speaker-at-meeting-home-page-170Speaking Tips

These tips will help you get started with your speaking project. Rostrum will help you practise!

Whether you are the bride, groom, best man, or possibly a friend of the family, this is one of the most important speeches you'll ever do. Find out how to make it great.

woman-smiling

In Summary:

  • Know your audience – do your research and be appropriate
  • Be prepared – you can even practice your speech at your local Rostrum club
  • Overcome your nervousness – make good use of notes and remember they're on your side
  • Strong, clear, natural voice, and not too fast
  • Enjoy yourself!

 

So, you have been invited to make one of the speeches at a wedding. First of all, congratulations! This means that the bride and groom really value the part that you have played in their lives, and that they are relying on you to make a contribution to one of the most important days of their lives.

But you don't want to make a mess of their offer, right? So what do you need to do to make your speech a success? Well, read on.

Overcoming your nervousness

Being a little nervous is not a bad thing. We need that adrenalin to give our best performance. Here are a few tips to overcome any major attack of nerves.

  • Remember the audience is on your side. They want to see you succeed
  • Your audience is there to enjoy themselves. They are not hostile
  • Take a couple of deep breaths before you begin to talk
  • Smile - it's infectious. Your audience will smile back and you will feel better
  • Don't speak too quickly
  • Don't drink too much before your speech. Alcohol is more likely to confuse you than relax you
  • If you are well-prepared and rehearsed, you will be less nervous.

Order and Purpose of Speeches

Before you start to prepare your speech, it is important to find out some basic facts.

  • Are you proposing a specific toast, and if so, to whom?
  • Are you responding to a specific toast, and if so, to which toast?
  • How long are you expected to speak for?
  • What other speeches will be made, and in what order are those speeches?
  • At what stage of the meal will you be called on to speak?
  • Who will be introducing you, and do they know a bit about you so that they can introduce you to the audience?
  • Is there anything that the bride or groom, or whoever asks you to speak, particularly want to say (for example, to thank anyone or a particular group of people, for their efforts)?
  • Is there anything that the bride or groom, or whoever asks you to speak, particularly DON'T want you to say (either because it might be embarrassing, or because it is being said by someone else)?

All weddings are different, and some will be much more formally structured than others. In a more formal wedding, there will be a succession of toasts and responses to the toasts. Often the first will be a toast to the Bride and Groom by the Best Man. Other toasts may be to the Bridesmaids, the Parent of the Bride (or Groom), or to any other important person in the lives of the happy couple.

If your speech is intended to include a toast to the Bridesmaids (for example) don't forget that you have to end by complimenting the Bridesmaids on their contribution to proceedings, their appearance, and so on, and by proposing the toast at the end of your speech.

The best speeches will be a mixture of humour (perhaps telling some stories of some of the funny experiences that the bride and groom have shared) but will also display genuine heartfelt affection for the happy couple (or whoever is being toasted). A speech doesn't have to be structured this way, but often it seems to work well to cover the funny bits earlier in the speech and to finish on a strong, personal, emotional note that the bride and groom will never forget.

If you need to thank a group of people, even if you are not using notes for the rest of your speech, it may be a good idea to make a list of the people you want to thank, because in the heat of the moment it is very easy, especially if you are thanking a LOT of people, to omit thanking someone important.

At the end of a formal toast, it is usual to use the words:

"So I ask you all to charge your glasses, {pause a few seconds if people need some time} to be upstanding {pause briefly again} and drink a toast with me:
'To the bride and groom!'" (Or, 'To Sandy and James!')

Use of Notes

Whether you should use notes, and what sort of notes you should use, depends on your experience in public speaking, your confidence, on how long and detailed your speech is, and on whether there are any details (such as a list of people to thank) that you will really need to write down.

If you are a confident, very experienced speaker, or if you are only making a very short speech, you may be able to speak without notes at all, or to speak only with one or two palm cards with only a few dot points written down to remind you of the main points of your speech. If you are an experienced speaker, it is better to make the least possible use of notes, so that you can concentrate on eye contact, gesture and delivery.

