By David Block
Having written presentations for CEOs and other senior directors of FTSE Top 100 companies, including; SME executives, heads of government departments, the BBC, leading City and IT companies, top celebrities, and many, many others – David Block,a ‘man of many words’ has kindly written a small guide on how to make that all important wedding speech.
Whether you’re the Groom, Bestman, Father/Mother of or indeed Bride, sweaty palms will be a thing of the past once you’ve read what David has to say. For those of you who want more than few guidelines, why not give him a call. His speech writing and ‘speaker coaching’ services will give you all the confidence you need to turn worries into words.
Which way to Beach Head?
Some people would sooner fling themselves from a cliff than make a wedding speech. And they’d tie a rock to their ankles if told to ‘make it funny’. That’s even though their audience is mostly composed of supportive people keen to laugh and applaud. But that’s not how some speakers see it. In their minds, everyone’s just waiting to snigger at badly timed punch-lines or ill-judged anecdotes. Even worse is the spectre of dead silence. Crueler still are embarrassed, echoey titters.
So if you’re ever in that situation, instead of entering a nearby cliff top into your Sat Nav, you may like to consider borrowing some pretty fail-safe professional techniques. I’ve collected these tips over decades of speech writing that include corporate presentations for such personalities as Melvyn Bragg, Ian Hislop, Jeremy Paxman, Graham Norton, Michael Buerk, Clive Anderson, Jonathan Ross and Richard Wilson. I’ve also written scores of speeches for wedding parents, best men and women, maids-of-honour, brides, grooms and guests.
On the shoulders of many of the latter sits an imaginary soundtrack pointing out how much has gone into the wedding: how beautiful the ladies, how glorious their The State of Grace outfits, how sparkling the environment, how delicious the food and drink, and how much they’re going to wreck the lot with a toe-curling speech.
So how to avoid such a nightmare? Well, let’s start with what not to do. Which is telling jokes unless you have a natural talent for them and can time your punch-lines perfectly.
If you still feel the need, then keep them short and always have a follow-up line in case you have to cover the ensuing silence. And always ensure they are relevant.
An example came from a father of a bride who was well known to have had a series of previous relationships with notoriously unsatisfactory men. So her father was able to deliver a series of quick fire lines like: “How many of (my daughter’s) old boy friends did it take to change a light bulb? The answer’s ‘None, they just stood there and waited for the world to go around them.’ Followed by ‘Offer them a penny for their thoughts and you’d get change.’ And the final punch: ‘The wheel’s spinning but the hamster’s dead.” He got away with it, but it was risky particularly because it is always a bad idea to ridicule anyone present to get a laugh. Fortunately, none of his targets was.
Funny anecdotes are another thing altogether. And that’s where you can invent, manipulate or exaggerate a story to highlight someone’s familiar characteristic. One well-worn tale told by a best man client went down well recently, despite its hoary vintage. “I don’t know how many of your realise that this wedding very nearly didn’t happen,” he said with a serious expression followed by a long pause. “Cathy (the bride) phoned her mum a few days ago, in a terrible state. “Mum,” she said. “Everything was wonderful until Gary started using some terrible language. . . .words I’d hoped never to hear between us. Nasty four-letter words.” Our Barbara was her usual supportive self. “Don’t cry darling,” she said “you can tell me what those words were.” And Cathy replied “Oh mum, he used words like cook, bake, dust and iron!” It got a great laugh, thanks to the speaker conspiratorial delivery.
Active audience participation.
Here’s an entertaining and quite safe cameo that I’ve seen work every time. The speaker asks every woman in the room, including the bride to place her hand, palm upward, on the table. He or she then asks their male partners to place their hands on top of the ladies’. When everyone’s done so, the speaker says . . .”and that’s the last time, (groom) and you men will ever have the upper hand over (bride) and your partners.”
Rather more demanding is one for a best-man with a talent for tension.
“We hope our bride and groom will stay happily together for ever,” he said. “But let’s face it, after a few years, you can get on one another’s nerves a bit. You know, certain irritating characteristics kick in. Well, I’ve got a remedy for all that. Why not try this? . . .
Ladies and gentlemen . . .
Close your eyes and . . .
Picture yourself near a stream.
Birds are softly chirping in the crisp, cool, mountain air.
No one knows your secret place.
You are in total seclusion from that hectic place called “the world”.
The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.
The water is clear.
You can easily make out the face of the person you’re holding under the
There now…feeling better?
Pieces of String
That was quite a gratuitously long vignette which raises one of the most asked questions: how long should I speak for? Well, an average length is from seven to ten minutes, but my advice is don’t fill a time slot, just say what’s important for you to express and don’t gratuitously pad it out.
One of the most memorable and funniest best-man ‘speeches’ I’ve heard was also the shortest. It came from a professional comedian who stood up and declared: “I hope John and Jenny will be as happy as my wife and I thought we were going to be,”. Now that takes chutzpah (cheek), but after a shocked silence, the laughter was thunderous and the impact long recalled.
Again, it was risky so if you’re not a regular speech-maker, it may not be worth taking chances like that. Instead, why not consider following these general confidence building tips used by many professional speakers.
- While rehearsing, underline key words in every sentence for emphasis.
- As you’re waiting to be announced, repeat in your mind the first couple of sentences of your speech. It is not only good practice for a strong start but it also blocks negative thoughts.
- Just before you’re announced, take three deep relaxing breaths.
- Wait a couple of seconds after you’ve been announced before standing. It’s a good way to build your self-confidence.
- Before starting, pause for a second again. It helps establish who’s in charge.. Then smile at someone nearby.. (Smiling on such occasions is never misinterpreted and is universally therapeutic)
- If you are reading from a script, rehearse it so you know where the content is on the page . Then you won’t be scared of looking around and losing your place.
- Don’t allow your voice to drop at the end of sentences.
- Be sure you scan whole room, don’t leave anyone out and don’t get fixated on one smiley person.
- Vary your speed of delivery and pitch of voice as appropriate between topics.
- Pause between topics– silence adds impact, but not for too long or it may seem pompous.
- Keep you energy up. If you don’t nor will the audience. Being energetic is contagious.
- Smile when you make your toast. . .
. . .and guess what? They’ll all be smiling too and that’s a much more attractive prospect’ than from the top of Beachy Head.