Unaccustomed As I Am To Public Speaking…

While I’m picking apart traditions, shall we take a peek at the etiquette around wedding speeches? The speeches are an excellent way of thanking the various participants who have contributed towards making the wedding day a success, so I don’t recommend discarding the tradition of speech-making completely.
A carefully crafted and well presented speech is a thing of uncommon beauty. Unfortunately, wedding speeches are often neither crafted, nor well presented. All too often, they are dull, long-winded or alcohol fueled. The worst are all three, at once, but they don’t even need to be. The good thing about making a wedding speech is that the audience is on your side. Your guests want to enjoy your speeches, and they will if you let them!

Be clear in your expectations. Let your proposed speakers know whether you’re asking them to make a toast, specific thank-you, or a full-out speech.Encourage them not to trust their speech to memory – cue cards or notes are a good way to keep a speaker on track. If you ask, they may be willing to let you have a sneak preview of the speech, or even rehearse it in front of you.

Don’t insist on following the traditional rules for speeches, especially if you have a potential speech-maker who hates public speaking, or is painfully shy. You can leave their speech out completely, or have it made by someone else. For example, if the Father of the Bride can’t or won’t make a speech, perhaps the Mother of the Bride could speak in his place.

Don’t leave the speeches too late in the event. This is especially important if you’ve already had a long gap between the ceremony and the reception, with not much else to do but drink. Although a tipsy crowd might not care so much about the quality of the speeches, a speech-maker whose inhibitions are lowered by alcohol will usually make an extremely cringe-worthy speech, often at the expense of the bride and groom, and to their great embarrassment.
Having said that, don’t start the speeches too soon, either. Get some food in to soak up the afternoon’s champagne toasts. Guests who are impatiently waiting for dinner to be served will not be a good audience. Between the main and dessert courses is often a good time for speeches to be presented.

Make sure the speeches can be heard! Ask your venue, or the  band/DJ if they can make a mic available for the speeches

The traditional order of speeches is as follows. I’ve colour highlighted the speeches/toasts I think are most important, tradition or no.

The bride’s father [or in his absence, a close relative/family friend] proposes the first toast, to the bride and groom. [Traditionally: ‘health and happiness to the new Mr and Mrs’] If he makes a speech, he should address the groom’s parents, relatives of both families any other guests and welcome the groom to his family and say a few words about his daughter. Assuming that the relationship is close and loving, this can be quite moving.

The groom responds on behalf of his wife and himself, thanking all those involved in the organising of the wedding. The groom’s speech is the first official opportunity to use the phrase ‘My wife and I’. It’s important to put some careful planning into any individual thank-you to be included in this speech – while it’s nice to list specific people, you want to be sure not to leave anyone out. As well as thanking all the behind the scenes helpers, this speech should officially thank the groomsmen for their support, and thank the bride’s parents for, well, pretty much everything.  A small courtesy, but one that will be noted and treasured is to also offer thanks to the mother of the groom.

Finishing with a catch-all thank you to ‘every person who has helped make this day such a success” is a wise precaution.
Traditionally, at this point, the groom will thank the bridemaids for their support and propose a toast to the bridesmaids.
After the groom has finished, the bride may also wish to speak at this point.

I’m not sure why, but tradition dictates that the best man responds on behalf of the bridesmaids. Obviously, whichever of your bridal party is the most capable public speaker would be the best choice. The best man’s speech usually focuses on the groom, and his speech should be light-hearted and fun.  The best man then announces any messages, [traditionally telegrams, these days most likely to be e-mails] from absent guests, and makes a toast ‘to absent friends’.

You don’t have to have any speeches or toasts, but I hope you won’t miss the opportunity to speak out your gratitude, respect, and love for your family and friends!



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