Celebrants and Ceremonies
Emma Margeaux Bride Online Columnist

Tips for Toasts and Speeches

Chances are that if you've made the effort to look up 'tips for speech making', this area isnt quite your forte. Yet. But have no public-speech-related fear! As it turns out, the gap between total amateur and being able to make a speech comfortably isn't as wide as you'd think. All it takes is the right information and some practice (really). Read through and incorporate our tips to instantly up the ante and surprise the audience when it comes time to make your speech or toast.

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  • When it comes to any form of public speaking, be it a wedding or a conference, the most important thing is to know your audience. 
  1. The first component of this is to decide on which tone is most appropriate for your speech. If the affair is a formal one, a speech rooted in humour or sentimental nostalgia might not be the most appropriate. If you're not sure about the overall tone of the wedding, write your speech how you feel most comfortable, and make adjustments (such as how you address the audience, which jokes or memories you pull or add to the piece, etc) in the half-hour before you're due to deliver it.
  2. Find out in advance what aspects or points you need to cover. Just as importantly, find out if there are any awkward areas or topics that you should avoid and adjust your speech accordingly. Knowing your audience will help you determine what to say and how to say it.
  • Don't rush your speech. The most important rule of good public speaking is to breathe, centre yourself, and try to relax as much as possible.

  • Make sure the microphone is at the right height before your start your speech. Far better to address the issue first than to soldier on looking awkward or without being heard.

  • Make eye contact with your audience. Your audience will be more receptive to your speech if you have strong body language, a major component of which is solid eye contact (even if this is onyl held at the beginning of the speech). It will also help you to think of the individuals you are addressing, who happening to be sitting in a group. Many find looking at the audience and thinking about them in these terms helps to relax them. If you find that you can't quite focus on your speech while making eye contact (a very common complaint), either find a spot on the wall opposite you to continually look at, or scan the space a few inches above the heads of the crowd. No one will be able to notice, we promise. 

  • Don't slouch. It's scientifically proven that standing up straight makes you feel more confident and self assured, and your audience will see the difference. Stage presence counts for a lot. Good posture will also help you to project your voice.

  •  Do your best to appear relaxed and natural (ish). If you can, try to look at certain individuals when making your speech as opposed to staring into the back wall. If you make eye contact with people, your speech will be a lot more intimate. Smiling will give the impression that you are at ease. Fake it 'til you make it, baby!

  • Your speech should be prepared beforehand. Make yourself speech cards with large writing and print clearly. You might even want to use a highlighter and make pauses and paragraphs so that you can see these at a glance. There's nothing worse than standing in front of an audience, waiting for the perfect off-the-cuff speech to come to you, only to crash and burn publicly. 

  • Watch your language. Not the sweary bits- that should go without saying- but in terms of your use of phraseology. Make sure your language is clear and helps you to get your ultimate points across. Also, try not to repeat the same phrases or specific words multiple times. 

  • If there are guests at the wedding that are particularly conservative or whom you don't know well (and there are bound to be), try not to include crude jokes into your speech as you do not want to offend anybody. But if the wedding is an informal do where everyone uses that sort of language to humourously express themselves, let 'er rip! Whatever will add to the joy of the celebration.

  • Unless you're the bride, groom, or part of their immediate family, aim to have your speech run under 5 minutes. If you speak for much longer than this, your audience will probably get bored. To ensure you get the timing right, literally time the speech! After you've written a draft of your speech that is approximately the right duration, revisit it every now and again and update is as you see fit. 

  • There's no need to learn your speech by heart. A better option is to become familiar with the speech so that you will speak naturally when giving it. Have your speech cards handy so that you can glance at it from time to time as a refresher. Practice really does make perfect.

  • Try not to drink too much before it's your time to speak. On the flip side, if you get very agitated ahead of public speechmaking, perhaps a glass (or two, tops!) of champers might help relax you.  Remember that your aim is to deliver your speech as well as possible, and to act in a way that aims to see that goal through. Use your discretion.

  • On the same lines, always visit the ladies' in advance to making your speech!

  • If you can, and if it'll help, find a private corner of the function (toilet stalls are absolutely fine) just before giving the speech. Use whatever methods you know help calm you down- some like to revert back to a hobby, like sitting down to knit for 5 minutes, other like to do something repetitive, like chewing gum or brushing their hair, whilst others like to spend some time doing a crazy little dance to get all the nervous energy they can out. Don't worry about accidentally being found out- simply tell your surprise audience that you're about to give a toast and you're working out your nerves. They'll understand, I promise. 

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that you have, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly small role and responsibility- though that's not to say that it's not significant! Remembering this should alleviate some pressure that everyone inevitably feels before public speaking. As long as you're expressing your love and well wishes for the happy couple, the way you say it is a very secondary factor. Any positive speech, no matter what the delivery turns out to be, always serves to enhance the event. So remember to plan ahead, loosen up, speak confidently of love, and you absolutely can't go wrong.

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