When it’s time to write a speech for a wedding or other special occasion, many are ill-prepared. Many fall into the trap of trying too hard (and come across as inauthentic) or not trying hard enough (think rambling thoughts and awkward pauses). Either way, the speech falls flat, and you’ve left the guest of honor feeling disappointed.
The good news is that with some advance thought and preparation, you can deliver a killer speech. Remember that you want to leave the guest of honor and the crowd smiling, not cringing. To make a winning impression, make sure to incorporate these five elements into your speech.
1. Structure. Make no mistake, your speech needs structure— a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your introduction should talk about how you feel about being part of the celebration (e.g., pleased, honored, joyous) and set up what you are going to talk about. The middle should include more substantive material— personal stories, anecdotes, and memories that will resonate with the whole audience and especially the guest of honor. To wrap up, consider a heartfelt congratulations, a powerful quote, or another creative way to tie your story together.
2. Rhythm and Flow. The most memorable speeches have a clear and easy flow. They transition between thoughts seamlessly. If your speech feels like a stream of consciousness, it probably is. Paying close attention to the connections between your stories is a great starting point. Think of your speech as a polished conversation and write it that way. It should mirror your natural speech patterns so that it sounds like something you’d actually say instead of something more formal.
3. Personality. No matter what, your speech should sound like you and reflect your personality. If you are typically funny or witty, make sure that your speech is too. If you are a person of few words, make your speech short and to the point. When you try to sound like someone you’re not, the audience will immediately pick up on it and you may come across as disingenuous.
4. Specific examples. Stay away from using a laundry list of adjectives to describe the guest of honor (compassionate, loyal, funny, etc.). Instead, provide real-life evidence to demonstrate how they showed compassion or loyalty. Use humorous or heartwarming stories to bring their best characteristics to life— the more specific the better. Just make sure that the stories are going to cast the guest of honor in a flattering light. Trust me, embarrassing and inappropriate anecdotes don’t go over well, even if you think they’re funny. Inevitably, someone in the crowd winds up feeling insulted or put off, and that’s ultimately what is remembered.
5. Time Limit. Even if you’re an incredibly gifted speaker, most listeners can’t pay attention for more than five minutes. Keeping your special occasion speech short and to the point is definitely the way to go. The rule of thumb is to say what you want to say and leave people wanting more, not less.
Just remember that you need to put in the time and effort to create a winning speech. If you get stuck along the way, you can consider hiring a professional speechwriter to guide you through the process. But these elements will get you started on the right track.
Holly Blum is the owner of A Speech To Remember. As The Word Whisperer, she creates unique and customized speeches and toasts for weddings and other special occasions. She works with clients to transform their ideas and stories into words that fit their style and make a lasting impression.