The wedding speeches

Our Leeds wedding was a fairly traditional sit-down affair, which included speeches by myself and my best man Norman. My brother-in-law Simon was good enough to capture it all on video.

I’m pretty pleased with my speech so I am now going to arrogantly offer advice to anyone who has such as speech to do. Perhaps it will even be useful for public speaking in general.

I opened with a few jokes. I think it set a good tone for the rest of the speech, which was mostly jokes. You have to go big or go home here. It’s scary yelling out “AH HA!” in front of a room of people who may or may not have seen Alan Partridge but you really have to go for it if you want the effect to work.

In terms of preparation, I started writing the speech as soon as I proposed. This gave me a year to work on it. I did not need all of that time. I wrote most of it mentally in the first few months, and metaphorically put ink to paper a few months before the big day. A month or two is ample time to write it but I recommend getting starting in advance for a number of reasons.

First, it is easier to do when you have plenty of time. Writing a speech to a deadline sucks. You are more likely to get writer’s block when you know you have to write, rather than when you can be relaxed about it. Also, doing it well in advance gives you plenty of time to go over it and nearer the day you will have other fires to fight. You can even write it, forget about it, then do a practice run a few weeks before.

In terms of practice, I didn’t do much. But then I was pretty relaxed about it (until I had to stand up and realised this was it!). Having written it mostly in my mind, I knew the lines pretty well anyway, and I did do some practice beforehand, so it wasn’t totally just freestyle.

I used notes, as you can see from the video. Always have notes to hand. They are a comfort blanket. When I am giving a competition speech, I do not have any notes. But when it is your wedding and you are already feeling the stress, the last thing you want is additional pressure. There is alcohol to factor in too. Best to have the notes there, just in case.

The Finnish bit was read word for word. I originally wrote it in English than had Elina translate it. Then I took that to my Finnish tutor and we worked on the pronunciation together. My script is actually annotated with pronunciation notes to remind myself.

Speaking of Finnish, try not to butcher the names of all your in-laws. It’s something that I, alas, was unable to achieve.

Emotion plays a key part in your delivery too. I choked up when I was telling the story about Elina’s dad. I was not expecting that. Looking back at the video it doesn’t look as bad as it felt, but it felt pretty bad. Worth factoring that in as something to be aware of.

I suspect the best bits are the most personal. Those are the most moving. And sometimes the most funny: the joke about my parents marrying for tax reasons got the biggest laugh of the speech.

Gestures, I still haven’t figured this one out. I need to find something else to do with my hands. However, I’m not sold on the idea of keeping them by myself the whole time. It looks and feels strange to me. This area needs more attention.

With the length, I came in at 22 minutes. This would have been too long had there been a third speech. However, given it was just myself and Norman, and we are both good speakers, I thought I could get away with it. Adding a bit of vocal variety (“20 years Leeds!”) seemed to help add some animation.

I sent my speech to Norman a week or two before the wedding. At which point he realised we were basically saying the same thing and quickly went on the re-write! He kept his notes on his phone which worked quite well. It’s small, like flashcards, so doesn’t get in the way.

Confidence is key. Norman’s strong and bold delivery sets a good base, and his appropriate timing and pauses around the jokes adds to the effect. You could take this even further: breaking out into song for the Tim Minchin lines for example. Not a tactic for the faint-hearted though!

Again, the personal stuff works the best. I loved the references to Stewart Lee, but it didn’t get the same laughs as the rest. Telling personal stories to your friends and family is being able to make an in-joke that everyone is included in.

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This entry was posted on Friday, January 29th, 2016 at 10:17 am and is filed under Public Speaking, Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.