The thought of giving a wedding speech fills some people with dread.
I know dozens of strong, feminist, Beyonce-loving brides who refused to take their partner’s name, toss a bouquet, or have the word ‘obey’ in their vows – but gladly hid behind the tradition of their fathers speaking on their behalf at the reception.
And I get it.
There’s so much to organise for your wedding already without worrying about writing a speech.
You want to enjoy the day, not stress out about what you’re going to say.
And the thought of standing up in front of a huge room of people to read off a sheet gives you awkward high school English class flashbacks. Where do you put the emphasis on this sentence? Should every word be emphasised?!
But giving a speech at a wedding – and especially giving a speech at your own wedding – is like no public speaking you’ve done before.
There’s no audience – it’s just your mates
When you give a toast at your wedding, the whole room is rooting for you. They want you to do well. It’s your wedding.
Everyone in that room came out especially to see you and your partner, to celebrate you both. They’re not going to heckle if you fumble your words or notice if you accidentally miss a page.
They’re there for you – and they want to hear what you have to say.
(And speaking successfully in front of a supportive audience – because you won’t be able to do anything but speak successfully – will boost your confidence when you next need to do public speaking, like a presentation at work or asking questions in class.)
You have more to say than you think you do
People are interested in you and your partner. They want to know more about the people they’ve trekked out to see. They want to know how you met, how you got engaged, who you both are as people.
If you don’t tell them, they’ll ask!
You might not have a chance to talk to everyone
Your wedding day will go quickly. As soon as you’ve said the ‘I dos’, you’ll be whisked away for photos, then it’ll be dinner, and before you know it, your evening guests will have arrived.
It’s difficult to find time to speak to everyone. That’s why some couples like the tradition of a receiving line, where you stand and greet everyone as they enter the room for dinner. (Your guests, who have to stand outside in their heels while Aunt Joanie gushes on about her upcoming corn removal, miiight not like it so much.)
A speech gives you an opportunity to speak to everyone at your wedding. And it’s efficient; if everyone who pulls you aside for a chat on the walk to the loo (be warned – they will) asks how you met your partner, not only will you not be telling the story at its best as you tell it for the tenth time in a row, missing out details as you subtly perform kegels, but that’s all you’ll be doing. You won’t have a chance to catch up on your friends’ news.
If you tell the story as your speech, you can answer that curiosity then talk about other things when you chat to your friends through the day.
No one expects you to be the world’s best speaker
You’re probably not the best speech writer in the world. (Probably.) But no one expects you to be.
People don’t expect to be moved expertly between tears and laughter and riotous chanting in a wedding toast. They just want to hear someone they love talk honestly and authentically.
You can do that.
You don’t need to buy any speech books or follow any templates. In fact, your talk will be better and more authentic if you don’t. (And don’t follow the usual advice of making your speech a long list of thank yous. You’re not accepting an Oscar, you’re chatting to your friends.)
Tell the story of how you met your partner, tell some funny stories from when you were dating or planning your wedding, or just thank everyone for traveling out and raise a toast.
You’ll be glad you took the opportunity to talk to everyone – even if it’s only to say, ‘ta for coming, coach is at ten’.
Ready to rock your speech?
You shouldn’t follow a formula for your wedding speech, but it can be helpful to see what other people have done to glean ideas and inspiration.
To help spark some ideas, I thought I’d show you the speech I gave at my wedding. I thanked everyone for coming, explained the significance of the date my partner and I choose, told the story of how we met, and raised a toast to him.
I wrote it in advance then hand wrote it on cards, to help me memorise it better, and tried not to look at them too much as I spoke. I completely mucked up at one point and missed out a whole card – and made a joke about it, went back, and carried on. And no one minded. No one even remembered, afterwards. Because they were all rooting for me to do well.
I’d barely done any public speaking before this – high school English class and presentations for work – but I’m so glad I did.
