I’m a professional comedy writer, and in my not-so-secret double life, I help real people be real funny — which means I write a lot of wedding speeches.
Here are 5 expert-level tips for writing and delivering the best possible speech or toast at your own wedding reception.
TIP #1 - Go last! Be the final speakers at your wedding. Weddings have plenty of speeches. At the very least, the best man, maid of honor and father of the bride will speak, and there’s always a few more close friends and relatives who will want (and deserve) a few minutes to say embarrassingly kind things about you. Let them, and do everything in your power to set them up for success. That means giving your speakers first dibs on any stories they might be planning to tell and letting them have the audience while they’re still fresh and attentive.
You and your partner are the headliners – the ones everyone is there to see – so your guests’ attention spans will reset automatically no matter how long your dad goes with his detailed review of every boyfriend you’ve had since kindergarten.
Going last also means that all your other speakers can sit back and enjoy your speech instead of preparing for/ dreading their own.
TIP # 2 - Thank people early and often. First and foremost, thank the guests for coming. Weddings can be a headache to attend in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. You might also want to single out whoever made the longest journey to be there on the big day. (And remember, the phrase ‘longest journey’ doesn’t have to be taken literally.)
Thank the maid of honor and best man and the entire wedding party. If the wedding plans have been particularly complicated, or if you’ve been a difficult bride-to-be (and you know who you are,) a little good-natured self-awareness will go a long way here.
And make sure to thank your parents! First for their contribution to the wedding itself and then for, y’know, raising you.
3. Keep it simple. Some couples get very ambitious with joint speeches or toasts. What may look hilarious on paper, can have diminishing returns performance-wise. Rather than trying to do a double act and splitting up your remarks line by line or have one person do set up a joke and the other do the punchline, keep your split simple and straightforward. Divide your remarks in half with one person opening the speech and the other closing (ME-YOU.) Or split it up by paragraphs (ME-YOU, ME-YOU.)
Think about award shows and how painful it is to watch the best actors on the planet try to tag team witty repartee. If Meryl Streep can’t make it look natural, what chance do the rest of us have? By all means, have a sense of humor, but keep the choreography simple. I like to give the person who will be doing the second half of the speech the very first line so if feels like a group effort right from the very beginning. For example:
4. Don’t forget to thank your new spouse! It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it happens. Remember when Ben Affleck forgot to thank Jennifer Garner in his Oscar speech? Look how well that turned out. Save the best for last and end on a thank you that turns into a physical toast.
5. Relax and have fun! Even if you hate public speaking, you’re going to enjoy this. This isn’t like giving a book report or explaining a presenting at your company’s quarterly sales review. This is the most loving, supportive audience you will ever have. Your friends and family want to hear from you and they want your speech to succeed.
My very polite wife hates public speaking or being the center of attention in any way. (She’s English.) Before we got married, we’d joke that I’d have to have to exchange vows with a cardboard cut-out of her while she hid behind the guests.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to go that far, but she flatly refused to prepare a speech for the reception. But when the big moment came, she felt so comfortable in the room surrounded by so many of our nearest and dearest that she took the mic away from me and took over my speech!
She was fully in the moment and felt so much love and affection coming from the guests that any fear of speaking completely evaporated. A few gin and tonics on an empty stomach probably didn’t hurt either, but you get my point.
Want to know how I can help with your speech? Scroll down, or click here.