But if you are a very nervous beginner, and you are terrified that you will forget what you were going to say if you don't have a speech written out in full, don't worry, just write or type it out and then read it. But even then, we recommend practising reading it many times so that you start to get a feel for what you are reading and after a while you will find that some bits you won't need to read because you know what you are going to say without looking at your notes. You will find that your verbal delivery will be much more natural when you get to the bits that you know by heart rather than having to read.

For intermediate speakers, the best solution is to use palm cards including notes of what you are going to say. It's better if the notes are not so detailed that you end up reading the speech. Ideally they will just be a list in point form so that you look down at your notes briefly then look up at the audience again as you start to talk about your next point.

Some DOs and DON'Ts

DO:

  • Check with whoever asks you to speak exactly what your role will be, and how long you are expected to speak
  • Prepare your speech well in advance of the wedding day
  • Practise your speech in front of an audience
  • Include some personal stories especially funny or interesting stories
  • Try to balance what you say about the two parties (for example, if you are the best man and are proposing a toast to the bride and groom, don't speak at great length and deep emotion about what a fantastic guy the groom is and then say "and the bride's nice too"
  • Consider whether the content of your speech is suitable for the occasion and the audience
  • Talk positively about the future of the bride and groom together
  • Finish on a strong, genuine emotional note

DON'T:

  • Tell stories that will embarrass the bride or groom too severely
  • Allow your humour to be a series of one-liners or stories that don't really relate to the bride and groom
  • Speak for too long
  • Speak in a monotone voice
  • Drink so much alcohol before you speak that your delivery is impaired
  • Make your speech about yourself rather than about the subject you are toasting
  • Tell "in jokes" or stories that only a few people in your audience may appreciate. Remember the groom's guests may know very little about the bride's family and vice versa.

Delivering your speech

Here are some tips on delivery that will make your speech easier to listen to and easier to enjoy.

  • Smile! Show the audience that you are having fun!
  • Speak clearly, in a natural, conversational tone
  • Be sure to use a strong enough voice to be heard by all present
  • Don't speak too quickly. This will ensure your audience doesn't miss anything you have to say
  • Include some humour – the audience will really appreciate it if they can laugh along with you
  • Don't talk in a monotone, but try to vary your volume, tone, pace and pitch to suit the content of different parts of your speech – of course, so long as everyone can still hear and understand what you are saying!
  • As much as possible, try to make eye contact with the audience, and especially look at someone if you are talking about them
  • Act confidently even if you don't feel it
  • Try to finish on a very strong, emotional note that makes it clear how strongly you feel about the subject of your toast

Practice!

One of the best ways to ensure that your speech will go as well as you hope it will is to practice it in front of a small audience. Make sure it doesn't go on for too long. Check that you have whatever notes you need so that you don't forget anything important.

If you are viewing this website from somewhere in Australia, check out the addresses of your nearest Rostrum Club, and ring up one of the Rostrum contacts and ask if you can come along to a meeting to trial your speech. They will be happy to help, and will offer a critique of what you have done well and what you might still need to work on. And if you enjoy the meeting... perhaps you might like to join Rostrum!

Enjoying yourself

Although you may not think so at the time, being asked to give a speech at a wedding is an honour. You have been selected because of your close relationship with the family, because of the high regard you are held in or because they believe you are capable of doing a good job. (Then again perhaps you are the groom and don't have any choice!) You will find that once you have uttered those first few sentences and realised that the audience is empathetic, you will begin to enjoy the wedding and even enjoy making the speech.

If you haven't spoken in public before you may well surprise yourself at the sense of achievement you will derive from the experience. Then chances are, when you and others present realise what you are capable of, you will be asked to speak on many future occasions.

Well that's about all the advice that we can give. But if you have taken all the advice we have offered to heart, don't worry, your speech will be a big hit. Only remember one thing: have fun, and enjoy yourself when you are speaking. That way, you will relax and your speech will go over even better than you had hoped!

Adapted from the Rostrum publication "Tips on Public Speaking and Meeting Procedures." Vol. 1 - a collection of 30 handouts by Ron Johnson.

The best speaking tip

The best speaking tip you will ever get is "practice, practice, practice".  That's the benefit of Rostrum.  When you have something important to say you can practice it in an encouraging environment with your Rostrum teammates.

Go to top