Telling everyone how I’d met my favourite person in the world, making people laugh, and making sure I got the chance to speak to everyone who traveled out to see me – even if I only managed to hug them hello and goodbye one-on-one – is one of my favourite memories of the day. I loved telling the stories I wanted to tell, rather than wondering what people would say about me. (And in front of people from work, too!)
I thought I’d find speaking nerve-wracking – but it was one of the easiest parts of the day.
This is what I said:
Hi guys. I got married today!
I know it’s not traditional for the bride to give a speech, but we haven’t really been about traditions today, so I thought I might as well say a few words.
I wanted to thank you all for fighting with traffic and trains and commuters to come out here today. I know Sunday’s not the least awkward day for everyone, but it was really important to Sam and I that we got married today, on the 26th of November – because it was seven years ago today that we first met.
Sam and I both used to work at Global Radio. We worked on the same floor but on different teams, so we’d never had a reason to talk to each other.
Until one night when we were both stuck late in the office. Everyone else had left, and Sam made the mistake of sitting in the corner, so I thought everyone else had left.
I put on Billy Joel.
And I started singing along.
And he didn’t say anything.
It was only when I got up to make tea and walked by his desk that I realised he was there. And he’d heard my awful rendition of Piano Man – three times.
Our eyes met. He offered me a sheepish, I’m so sorry for you and your terrible singing voice smile.
And I… was far too embarrassed to say anything about it, so we didn’t meet then.
But a couple of weeks later – on the 26th of November – I decided to go for some drinks with my team from work.
It was a tradition at Global Radio that everyone went to a nearby pub, the Garrick, on a Friday night, so it was full of people from different parts of the company.
I’d only been there for a few months and I didn’t know anyone outside my team. My team did not have this problem.
One of them immediately vanished. The other went to the bar, bought me a full pint, then vanished.
So I stood there on my own, like an utter plum, in the middle of a room of people I’d never met, with a full drink in one hand and a desperate please-someone-talk-to-me expression on my face. (It’s a good look on me.)
And just then – in the kindest, most considerate voice I’ve ever heard – someone said, ‘Hey. Come talk to us.’
I looked up. And there he was – Vinny, the sys admin for Global Radio.
Standing with Sam.
And the three of us – maybe aided by their generous, easy-going natures, maybe by my utter desperation – just hit it off.
I told them I was new, and explained I was a developer, as opposed to a velociraptor (using the internationally known sign language for developer and velociraptor), which led to a discussion of Jurassic Park, which led to a discussion of books, which led to a discussion of television, which led to a thousand other discussions.
They were funny and fun and it wasn’t long before I decided I was having a much better time talking to Sam than I’d have doing just about anything else.
So, I decided to make my intentions clear. I decided to employ the classic flirtation technique of leaning my knee against his knee.
Since we were both standing up, it wasn’t as effective a signal as I’d hoped.
I realised I’d have to be bold. I looked him in the eye and announced, ‘I’m going to kiss you now’.
And Sam, in the coolest, Han Solo-iest voice you can imagine, replied, ‘I know’.
And that was the moment… that we remembered we were out with literally every person we worked with.
The room erupted into cheers. Someone shouted, ‘They’re snogging! Look! They’re snogging!’
It was a memorable start to a relationship.
And if you told me then that, in seven years’ time, I’d be marrying the kind, clever, funny, wonderful man I met that night, I’d say, ‘seven years?! Really?!’
But they’ve been seven wonderful years.
Sam is one of the most incredible people I know. And I know Lucy.
He’s filled my life with laughter, and board games, and new friends. And Lucy.
And I feel so fortunate that I have somehow tricked him into a legally binding contract to put up with me.
So if you’d please raise your glasses, I’d like to make a toast. To Vinny, for getting us to talk after we missed a perfectly good meet cute. To Billy Joel, for his lasting contribution to music. And to Sam – a better, Han Solo-ier partner than I could have ever imagined.