The wedding speech is one of the more stressful rituals that a guy has to go through during the wedding reception–whether he’s the best man, the father of the bride, or the groom himself. Oration is an art, after all. To quote Steve Martin, “Some people have a way with words, and others…not have way, I guess.”
Unfortunately, not everyone who is called on to give a wedding toast…has way. At weddings, even people who aren’t naturally gifted at public speaking have to stand and deliver.
If you are contemplating your wedding speech with dread, here are some ways you can spin it to help you express your thoughts in a moving, charming and confident way.
A Positive Spin
Wedding toasts are the time for euphemisms. Everything gets a positive spin, no matter what you actually think. Leave your snide, judgemental attitude in your hotel room.
For example, if the bride is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, praise her “wonderful capacity to learn.” If the groom is a slob, praise him for “the ability to function in any type of environment.” If they are both loud and obnoxious, characterize them in your speech as “unforgettable ” and “larger than life.” It’s not lying: it’s being polite. Those who really know the person you are toasting will get the subtle humor.
A Wholesome Spin
Remember that your audience is going to include 98-year-old Aunt Irma as well as a lot of parents and possibly children, so this isn’t the time to act like it’s open mike night at The Comedy Store and start dropping F-bombs.
Don’t mention what happened in Vegas as the bachelor party, especially if it involved handcuffs, shaving cream, or a dildo (in fact, “dildo” should never show up in a wedding speech in any context.) Nor should you mention any of the bride or groom’s exes. This is a mixed crowd, and your tone has to remain respectful and PG-rated.
A Gentle Spin
No matter what you call them– burns, disses, the dozens–playful insults are a staple of male communication. When it comes to weddings, though, they should be used sparingly, if at all–and only against the groom, never against the bride.
Perhaps you and your best friend have a long history of good-natured dissing. It’s tempting, if you’re the best man, to unload some real zingers at his expense, especially given your current unassailable position (you have a microphone and the whole room is listening). Even if you’re the Larry David of your crowd and it seems out of character to be sweet and sincere, this is the time to surprise. You will get a better response with honey than vinegar.
A Personal Spin
You have a personal history and connection to most of the people in the room. They know you aren’t sure how to pronounce the name “Proust,” much less quote French literature, so don’t.
It’s always nice to be funny, but if your delivery stinks or your timing is off, it’s far better to keep it simple and straightforward. If you can’t be funny, sincerity and clarity are your two most reliable assets. All you have to do is avoid sarcasm, pretense and excessive drinking. (And two out of three ain’t bad.)
A Flattering Spin
The object of a wedding speech is not to celebrate your particular connection to the couple in question, it’s to celebrate everyone’s connection to them. So while it’s important to be true to yourself, don’t make the toast about you.
One simple way to make sure your toast has the right focus (the couple, or, in the case of a groom’s speech, the bride) is to go through your speech and see how many times you have used the word “I” or “me.” No more than a quarter of your sentences should be about you. And no inside jokes.
An Authentic Spin
The old writer’s trick of reading your work aloud is especially useful here. When reading it aloud, you will hear typos, repetition, and grammar mistakes. You’ll also get a sense of where you are likely to stumble over phrases, and where you may be going on too long.
First practice in front of a mirror. If you notice that your face looks bored, that’s a definite sign you need to edit. For the second rehearsal, try reading it to your dog, hamster or ferret. If they have no changes to suggest, do a third run through in front of a human, ideally one who knows the basics of grammar and won’t leave your participles dangling. But don’t be too rigorous about those participles. A toast is supposed to sound like natural speech, and relying too heavily on the rules of grammar will make you sound stiff. As Winston Churchill once said, “That is something up with which I will not put.”
A Quick Spin
Shorter is better: your toast should be no more than 2-3 minutes long—and that’s including all the pauses and breaks for laughter Don’t write so much that you have to rush through it. Keep it pithy.