The keys to an effective wedding toast are easy. The hard part is delivering.
Public speaking is the number one fear of all Americans. Number two? Death. That’s how scared people are of public speaking. It’s not easy. As soon as you’re in front of a room full or people, your mind immediately goes into defense mode and starts thinking about every single thing that could go wrong – what if I forget my lines, what if I have something in my teeth, what if no one laughs at my jokes. It’s horrible just thinking about it. But just like everything, practice and repetition will make it much much easier.
When my brother asked me to be the Best Man at his wedding in September, I was honored. He had asked me in June, but the first thing everyone said to me was “Better start writing that speech Kyle!” I wasn’t thinking about it – I had written and given speeches before so it wasn’t like it was going to be something entirely new to me.
As the months progressed, I tried to think of good stories that I could use for the speech. My brother and I have always been close, but I found it tough to find funny or relatable stories that I could tie in to a wedding toast. I knew it would come to be eventually, but I wanted to have everything laid out so I could get it over with.
Step 1: What Not to Do
I’m sure most of you have been to at least one wedding in your life. And I’m sure you’ve either heard a really good speech and/or an absolutely God-awful speech. I’ve been to enough weddings to know what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to be the drunk guy, or the nervous guy, or the not funny guy. The best speeches I heard from the Best Man, the Maid of Honor, and the Bride’s father had the following in common:
- The didn’t read from a script
- They kept it somewhere between 2-5 minutes
- They didn’t um, like, or stutter
- They used a quote
- They had one or two quick funny stories
- They tied those stories back to the bride or the groom’s positive traits and why they make a perfect couple
Once I laid out the blueprint of my speech, the rest was just writing down what I wanted to say.
Step 2: The Intro
Writing a wedding speech is no different than all those essays you wrote in elementary school. You know the drill – Intro, three paragraphs (informative, persuasive, and some other crap), and conclusion. For a wedding speech it’s the same thing. The common belief is that you have to start with a joke, but that’s not necessarily true. You don’t need to have a pre-rehearsed joke or a stand-up routine, but getting the crowd to laugh will calm all of your nerves immediately.
When I wrote my speech, my third sentence was going to be a corny joke about golfing with the groomsmen the day before the wedding and losing all of our golf balls. Sure it would’ve gotten some laughs. But when it came time for my speech, I improvised for something more topical. The talk of the cocktail hour was the amazing array of food – sushi, barbecue, pizza, you name it. So I started like this:
Hello everybody! Thank you all for coming out tonight to celebrate the wedding of two people we all love, Tom and Chelsea. And what a spectacular venue we have here at one of the top golf courses in the country. I was going to talk about golfing yesterday, but damn how about the food at that cocktail hour! Are you kidding me???
Step 3: Writing the Rest
To be honest, the easiest way to start writing was to get influence from other Best Man speeches. I literally googled “Top Best Man” speeches and read about ten of them before I decided where I wanted to start. Like I said the one commonality of wedding toasts is there are always one or two stories about the bride or groom that tie back to their funny or quirky personality traits. Then at the end they tie it back to how those traits make them perfect for each other.
With my brother and his wife, I decided to tell a story about how detail-oriented he is. I made a couple of jokes and jabs and provided a quick example of how much research he does before every family trip. At the end, I told a story of how his wife is the same exact way. I know it sounds corny, but there absolutely is a recipe to writing a wedding toast and this is it. Tell it from the heart and it will ALWAYS get laughs.
Step 4: Practice
The key to being able to present yourself as calm and poised when the day comes to give your speech is practice. Over and over and over again. When I had my final speech down, I can’t tell you how many times I practiced. I would go into a phone booth in my office and just read my speech out loud 4 or 5 times until my voice was hoarse. Each time I gotter better at it and more confident.
But it was two things I did that really made a difference. One was filming myself. I would prop my phone up across from me and film myself giving the speech. It wasn’t until I reviewed the film that I realized how often I was saying um, or how little emotion my face was showing. This helped me to cut down on my likes and ums, be more energetic and positive in my facial expressions, and pause more often.
The second thing that was a HUGE help thanks to a tip from my dad, was writing down to first word and last word in each paragraph of my speech. I knew I didn’t want to read off a script but my dad told me, just in case, keep a list of the first and last word of each paragraph. So at the end I had a small scrap of paper that looked like this:
- I’ll start
- Ten years!
- When I first
- at some point
- There’s something special
- getting married
- And Tommy
- money can buy
- But although
- half the time
- That’s one thing
- marrying you
- Let’s toast
I can’t tell you how helpful this was. I didn’t end up having to pull it out, but when I got stuck on my last paragraph and froze and the tail end of my speech, I simply took a pause, visualized my bulletted list, and remembered that the first words of the last paragraph were “Let’s toast.” This is something really small that ended up saving my ass in the middle of the speech. I legitamately forgot the entire last sentence and could have bombed had it not been for that list. I highly highly recommend doing this after completing your written down copy of your notes.
Step 5: Delivery
Other than writing the speech, I wanted to impress everyone with not just my oratory skills, but with my precense, poise, and body language when I was front and center. I read a book called Stand Like Lincoln, Speak Like Churchill by James Humes. A few of the key takeaways were that you should use pauses in your speech to emphasize points, use quotes to you did your research, use a statistic if necessary, and practice repetition of certain phrases.
After your introduction, or your first joke – take a moment to pause and look at each face in the room. It may feel like an eternity to you, but you will gain the audience’s attention at once. This was awkward at first when I practiced on a couple of close friends, but I can’t recommend it enough – it absolutely works. Think about a speech when someone just sped through and didn’t take a breath. You were probably screaming at them in your head “Slow down! Take a breath!” So should you when giving your speech.
I ended my speech by pausing between each of the below phrases in order to emphasize the point:
“That’s one thing Tommy has always been good at. I could go into all the funny stories but instead I’d rather focus on all the smart moves he’s made. His friendships…[pause], the relationship he has with his family… [pause], his career… [pause] it’s all a reflection of the incredible man he’s become….[pause] But really, the smartest move he’s made is marrying you.”
Another thing you should definitely do is use a quote or a key statistic. I wasn’t able to find a great quote, but I tied in the fact that my brother had been dating his now-wife for ten years. I used specific years (“back on September 15, 2007”), and ages (“When I was 14 years old”) to tie that fact in about how long they’ve been a couple. This helped the audience develop a timeline in their minds in order to follow along.
The last thing that is effective whenever giving a speech or presentation is repetition of a phrase to emphasize a key point. Winston Churchill was known for this:
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without vicory there is no survival.”
Notice how he starts each sentence with “Victory.” I did something similar, but at the end of my sentences. And I didn’t use the same word over and over again, but I did use the same structure. See my quote below:
“There’s something special about these two. They go together without forcing it. They love each other without fighting it. And they care about each other without thinking about it.”
Step 6: Relief
After my speech, I wasn’t quite sure how I did. I got a lot of applause but when the camera is shining directly in your face, your senses are kind of dulled. Thankfully, after hours of practice my muscle memory took over and gave the speech for me. It honestly didn’t even feel like my brain was talking, my body and mouth just took over. They knew exactly what to say, and thank god because the nervousness in me completely forgot the speech. But that’s the best part about it. After all the hard work of writing, researching, and practicing, you realize how much fun it is.
After giving that speech, I received so much positive feedback that all I want to do is give more speeches. The amount of confidence I gained from simply performing a 5 minute speech was so beneficial. Public speaking is scary and nerve racking, but the feeling of crushing a speech and overcoming your fears is worth all the time, effort, and energy in the world.