How to make a great wedding speech

When a wedding day approaches, there are always sweaty moments for anyone who hates public speaking but who has agreed to give a speech. If you want to know how to make a great wedding speech and avoid the most common mistakes, read on!

Around 75% of us say that public speaking is our Number One Fear. Before I became a celebrant, I was a public speaking coach. I coached hundreds of people in business who were petrified of making a speech. The most extreme example was a man who was so scared of presenting, that he felt he was going to have a heart attack. To begin with, he gave his talk sitting down. By the end of the day he could stand and he went on to give a great, relaxed presentation.

Making a wedding speech isn’t easy, nor should it be. A good speech stands out when you can hear the effort that’s gone into it. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be your own words – not Google’s. It takes time and effort to plan what you want to say and some skills in how to look and sound confident.

So, for starters, here are my top 5 Do’s and Don’ts of public speaking, based on years of watching hundreds of speeches and presentations, on very many diverse topics!

Top 5 don’ts of public speaking

The first on the list is by far the biggest offender!


1. Don’t procrastinate

Here’s the bad news: your wedding speech will not come to you by magic, hand-delivered by The Speech Fairy. Lots of us justify procrastination, saying that we are waiting for inspiration, or planning the speech in our head. In truth, all we are doing is putting off the inevitable business of getting started. This strategy really ramps up the pressure on ourselves. Time starts to fritter away and before we know it, the wedding day has dawned and our speech feels rushed and unfinished – like it’s been written in the pub the night before. Erm, funny that …! So please just start, even if it feels rubbish to begin with.

2. Don’t tell smutty or mean stories

There is a line over which you may not step in your wedding speech. The risks to your personal health and of ruining the day are completely real. Stories that came out at hen and stag nights are not fair game for wedding speeches. Also, Mums & Dads, think carefully about the stories you share about your child’s early years. Weddings are beautiful, highly-charged occasions and no one wants to a) be humiliated or b) hear something cringey about themselves or someone they love. That’s not to say you can’t tell jokes at the happy couple’s expense. No – that would be terrible. Just ask yourself: is it clean, is it funny and is it kind? Ok, kind-of kind. If you’re not sure where the line is, ask the most empathetic, sensible person you know.

Also, remember that you’re probably on camera, so whatever you say will play back to you at some point.

Wedding celebration

3. Don’t PANIC!!!

When we feel nervous, we produce adrenaline which can feel very uncomfortable. Often the symptoms (blushing, sweating, trembling etc) kick in exactly when we want to look calm and confident.

My tips are to avoid too much caffeine or alcohol; they are not your public-speaking friends. One coffee will perk you up but more could make you feel more anxious. Similarly with alcohol. A drunk speech is the ultimate no-no – unless you enjoy being mocked and/or chastised by your family and friends forever and ever.

4. Don’t use paper notes

When we feel nervous, our hands often shake. When our hands shake, so do the paper notes in our hands. It actually feels like paper notes have an extra-special way of shaking loudly and visibly, almost as if they want to make us feel more self-conscious.

I advise using cards or an ipad, with plenty of charge.  Powerpoint – unless it’s done ironically – is a bit naff because it will probably remind your audience of work. Also, with Powerpoint, it’s tempting to talk to the screen, which everyone will have already skim-read ahead of you anyway.

5. Don’t overthink

Yes, it’s a big moment and quite rightly, you want to do your best but actually your job is to make your audience feel good. Try to put your focus squarely on them and take the pressure off yourself as a performer. Your friends and family are primed to enjoy your speech. They’re happy, probably slightly squiffy and genuinely keen to laugh at any of your jokes.

Imagine being Boris Johnson at the EU Parliament. That is genuinely terrifying. Be ready to laugh at yourself with a daft line such as: ‘Did I actually just say that?’ or ‘I knew I shouldn’t have let my father in law/baby/dog write this speech.’

So, enough with the Don’ts, how can you smash your wedding speech? These are some of my favourite tips.

How to make a great wedding speech: the top 5 do’s

1. Begin early

It always shows when you’ve spent time on your speech, which in turn is a great compliment to your audience. To use a cookery metaphor: a good speech is a slow roast, not a stir fry. Get ahead, preferably weeks not days or hours beforehand. Jot down ideas and stories when they pop into your head. Your brain will reward you with a theme or an order to your ideas, as if by magic! Use mind-mapping to organise your thoughts and help you ditch ideas that won’t work or you don’t have time for.  This is a simple video description of mind-mapping for a speech on YouTube.

2. Share the stage

Create a double act – with someone you like! It makes great entertainment and can really boost your confidence. You’ll have someone to bounce ideas off, plus you get a breather when it’s not your turn to speak. The right person for your double act is someone who’s rock-solid reliable and a good complement to your character.

Share the speech with a trusted friend

3. Learn to control your nerves

When nerves kick in, sometimes they rev up for hours (even days) ahead. That can be totally exhausting, so you need be able to control them. Nerves are caused by adrenaline, which centres on your brain and stomach, where it tends to cause the most trouble. To disperse adrenaline and feel more relaxed, take a brisk walk, run, sing, laugh, jump up. Take a few deep breaths in and out – with a very slow breath on the ‘out’ breath. Practice saying a positive affirmation to yourself eg my speech is great, it’s funny and heartfelt and I’m going to give it 100% – to boost your confidence.

4. Use good notes

It’s a lovely idea (but seriously misguided) to learn your speech by heart and expect to deliver it faultlessly on the day. Who needs the pressure?! It’s only legends like Jeremy Paxman and Stephen Fry who get away without notes. But I bet they have them somewhere ….

I really recommend you have legible notes that don’t depend on WiFi. Work from abbreviated notes, as opposed to a full script, which encourages you to stare at your notes. You can also easily lose your place in a full script. You need to know your speech really well, so you can look up at the audience and make eye contact, which looks super-confident.

5. Learn how to tell a joke

If there’s one thing you need to learn to make a great wedding speech, it’s how to tell a joke. Some people think they naturally can’t tell a joke but I know from experience that everyone can. If you watch comedians on YouTube, you’ll see the different ways they set up the joke. Pace, pauses, speaking clearly, eye contact and avoiding deviation, repetition and hesitation are all important. The most vital thing is to land the punchline and not garble or throw it away by looking at your notes. There’s a lot more I can tell you but watching the great comics is a good place to start.

Next steps

You can become really good at giving speeches and enjoy it, even if you hate it now. I am living proof! I used to dread standing up in front of people, now I love it. I would love to help you too. I will give you techniques including: how to organise your speech, how to tell a good story or joke and how to hit the right note  with your audience. I’ll tell you about body language and voice skills, which make you look confident – even before you feel it. Most importantly, I will show you how to speak confidently as your genuine self.

If you need help with a speech, or you’d like to be a better public speaker, please contact me. You will  be really impressed by the changes that you can achieve. The skills you learn will give you techniques and lasting self-confidence, to help you with the first of many brilliant speeches and talks.

If you’re still tempted to procrastinate, remember that there really is no Speech Fairy.

There's no such thing as the speech fairy!