How to Guarantee a Flawless Reception Speech

By Speech Marks Luke Ellery

Wedding speeches have a reputation for being, painful: painful to write, painful to deliver and occasionally painful to listen to. Sure there are the nice sweet ones, the quick ones and even the unmemorable ones (depending on how much you have had to drink) but the ones that people remember are generally one of two things. That is, either long detailed and therefore boring, or embarrassing to the bride / groom, or the audience. 

It amazes me that couples will spend so much time, money, and emotional energy on the “big day” and its reception then they will leave one of the most memorable aspects, the speeches, to chance.  

speeches, reception, wedding, toasts, public speaking, brides, bridal party, groomsmen, groom

Image by Alexa Penberthy Photography

Often when we think back to weddings we have attended, one of the things we remember most is the atmosphere of the reception and the speeches. When they are memorable for the wrong reasons we can’t help feel a bit disappointed for the bride and groom.

Comments I have heard recently confirm this.

  • "The father of the bride that told me how awful the best man’s speech was; it wasn’t only his generation that was uncomfortable with what he said. 
  • "The groom who didn’t even tell his bride how beautiful she looked (they aren’t together anymore….)"
  •  “I couldn’t believe it the Father of the Bride got up and started “I remember the day she was born….”  25 minutes later he was still going and our dinner was cold.”

The people we want to surround us on our wedding day and at the reception aren’t necessarily the best speakers. The may “fear public speaking more than death” but will be too shy to admit it. They may even have little idea what is expected and just scribble some notes on the day.  

While you are assigning jobs to friends and family, names to tables, and gifts to stores, perhaps consider assigning bullet points to speakers. If done well it could end up ensuring that everyone gets thanked and complimented without any embarrassment, last minute add-ins, or corrections. That way, your reception speeches will be memorable for the right reasons.

speeches, reception, wedding, toasts, public speaking, brides, bridal party, groomsmen, groom

Image by Levien and Lens Photography 

How to avoid bad speeches

  1. Ask the person if they would like to give a speech – don’t make it a requirement. See point number five below if they are hesitant and if they don’t want to have a back-up in mind, you never know the mere mention that someone else will take their place may encourage them to say Yes.
  2. If they say yes, then check that they are willing to write and practice it in advance. This is a delicate subject and will take some courage to raise with some people.  Sometimes making a joke of “the painful best man speech” is a good way to hint that you don’t want that and would it be OK if they wrote and practised it?
  3. Gently advise that jokes are fine but be clear on what isn’t acceptable and any other sensitive subjects. This is especially important if you have a diversity of ages, religions or cultural backgrounds.  You don’t want children picking up inappropriate jokes, or people being offended.
  4. Plan and practice the speeches including anything the MC is going to do. While an MC isn’t there to tell the bride how beautiful she looks or to share stories, they have an important role and they need to prepare and practice.  If you are having a wedding rehearsal, how about including a speech run through?
  5. If people admit to nerves get a speech coach to help them. See below for some further thoughts.
  6. No unplanned speeches – when friends have had a few they can get loose lips! If you do want unplanned speeches or people insist on them perhaps ask the MC to be strict on time by holding the microphone ensuring it can take back control for any reason, or calling them up to where you are sitting so you can cut them short if absolutely necessary.

To many, this may sound all very much like the “Bridezilla” approach to wedding speeches - the control freak that wants everything perfect. Certainly, if it is done with a bossy and uncompromising attitude, it’s likely to get a negative reaction. But if done with a kind heart and caring approach, then the speakers will surely be open and welcoming to the proposal.

speeches, reception, wedding, toasts, public speaking, brides, bridal party, groomsmen, groom

Image by Perry Trotter Photography 

the Speech Preperation Timeline:

  1. Who do the bride and groom want to speak?
  2. Are they willing to speak?
  3. Do they have specific things they want to say and if so what?
  4. Approve speech content on high level
  5. Are all appropriate people being thanked in the speeches?
  6. Ask if someone to include the person if there is a no in step 5 
  7. Is everyone aware that they should tell the bride she looks stunning?
  8. Give a rehearsal option or schedule along with advice on times e.g. no speeches longer than 10 minutes & Best Man is speaking after the mains

In simple terms it could look like this flow-chart:

Flow chart, speeches, reception, advice

Getting speech coaching could sound a bit “over the top” but when you stop to think about those ‘memorable for the wrong reason’ speeches, it starts to make perfect sense.  The speech coaching could be given as a thank you gift instead of a requirement. Or, simply allow the Couple to have some third party reassurance that the speeches will be coordinated, appropriate, and not too long. Younger speakers will have the reassurance that they have been coached and helped to put their best foot forward.

Sometimes speaking openly to a stranger can help really flesh out the important stories and feelings, it can get the essence of what the speaker wants to convey. Many people find it hard enough to speak in front of an audience, but on an emotional day speaking about love, gratitude, or pride can be overwhelming.  Small techniques from a speech coach can make a huge difference to the delivery. 

speeches, reception, wedding, toasts, public speaking, brides, bridal party, groomsmen, groom

Image by Perry Trotter Photography 

If nothing else, practice in front of an audience would be my key recommendation. I did mine to my office colleagues - some knew my future husband others didn’t, so they were a good sounding board. They all loved being asked to help and felt more invested in my day.

speeches, reception, wedding, toasts, public speaking, brides, bridal party, groomsmen, groom

Image by Perry Trotter Photography 

Asking for help isn’t always easy when planning a wedding but it has huge benefits. Asking for help with wedding reception speeches is no different.

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