David has been a writer for more than a decade having ghostwritten hundreds of speeches for executives in business and academia.
Speeches are a time-honored tradition at any wedding. Between groomsmen, bridesmaids, and the parents of the newlyweds, there are a lot of people who are expected to hop up to the microphone and say a few words.
It can feel daunting to start writing a speech if you've never written one before, but it doesn't have to be a challenge. It can actually be a truly wonderful part of the wedding tradition as you reflect on the happy couple and try to put their love into words.
Here are a few tips to help you write a speech that will draw in your audience and delight the newlyweds.
1. Start by Writing Down What You Know About the Couple
Writing a speech does not have to be complicated, but many people approach it like a creative writing exercise when it is more like a well-articulated report with emotion and narrative. You need to start this process by having the facts at the ready.
You can do this by compiling answers to some basic questions, such as:
- When and where did the couple meet?
- How do you know them?
- What do you like most about each of them?
- What do they have in common?
- What do you think makes them strong, life-long partners?
- What examples of their love have you witnessed?
These are some basic questions you can write out answers to that might give you inspiration as to what you'll say about the happy couple in front of a crowd of friends and family. Plus, penning answers to these simple questions will get your writing gears turning, which is not always easy if you're not a professional writer.
2. Avoid Trying to Be Funny or Insulting
There is an immediate urge to try to utilize the stage to entertain. For the most part, that's not what a wedding speech is designed to do. If you have a funny story to relay about the couple that emphasizes the strength of their relationship, such as how the groom couldn't manage to change a tire on their first date but the bride stepped in to fix it and it ended in their first kiss, by all means, take the time to tell it. It's important though to not make either of the newlyweds the butt of the joke.
It's much easier to connect with your audience and the newlyweds through emotion. The couple will remember that time you tried to be funny and ended up insulting them in front of their closest friends and family. That's not the legacy you want to leave with your wedding speech.
3. Keep Your Speech Under Five Minutes
The Gettysburg Address was only 272 words long, and yet it was remembered for how powerful it was regardless of its short length. President Lincoln conveyed sincerity, passion, and a meaningful message in a speech that lasted less than two minutes. There is no reason your wedding speech should extend more than three times that length.
If you are looking for a guide as to how many words your speech should be, I tend to use this formula: 150 words = 1 minute of speech
This is on the high end of words per minute. It is important to note that everyone speaks at a different rate, and those not accustomed to public speaking tend to speak faster than normal. It is a natural reflex when nervous or stressed and is why I believe 150 words/minute is a good place to start.
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I recommend you practice saying your speech aloud to test how fast you will be speaking. It's a good measure to keep in mind when trying to keep your speech to a tight five minutes or less.
4. Organize a Structure to Your Speech
One of the biggest mistakes people can make when delivering a speech is to try and wing it. This tactic often results in a winding and disjointed speech that is hard to follow. Unless you are a seasoned orator, like a professor, teacher, or semi-professional life coach, you will want to write your speech to flow in a similar way a novel does.
Here is a sample structure of themes for a wedding speech that you can use:
- Congratulate the newlyweds.
- Remark on the beauty of the wedding.
- Thank the couple for letting you share in their special day.
- Talk about how their love inspires you and how much they have impacted your life.
- Tell a (quick) story from either the beginning of your relationship with one or both of them, the beginning of their relationship, or from the lead up to the wedding (absolutely no bachelor or bachelorette stories).
- Congratulate them one last time.
- Offer a toast in celebration of the couple.
This is a sample structure of how I've written wedding speeches over the years. There's a flow to this organization that starts with the day, recognize the happy couple, connect you to their love, and is rounded out with a final congratulations and toast.
5. Pick the Right Story
Stories are powerful tools when delivering any speech, and a wedding speech is certainly no different. Congratulatory words and nice statements about the flowers and room decor simply won't cut it. A story can add emotion. It can go beyond words and paint a picture that adds context to the couple's love, your love for them, and how your audience can glimpse that connection.
The trick, however, is picking the right story about the couple. Remember to make it about the couple—not you, not the family members, and absolutely not any former partners either member of the couple may have had in the past.
It sounds obvious, but I've heard speeches at weddings that go off the rails and down the "when Daniel was with Claire before he met Jennifer," and that is not something you should be bringing up in casual conversation, let alone at a wedding.
6. Keep Your Sentences Short
The most important thing to remember when writing any speech is that you do not speak like you write or read. We often write in long, 35-word sentences with carefully written punctuation to make it sound good and grammatically correct. This is not now you write a speech. Long sentences are difficult to read aloud, even if you were the wordsmith of the speech.
Start by writing shorter sentences. Nothing more than 20 words long. You will be a little nervous as you give the speech, even with a couple glasses of champagne to give you courage, so by keeping your sentences short you will be able to create a solid cadence as your speak. This means you will pause to take a breath regularly. If possible, write as close to how you talk as possible.
Have someone review the speech after a couple of drafts to evaluate if it does, in fact, sound like you. This also means you will need to practice it out loud and test if you need to shorten sentences or rewrite sections that are a little difficult to say. Remember, reading something is very different than saying it out loud.
7. Rewrite, Rewrite, and Rewrite Again
Your first draft is never your best draft. Rewriting is an essential part of writing anything and a wedding speech is no different. Giving yourself the time to rewrite lines and more thoroughly go through the emotions of a wedding speech will do wonders.
Make no mistake. A wedding speech is an emotional endeavor. It's not a presentation at work where you are simply trying to relay information and a message in an effective manner. You are trying to connect and pay respect to the joining of two people on one of the most important days of their lives. Taking the time to ensure you are saying exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it is essential and that is only possible through careful revisions.
Yes, it adds time to the whole process, but great speeches rarely come from off the cuff.
Remember to have fun and not to stress too much. If you follow these tips, say what's in your heart, and ensure you toast to the lovely couple, the speech will be a success.
© 2019 David Tubbs
David Tubbs (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 21, 2019:
Thanks Liz! They can feel high pressure, but should be a lot of fun.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 21, 2019:
This is a great wedding speech writing tool and checklist. There's a lot of pressure on the sppech giver to get the balance right.