Giving a speech at a wedding is not all unlike giving a big presentation at work. You’ve got to command attention, project confidence and speak with clarity. These, of course, are just the basics. What can really win over a crowd is well-placed humor — a little joke or pun to get the audience warmed up.
Anyone who’s delivered a wedding toast knows this is way easier said than done. When the spotlight is on you, it’s easy to freeze up, stutter or fall back on corny dad jokes. Little hiccups like these can feel like the end of the world, but, according to two professional speechwriters, there is one mistake the takes the cake of public speaking blunders.
We asked Marisa Polansky and Kristine Keller, the co-founders behind Brooklyn-based speechwriting company, Speech Tank, to give us the scoop on what makes a good (and not so good) speech. The duo explains the best speeches have a strong narrative: “I think of giving a wedding speech like telling a story. It should have a beginning, middle and end. It should all tie together,” says Marissa.
Speeches that fall flat, on the other hand, contain the wrong kind of humor. “Inside jokes are the kiss of death. They’re not really funny to anyone else. You have to tell the whole story and it doesn’t really ever land but weirdly it’s the thing people gravitate towards,” Marisa explains. “We always say ‘it’s not a card.’ If you want to say all those things–write a card,” Kristine adds.
This is kind of surprising, no? If you’ve got a wedding coming up, incorporate more of Marisa and Kristine’s best tips into your speech prep:
Tip 1: Write a speech that focuses on a single motif.
“Stick to a theme,” urges Kristine. This approach will keep your toast clear, concise and easy to understand. Keeping it simple is even more essential when the alcohol is flowing and guests are starting to fade.
Tip 2: The more specific, the better.
When coming up with your theme, stay away from too much vagueness: “Avoid generalizations. We try to get specific stories from people. Those are going to resonate way more,” says Kristine.
Tip 3: Don’t just focus on the bride or groom.
It’s natural to write the speech as if the subject is the only one in the audience. But, according to Marisa, this perspective can be limiting: “Don’t just think about the person you’re giving the speech to. It’s really for everyone in the room.”
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