One word guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of speakers and guests alike!
However, with planning and preparation, it should be relatively painless. Remember, the audience is not critical - they are there to have a good time.
The toastmaster, or best man if there is no toastmaster, judges when the speeches should start, perhaps as the guests are finishing the dessert course of their meal, he introduces each speaker in turn.
Traditionally there are three speeches, each a MAXIMUM of five minutes.
First the bride's father (or the person who gave her away), who:
- welcomes and thanks everyone for coming to the wedding,
- says how proud he and his wife are of their daughter, perhaps including one or two stories illustrating what sort of person she is
- welcomes his new son-in-law to the family,
- shares any words of wisdom and good wishes for the newlyweds,
- says how confident he is that they will have a happy future, and
- proposes the toast to the bride and groom.
Second the groom, who:
- thanks his father-in-law for his comments and toast
- thanks the bride's parents for giving him their daughter in marriage
- thanks the bride's parents and his own for all their help over the years and for such a lovely wedding
- thanks the guests for coming and their gifts
- says how wonderful his bride is, and how fortunate he is
- acknowledges the invaluable help given by his best man
- thanks all the helpers who have helped make the day a success
- expresses regret if a close family member or a close friend is unavoidably absent
- proposes a toast to the bridesmaids
- he may present the gifts to the attendants if he has not already done so
Third the best man, who:
- thanks the groom for his toast to the bridesmaids, adding a few complimentary remarks of his own
- congratulates the groom on his good luck, possibly telling the story of how the couple first met, and
- reads one or two congratulatory messages (for example telegrams, e-mails, etc.)
These three speeches cover all the basics, but you don't have to stick to tradition when it comes to delivery. Mothers, brides and bridesmaids may all like to speak. In this case, they have a choice of replacing the traditional male speaker, sharing the points between them, or striking out into new areas.
Other family and friends may also like to say a few words - however it's a good idea to know who is planning to speak before the function. This way each speaker can be briefed and introduced, there's no opportunity for someone who's had a few-too-many-drinks to stand up, and you can make sure the speeches don't drag on too long for guests' comfort.
The toastmaster concludes with the programme for the rest of the reception.
Note: at a bride's second marriage there are usually only two speeches - the toast to the bride and groom and the groom's response.
Begin by addressing the guests with "Ladies and gentlemen" or "Relatives and friends". If someone with a title is present, it is courteous to acknowledge the fact.
Finish by asking the guests to stand and raise their glasses in honour of the people you are about to toast. Wait until everyone is ready - with glasses filled and standing - before proposing the toast.
- I give you the bride and groom
- Here's to the happiness of the beautiful bride and her handsome groom.
- A toast to love, laughter and happily ever after.
- May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
(Traditional Irish blessing)
- May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
- Now you will feel no rain for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold for each of you will be warmth for the other. Now there is no more loneliness; now you are two persons but there is only one life before you. Go now together - and may your days together be good and long upon the earth.
(Apache Indian wedding blessing)
After the guests have drunk the toast, the speech is at an end and the speaker may sit down.
Prepare the draft of your speech well beforehand. Write it yourself - presenting a ready-made speech parrot-fashion will sound stilted and false.
Write or type the main points clearly onto prompt cards so they're easy to read at a glance.
Practice - using audio or video tape can give very helpful feedback on your 'performance'. Do not attempt to recite your speech "off by heart", but make sure you are very familiar with it so you can speak naturally with only a glance at the written prompts from time to time.
Remember how you feel about speeches (most people think "Oh no! I hope they are not going to be long and boring") and keep yours short and lively.
When you rise to speak, pause for a moment to allow the guests to focus their attention on you.
Speak slowly and clearly, but don't shout.
Don't fiddle, e.g., clinking coins in your pocket, shuffling your feet, adjusting your collar, mopping your face, etc..
It doesn't have to be funny (funny is nice, but be careful of laborious or blue jokes). It does have to be from the heart.
My father gave me these hints on speechmaking: be sincere, be brief, be seated.