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Grooms - Writing the Perfect Speech

Grooms - Writing the Perfect Speech

If you fear an untimely death of speech (and thus, atmosphere) on the day of 'I dos', fear not. We've gathered some serious food for thought.

Lucy Lawrence
Lucy Lawrence - Deputy Editor

You may remember the scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral where aristocrat Tom attempts to mimic Charles's humorous orations but fails miserably, instead insulting near enough the entire congregation with bumbling ineptitude. It was hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons.

If you fear an untimely death of speech (and thus, atmosphere) on the day of 'I dos', fear not. We've gathered some serious food for thought that will ensure Granddad won't be choking on his hors d'oeurves or sobbing into his soup. Or anyone else, for that matter...

Andrew Hawker Photography

Do your homework. In the case of the best man, you must get to know your subject intimately (and I mean beyond stag/stripper/semi-naked debauchery). Talk to a range of people for anecdotes and information so you can compile a character profile like a criminal psychologist. Write it down. Re-write it. Test it. Edit. And you're getting closer to the final cut.

This technique will make your oratorical offering far more original. Although you can find a feast of literature, speech builders and penned examples on the web and elsewhere, do not outright plagiarise anything. It can sound contrived (especially if you forget to substitute the right names) and someone may well notice. Zoe McEwan attended two separate weddings over the same weekend last year and heard the same best man's speech twice. "We sat at our table and pre-empted the punch lines to each joke," Zoe comments. Not cool.

I know the desire to surprise with an under-wraps pot of gold to a virgin audience sounds tempting, but testing the water at least with a few family members or friends may be revealing in a number of prudential ways. If you want to avoid being the social grenade on such an important day, then take heed. Though an element of surprise is often key, it won't be fondly recalled if the groom's reputation is in unnecessary tatters or the bride learns something she'd have been better off not knowing - ever.

Our resident groom's guru, Captain Coldfeet, concurs. "Don't talk about the groom's ex-girlfriends, nocturnal activities connected to or 'amusing' anecdotes about women of old. And definitely refrain from reminiscing about the groom's ex-boyfriends..."

Remember - yes, you best man - that there are limits and taste. This is better known as subjectivity. Though I'm personally a fan of lewd humour, the gratuitous approach doesn't always suit the mixed bag of audience you'll be presented with (note: there will probably be children present). What you find hilarious may not tickle a single rib elsewhere - another reason to test your speech on a few guinea pigs before you hit the real stage. Think of it as market research: listen to their responses and amend accordingly.

Remember, a blase attitude to others' opinions may result in disaster; you should certainly take heed of feedback on the question of methodology. Captain Coldfeet advises: "Don't give your speech gimmickry. Poeticising your speech only works if you have the talent of Wordsworth or Keats, otherwise it just sounds like a crappy limerick of ludicrous length. And turning it into a musical ditty is the ultimate in cheesiness. When I hear 'Get me a guitar', I think get me a gun..." Indeed.

He continues: "Don't talk about you, talk about them! I have heard countless best man speeches that amount to nothing more than a long-winded self congratulatory explanation of why they have been chosen to be best man." You are simply the messenger. Don't give anyone cause to want to shoot you.

Andrew Hawker Photography

Whilst standing up in front of a gaggle of guests may pose a stifling issue for some, others will be gagging to get up there and perform. Whatever camp you fall into, there are certain rules of thumb designed to add ease to the process and help you do your best. Because that's simply all you need to do.

Mark Picken, who recently tied the knot, recommends the bullet point approach so that the speech isn't overly scripted and allows more interaction with the guests. "Also, taking a deep breath and remembering that these people are your friends and family, so they're all on your side, helps take away the nerves. We had our speeches fairly early on in the day, so it meant that I, the best man and my father-in-law could enjoy the bulk of the day without worrying about standing up."

Though it's tempting to indulge in a little Dutch courage, it's very difficult to talk coherently if you're ten pints in. Moderation (even though many a Brit fails to understand its meaning) is definitely compulsory here.
For fidget arses, public speaking expert, Julia Schofield, recommends that you "practice all of these professional tricks before the day: take your watch off and put it on the table, pour a glass of water, smooth your tie/rumple your cravat, check your cufflinks, hold the back of the chair, check your watch for time. Then choose ones to use from time-to-time during your speech. Nobody else will be aware of them and they will all help you relax."

She also advises you take a sound check before the room fills up. "Ask a friend to see if they can hear you from the back of the room, then add a little more volume to account for the number of bodies." Stand up, draw in a few deep breaths and then smile at everyone before you start. "This puts everyone at ease, including yourself. Then, take lots of time."

Maintain eye contact, and don't forget the people at the back of the room. If you lose your way? "Take a deep breath, then carry on. These pauses always seem longer to you than your audience."

Speaking of which, guys - length does matter. Raising the glass for a toast and spluttering a handful of words will do the moment little justice, but knowing when to stop is paramount. For the record, heckles, food throwing and a sea of shut-eye from the crowd are safe bets that you've over milked the cow.

Try to be as complimentary to all and sundry as you can be without inducing needless nausea or nose browning. You want to come off well, but, crucially, so does everyone else. This is not simply an excuse to slate people and arise the victor, no matter in how much good spirit.

Otherwise, relax and enjoy the experience. Though you ideally want the witty punches of a stand-up comedian, presence of royalty and oratory skill of a leading politician, don't succumb to the pressure a gibberish wreck - a little genuine sentiment is all that's really required. Best of luck...
-Julia Schofield has many years experience in public speaking. If you would like one-to-one practical help to gain confidence with a Father of the Bride speech phone 01326 561341

According to research, a voice can switch off a mind in less than five seconds. Though you may not be aware of it, your vocal habits could be prompting all manner of misperceptions on the part of your listener. Public speaking, however, is a skill that can be acquired through the correct training. And what better way to establish steely nerves and a succulent voice than by attending a Voice Engine Optimism group coaching session? Also a great excuse for some pre-nuptial male bonding time, conquer the crowd en masse when you expertly spin your yarn via their expert assistance. With their tutelage, you will be able to talk effortlessly and maintain the captivated attention of your audience rather than um your way through to a barrage of stuttered one-liners.
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Words Hannah May

Copyright WED Magazine 2010