coming together to share such a special occasion. When giving your toast remember to:
• Welcome the new addition to your family.
Your family tree just grew a couple more branches — be sure that when you acknowledge the newlyweds that you welcome your new son or daughter in law to your family and thank their family for their contributions as well. You all made this day possible together.
• Briefly share some memories.
If you have any memories of the couple's time together do share them — any opportunity to highlight the love that the newlyweds have shared up to the big day is a good idea, but do keep it reasonably brief!
• Acknowledge and thank guests who traveled far distances to be there.
As I'm sure the newlyweds, the hosts and everyone else in the wedding party are already aware, wedding season is expensive! It can be a bit of a financial burden on the wedding guests as well, between being invited to multiple weddings, finding something to wear to all of those nuptials, buying wedding gifts and potentially purchasing airfare to that destination wedding in Bali — wedding season costs sure do add up. Be sure to extend gratitude to those whom despite the distance, the expenses and the inconvenience made the effort to be there and celebrate with you.
It's your big day, it's about time for the reception and truthfully, the stressful part should be over and you should be thoroughly enjoying yourself with your new spouse. Everyone that should've made a speech has made a speech, but you also want to extend a few words to everyone that made the celebration of your love possible.
• Thank your hosts and the wedding party.
Unless you and your sweetie decided to elope, there are a lot of moving parts involved in planning and executing a wedding. Be sure to thank those who worked with you to make your magical day possible. It really does take a village.
• Thank your guests.
Your guests are there because they care about you, show your gratitude to them and thank them for sharing in your happiness.
• Thank your spouse.
There would be no wedding if there were no spouse, right? Saying something as simple as "thank you for being in my life" could mean the world to them on your big day. This is a celebration of the two of you, so make sure you show appreciation for each other for making it this far.
What a lovely wedding you've attended — the ceremony was beautiful, the steak dinner you had was tasty, and you're grateful to the hosts for the open bar. If you feel compelled to give a toast to the newlyweds for such a good time and they've allotted some time for guests to say a few words, be sure to:
• Thank the couple for inviting you.
When thinking of who they wanted to be there when they said their vows or had their first dance, the couple thought of you! Coming up with a wedding guest list sounds easy, but it's a lot harder than we can imagine. Remember to thank the couple for thinking of you.
• Congratulate them.
This is a day full of congratulations for the new married couple, don't forget to do your part to acknowledge how happy you are for them!
General Wedding Speech Tips
1. Keep it short.
Try to keep your speech or toast around a reasonable five minutes. If you feel you've got a bit more to say, ten minutes should be your official cut off. Keeping in mind how many speakers the newlyweds have appointed should also dictate how long or short your delivery should be. Be sure to read your crowd; the attention of the audience can also be a good indicator of when to bring your speech or toast to a close.
2. Keep jokes to a minimum.
One or two jokes sprinkled into your wedding speech or toast is good for keeping the attention of your audience, but don't use this as an opportunity to poke too much fun at the newlyweds. Remember, it's a toast, not a roast. If you do plan on using a few jokes in your speech, be sure to test them out on other members of the wedding party beforehand. Jokes can definitely be a hit or miss, and getting some feedback beforehand will only help.
4. Make your speech while sober.
Public speaking is stressful, so of course it would seem like a good idea to take a shot or two to take the edge off of addressing such a large crowd. In all honesty, liquid courage is probably the last thing you need just before a big wedding speech. In an attempt to not be that person, avoid the open bar until after all is said and done. Remember, drunken words reflect sober thoughts, and you don't want anything to slip out that you didn't intend to share.
5. Be confident.
If you've written your speech from the heart, practiced it and gotten a few other members of the wedding party to lend you some feedback, then the hardest part is over. Be confident in what you have to say about the union of your friends or family. If they asked you to speak at their wedding, then they value what you have to say regardless. The most important people at the wedding have shown that they value your presence, so use that as motivation to do your best to honor them on their special day.
Weddings and wedding speeches are stressful, yes— but they are also incredibly beautiful and fun! Don't stress too much, as with all things, with proper preparation, a little practice and a sense of humor it can turn any anxieties you may have into a lesson learned and a story to tell. All we can really do is try our best to make the day as memorable and heartfelt as possible for the couple involved. Good luck!