Ever had one of those awkward moments when you’re in company and someone says something that is entirely the wrong thing to say and that strange, strangled silence falls over everyone? You know, when you can read in people’s eyes the collective thought ‘Did they just say that?’
I was at a wedding a year or so ago when during the truly atrocious speech by the best man exactly this happened. The guests’ smiles, which up until then had been broad and buoyed by the events of the day, wavered, and then fell. There were wide-eyed glances at each other, awkward shuffles, the parents’ heads suddenly bowed and taking a keen interest in their place mats. Everyone, it seemed, with the exception of the best man and the groom, who were doubled up with laughter, were totally unaware of the effects the speech was having on the rest of us. No matter how much they’d spent on their wedding – and it was a lot – and no matter how grand it looked, the entire day had been tainted by this verbal mudslide. There were also other glances, which quite honestly said ‘Now you’ve really shown who you are. No fancy wedding dress will ever cover that…’
As a photographer I attend a lot of weddings, but even I was surprised to hear virtually the same speech by three different grooms, three weddings in a row! Rather lazily, they’d gone to the internet for inspiration and reeled off the same tired quips and ‘heartfelt’ thanks for the parents etc. This lack of originality showed. The wedding speeches are an opportunity to say something meaningful, and yes, humorous too. You wouldn’t have the same wedding bouquet that had been used by thousands and inspired by the internet, would you? So apply this to the speeches. They’re just as important, in fact more important, than you first imagine.
As a special day, the wedding day is an image of an ideal world we’d love to inhabit, if only for 24 hours. We become the centre of attention, where love for each other (or outward professions of it) can take centre stage, where we get to dress up in fancy clothes like a prince and a princess, maybe settle down for a meal at a fancy table in a fancy venue the likes of which we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford. And of course, after such careful planning down to the last detail, you wouldn’t want anything to spoil that day would you? Neither do you want the speeches, which should be as individual as your wedding, to be so obnoxious as to take your breath away, or to come from someone else’s tired template.
So take a lot of care when considering them. Here are 6 things to ensure your speeches are a success and you don’t fall victim to both the unimaginatively bland speech and the verbal mudslide.
1/ Avoid tales of the lewd, the rude, the crude, sex and alcohol
The story I began with was a result of all of these being included in a best man’s speech, with horrifically embarrassing consequences. Stories that are OK to share ‘with the lads’ about boozy nights and their consequences, should be avoided LIKE THE PLAGUE. I cannot emphasise this enough. No one wants to hear about it. They’re rarely funny to anyone else – you ‘had to be there’ generally, and even then you probably had to be drunk. And nothing lowers the tone of the entire day like bawdy, near-the-knuckle anecdotes about the groom’s heady, drunken younger days (or the bride’s for that matter). Same for sex and the mention of body parts – one bride had to endure a story involving her boobs so that she squirmed with embarrassment and clearly wasn’t amused at all. Such stories can, in fact, appear quite sad and not funny at all. Want to embarrass yourself, the bride and groom, their parents, the majority of the wedding guests, and taint the day? Ignore my advice.
2/ Avoid racism, xenophobia, sexism – well, you get the picture.
Not only is this unacceptable, it’s as bad as the lewd and the crude for effect. There’s no excuse for being drunk when you say it, for you can write the speech sober. I once heard such a racist anecdote by the groom that I had to suck in my breath and couldn’t believe I’d actually heard it. Some others obviously had the same reaction as me. Like the plague, avoid this too.
3/ Avoid politics and religion
Always best to keep clear of these things anyhow. It only leads to arguments and division. Your speech is not an opportunity for you to stand on your soapbox and rant and rave about your political or religious views and to batter your guests’ ears with your personal opinions.
4/ Don’t be lazy – avoid ‘jokes for wedding speeches’ sites:
All you’ll end up doing going to sites is sad repetition. I’ve heard the same lines over and over: ‘This is the last time a man gets to say something without being interrupted’ and many more besides. Do you really want to say the same things as hundreds of others? I know for many people standing up in front of an audience and speaking is a nightmare, as is having to come up with appropriate lines. There’s a belief that you have to make it very funny, and you need a joke or two. That adds pressure. But funny can be a personal anecdote, and people are already geared up to laugh at anything you have to say.
5/ Don’t gush
We rarely get the chance to say the things we truly feel. A wedding speech can be an ideal opportunity to thank the ones we love and care for. A friend, a sister, a parent, a partner. But keep it real. There’s a tendency to let the emotion of the day run wild, and people can go over the top. So much so it becomes unbelievable, and your audience go from saying, ‘Ah, that’s nice’ to ‘Really? You’ve got to be kidding!’
6/ Be positive, be nice.
Sounds obvious, but I know one groom’s mother who used her speech to say something truly awful about another person not even at the wedding. Families have fall-outs. No family is immune from the upset and division that causes. But a wedding day is a happy day, about new beginnings, not old sores or old scores. We all know marriages are difficult to maintain, and it isn’t going to be easy for any bride and groom, but don’t bring any of your negatives to the speech. Reality can be kept at bay as far as this is concerned. Let the bride and groom have their day and leave them to ride the crests and waves together afterwards. Be positive, be nice.