For some, making a speech is second nature, a piece of cake. For others, the thought of standing up in front of a crowd and saying more than a few words is a living nightmare, causing them to break out in a cold sweat and come up with any excuse to get out of that situation. For those people, they can usually manoeuvre through life avoiding these situations – affecting career choices and participation in group activities. But when it comes to weddings, it’s not as easy to say no. If you’re part of the wedding party, i.e. the groom, bride, best man, bridesmaid or father of the bride or groom, you will inevitably be expected to make a speech at the top table (albeit, outside of the USA many brides and bridesmaids choose to leave the speaking to the men, but we won’t get into that right now!).
Many things can cause anxiety over public speaking. It could be a speech impediment, a social anxiety disorder, a strong accent, or perhaps you had a bad experience when you were young where someone laughed at you or you forgot what you were going to say – the smallest thing could lead to a fear of public speaking. I spoke to one person who suffers from a very mild stammer, although they hide it very well from years of training. This particular person is due to make a speech at a wedding shortly, and it has caused enormous anxiety.
“When I first heard I had to make a speech, I tried to get out of it. I would be telling a story and then hit a block, and because everyone would be looking at me, I wouldn’t be able to get around it like I would when in a one-to-one situation. Not many people know about my stammer so the thought of it coming out in a situation where I would be in front of 200 people is terrifying.”
While you may not suffer from crippling anxiety over making a speech, you may still be nervous before the big event – a perfectly normal feeling for any of us to have. Here are some tips on how to prepare for making your speech and getting through it safe and sound:
If you are hand writing your speech, I would recommend leaving yourself enough time to type it out too. When you type it, put it in a large enough type so that it will be easy to see on the day. Put in extra space or a paragraph jump where you intend to leave a pause or where you think you’ll need to take a breath. Also leave room after any jokes you have made to give time for people to laugh – often when you are nervous people can tend to rattle off their speech as if they were saying the alphabet! Print a copy and practice reading it aloud to yourself, and mark any words or phrases that you are experiencing difficulty with. This will give you a chance to change the word or phrase without leaving you in a tongue twister.
Practice reading the speech aloud in front of someone who you trust not to laugh, but also someone who will offer constructive criticism that could help you overcome problem areas. Don’t just practice speaking, but also practice looking around the room, making eye contact and showing emotion through your voice – if you’re telling a funny story, make sure it sounds like you are enjoying yourself!
3. Slow Down
This is especially important for people suffering from nerves or for those who have a strong accent. There’s no point in going to all the trouble of writing a speech and delivering it to all those people if you are going to speak far too fast for anyone to understand it. This is where practicing in front of someone will come in handy – they can tell you if you’re going too fast. It will give you a chance to breathe too.
4. Plant someone in the audience to keep you calm
This may be your practice buddy or a close friend or family member – someone to give you a reassuring smile or a thumbs up to let you know you’re doing fine, or a signal to tell you to slow down. It can be reassuring to know someone out there is on your side, especially when many tables could be taking bets on how long your speech will last or how many times you say ‘thank you’ – very distracting!
5. Stay Still
Unless you’re a very dramatic person with great experience in public speaking, you won’t be comfortable with making a lot of gestures or moving around during the speech. If you do this just for the sake of it it can look unnatural and may end up leaving you out of breath or throwing you off the rhythm of your speech. Your best bet is to stay still, shoulders back and head up to make sure your voice elevates.
Finally, ask the venue manager at the reception to give you a couple of minutes to practice with the microphone before dinner, so that are used to holding it, know how close you need to be and what angle to hold it at.
I hope you find these tips helpful; stay tuned for our guide to writing a wedding speech, coming soon!