- Bad speeches tend to be more prevalent at weddings than well-executed ones.
- Etiquette coach William Hanson offered Business Insider some pointers on making a good wedding speech.
- He says you want humour, relevant anecdotes, and a confident delivery, but not cringeworthy innuendo.
- It’s harder than it sounds.
Wedding season is around the corner, which means there will soon be countless best men, maids of honour, and fathers or mothers of the bride trying to figure out how to deliver the perfect speech.
Many couples are also moving away from tradition, and different members of the wedding party now make speeches at the reception. Just last week Meghan Markle apparently said she will defy tradition and make a speech at her May wedding to Prince Harry.
But it’s a lot harder than it sounds to strike the balance of hilarious yet respectful, and memorable but not risqué. We’ve all sat through a terrible wedding speech, and they’re not that enjoyable.
Australian etiquette expert Anna Musson told the Daily Mail: “While [it] can seem hilariously funny to make jokes about old girlfriends or questionable past behaviour, it’s important to keep it clean.”
To find out how to achieve this, Business Insider asked etiquette coach William Hanson for some pointers on delivering an exemplary speech.
“It is now very rare to sit through a good wedding speech – the bad ones are far more prevalent than good, mainly because a lot of people don’t like making them,” Hanson said.
“Or, on the other end of the spectrum the orator is so cocky that the speech they make doesn’t mirror the sophisticated tone of the wedding day.
“You want something in between confident but not arrogant.”
Here are Hanson’s top tips for not messing up on the big day:
1. Remember your audience
This is particularly important for the best man’s speech, according to Hanson.
“Remember all of the guests in the room, there might be children or Great Aunt Edna,” he said.
“Things that happened on the stag night or when the groom came up short should all be left out. I often see a best man’s speech being given by one of the lads to the lads – this can happen on the stag if needs be, but the wedding speech should make everyone feel comfortable, with an amusing vignette, and not be laden with innuendo.”
2. Swap excessive sentiment for self-deprecating humour…
…At least if you’re British. “British people don’t like schmaltz or overly sentimental speeches. They much prefer a bit of self-deprecating humour, as long as it is not vile,” Hanson said.
3. Remember, the humour is in the delivery
Your speech doesn’t have to be packed with one-liners, according to Hanson. In fact, if you don’t consider yourself a naturally “funny person,” you should leave the jokes out, he warned.
“A good speech doesn’t have to be hysterical, but heartfelt. You need to know your limits – humour is in the delivery so even if a joke is written for you you can completely mess it up.”
4. Throw in a few relevant anecdotes…
“Anecdotes are fine if they serve a purpose, and demonstrate the character of the bride or groom, not granny or godmother – they aren’t relevant here. Something along the lines of ‘I remember when Bob came home having met Jane…”
5. …But brevity is key
According to Hanson, the longest speech – about 10 minutes, not 30 minutes – is usually left until last, and is normally the best man’s, if you’re following tradition. For every other speech, five minutes should be enough. “In terms of anecdotes that means two each for the shorter speeches and three or max four for the longer.”
6. Use flash cards
“It depends how good an orator you are, but if you can, try not to read the speech and instead use bullets on queue cards. Rehearse it, even record yourself on your phone, and then do it in front of others before the big day,” he advises.
7. Ease up on the booze before
Hanson’s advice is normally not to drink at all before giving your speech. “If you’re nervous you’ll be inclined to drink too much and it ruins it for everyone if you’re sloshed and can’t speak,” he said.
But if this is wildly unrealistic, then at least ease up on the glasses of fizz before taking the mic.
If you can abide by these rules, the newlyweds should (in theory) go off to live happily ever after.
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