YOU don't have to ruin a wedding with a dull speech. Try these public speaking tips to give you the gift of the gab
During a catch-up with a friend, I noticed that he appeared angsty and aggrieved. The source of his anxiety was surprising; a best man speech that he needs to deliver in a month's time. "I'm thinking of saying something about how I didn't see eye-to-eye with his fiancee when I met her," he said. "Also, I have no good stories about the groom that doesn't involve stuff that can't be said in front of his parents. Maybe I'll cut it short and just tell people to get on with the dancing."
Creating the perfect wedding speech is a high-wire act. Often, they're a not-entirely-welcome break in the evening's shenanigans, but they're also a signal that it's high time to high-tail it to the dancefloor. They're the break-in festivities before the cocktail sausages and the dancing to Galway Girl.
They're also a chance for wedding party members to get teary, sentimental and romantic ... so attention must be paid. Weddings may have become toned down since the wallet-busting affairs of previous years, but the speeches surely haven't. If anything, there's an element of oneupmanship involved.
Everyone wants to be the evening's talking point, or at the very least to do their friends or family members proud.
The open bar has gone, but the potential for peril is high. YouTube teems with creative wedding speeches that had the congregation rolling in the aisles. And, of course, everyone talks about the tumbleweed moments for years to come. In a word, the pressure is on. It's not enough to wish newlyweds well and toast those in absentia; now, you have to deliver an Oscar-worthy cracker, without trying to mention that the bride looks as radiant as her plastic surgeon's bank account.
So how to straddle that gossamer-fine line between saccharine and self-congratulatory? Across the land, childhood friends, future in-laws and the condemned themselves are trying to strike the balance between entertaining and heartfelt.
At Dublin's Communications Clinic, speakers are put through their paces by a crack team of experts. Many of them want a speech written for them, but most simply want their anxieties allayed.
Founding director Terry Prone says: "The ones that appear most worried are the fathers of the bride, because they know it's important to their daughter that they get it right. They tend to feel that everything is on their shoulders. The groom is often concerned with just surviving the whole thing, while the best man is responsible for the coolest speech, but he is also the potentially most dangerous."
Naturally, some people take the prospect of giving a speech more seriously than others.
"We did have one guy – a groom – dedicate eight solid days to a speech, resulting in about 64 hours or prep for an eight-minute speech," says Anton Savage, MD at the Communications Clinic.
Nevermind putting in the hours, says Terry, originality is the real key. "Don't ever use a generic speech, or pick up a book of wedding speeches, that is definitely one way to lose your crowd," she advises. "We like to talk to our clients, camera at the ready, about their relationship with the couple, any stories of big achievements or disasters.
"We then write up the speech and amend it into a perfect version, and we send them off with the DVD so that they can see what they've said. The challenge of a speech to is deliver it in a real way as opposed to talking as though you've written an essay."
"Many guys ask for a speech that will do in any situation, thinking that we can pull a catch-all speech off the shelf," agrees Anton. "A standard speech is the definitive way to make a hash of things. What about the grey area between comedy and downright offensiveness – when one clanger will result in many an awkward Christmas dinner?
"Everyone is always thinking, 'how can I be the funniest?'" says Anton. "You should really be funny more as a coincidence and not as a deliberate attempt. You run a big risk if you open with a joke, mainly because if it doesn't work you're left with 10 minutes of agony. Keep it simple and human, and don't show off, whatever you do."
As for how to handle that much-maligned of guests – the boozed-up heckler – let them get the heckle out of their system, and say something like 'I'd like to hear more about that, perhaps up at the bar later'."
And while the in-and-out approach might not work for other parts of the wedding day, the speech experts do contend that less is most certainly more when the mic is in hand. In short, leave your audience wanting more and don't outstay your welcome. "If people expect you to talk for 15 minutes, talk for 10 instead," says Terry.
Anton adds: "I don't believe anyone has ever thought, 'I wish that had gone on' of a speech. Put it this way, the Gettysburg address – one of the best known speeches ever – only lasted two minutes and was 272 words."
Armed with this guide to each speech, weddings needn't be the hazardous extreme sport you think they might be:
The role: The Best Man is ostensibly there to humiliate the groom, but if they place a foot out of step, a sort of invisible curse is cast upon the couple and the rest of their wedding day. "Everyone has attended a wedding where the Best Man tells tales about the bride being with every member of the rugby team, or calls the mother of the bride a bitch," reveals Terry. "These are often the guys for whom a night out without 12 pints is a waste of time. They think these speeches are funny but in reality they're completely gruesome."
The tactic: Proceed with caution, and proceed soberly. Keep the audience on side: "Many of them don't know the details of the relationship," says Anton. Expand on that, and pick out a couple of key things that define the couple, and keep it positive.
Useful line, in case of emergency: "I was breaking that gag in for another Best Man. I'll tell him to bin it."
Father of the Bride
The role: Ever since he cracked open the chequebook for the reception deposit, FOB's role has become clear; the father of the bride is simply on hand to cater to the bride's every whim and ensure she has a day to remember. Traditionally, the FOB is also asked upon to toast the bride and groom, and welcomes the groom's family and guests.
The tactic: "This speech is an interesting one, because even if there are 400 people at the wedding, 399 of them are irrelevant to you," notes Anton. "You are talking to one person during this speech and that's your little girl. Reflect on your relationship with her. There will also be a lot of pressure off you if you decide you're not doing stand-up."
Useful line, in case of emergency: "There is one piece of advice I want to give Paul tonight. It is that he makes the best of his honeymoon. It will be his last holiday before taking on a new boss."
The role: The groom may be the one in the hot-seat, but when it comes to speeches he is also the guy in charge of logistics. "The groom is the 'catch-all guy', thanking mums and dads, thanking the hotel or whatnot," observes Anton.
The tactic: "The groom and best man should talk in advance and figure out some sort of spiel," advises Anton. "If the best man is going to say something, it's best that you plan a rebuttal in advance, and, of course, vet what he's going to say. If it works well it could be potentially quite amusing." No matter how strong the urge is to be funny, the speech should also include something heartfelt about the bride. After all, most people want to hear the romantic stuff, no matter how sappy you think it is.
Useful line, in case of emergency: "I think you'll agree that Linda looks stunning in that magnificent white dress. And of course, I can at last say that my dish-washer matches my fridge."
The role: More and more brides want to make speeches on their big day despite the fact that, historically speaking, the speeches have been an all-male affair.
The tactic: The bride's speech is bound to be a sure-fire hit – after all, she is preaching to a home crowd. But as Anton points out: "If you don't have to, don't bother. It might be becoming more popular by the day, but why on earth would you load extra pressure on yourself on a day that's already full of pressure?"
Useful line, in case of emergency: "Why was it so hard for me to find a man who is sensitive, caring and good-looking? Because most of those men already had boyfriends."
For more information on speeches, go to www.communicationsclinic.ie or www.toastmasters.ie