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3 Rules for Wedding Speeches (& When to Break Them)

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

If you’re here, you probably already know that I love to write and speak. To quote Drew Barrymore’s character in Never Been Kissed, “Words are my life!” I’ve given many speeches in my life – weddings, funerals, and anytime I find a soapbox I can climb up on, I’m speaking! I’m not a professional speaker, mind you, but neither is your best-person-of-honour.

I have heard approximately one kajillion wedding speeches, and I have seen the highs and the lows: the one that earned the standing ovation; the one where there were crickets; the one delivered in three languages; and the one that went on so long, the guests started to head out early. But the most common mistake doesn’t have to do with the content, length, or the delivery of the speech – it has to do with the timing of it. So without further ado, here are my three must-follow rules for wedding speeches:

RULE #1: Wedding speeches should always take place immediately after food service.

I’m not arguing with anyone about this and I’m throwing away any schedule that says otherwise.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?

Because the caterer is the most expensive supplier in your budget – it’s the reason you didn’t invite your unfriendly co-workers, thus making them dislike you even more. You want your food served when it is perfectly cooked and hot, not whenever works for the best man who ignored the three-minute rule (see below), and is scrolling through his iPhone notes looking for the one gem that is going to get him laid.

It’s also convenient that almost all of your guests will be seated, and it’s highly unlikely that the service staff will need to be moving around the room, taking attention away from the speaker. (Don’t even get me started on this – another major bête noire!)

The Exception: I mean… is all your food cold? Is there no food? This category is just here for the other two rules. I said what I said.

RULE #2: Wedding speeches should be under three minutes.

Not only is it challenging for your speaker to keep the attention of all your guests much longer than this, but the more room they have to run on, the more filler ends up in the speech. Cut. The Fluff. Whatever your best friend has to say to you that is longer than three minutes can be put in a letter (and makes a lovely keepsake).

This rule also covers “winging it.” This is simply a terrible plan. It inevitably means that the speech is much longer than it needs to be, and includes way more awkward “umms” and “ahhs” than absolutely necessary while the speaker scrolls away at the notes they jotted down in the Uber.

The Exception: While exceptionally rare, incredible speakers, who speak off the cuff and have everyone laughing, exist. You know if you have someone like this in your life, and you can let them fly free. Or better yet, make them the MC, so they’ll have lots of opportunities to get on the mic – just make sure they know that

they don’t need to make a speech every time they have said mic. (I cannot stress this enough – the MC does not need to tell a story every time they have the mic!)

Two incredible speakers, one who spoke off the cuff for way more than three minutes but killed it, and another, who spoke from the heart, and had me crying. They outdid each other and it was delightful. Photographed by Alex Grant.

RULE #3: DON’T stick to a formula.

Trust someone who has been listening to wedding speeches for over fifteen years – there is no perfect speech formula. Formulaic speeches feel false. Speeches must be genuine, and should be for the couple, not just the person you’re closest to. Edit it down to three minutes, and practice it in front of someone else to make sure your jokes land and everything makes sense. Sometimes, when we’re telling a story, we might forget some of the background necessary to make it understood, and you may have edited it out as fluff.

The Exception: I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a few do’s and don’ts:

* DO make us laugh

* DO make us tear up – DON’T make us ugly cry

* ASK if you’re even a little unsure about mentioning something: an embarrassing story, someone who has passed away, a dig at one of the other wedding guests… These might be funny or heartwarming, but they might be better – what am I going to say – written in a letter!

I might sound like a speech-hater, but the truth is just the opposite. My favourite part of the wedding is the speeches. I love to hear the officiant speak about the couple, I love the vows, and I often tear up heart-struck, or from laughing so hard. I am telling you all of this because I love speeches, and when they’re great, they add so much love and joy to the party.

I didn’t address the number of speeches at an event, because that’s not a hard and fast rule. Just like your wedding party, the number can be minimal or maximal, depending on your vibe. You can figure this out by making sure you stay true to your wedding mantra: having only people you love involved, remembering – “Who is this even for?”, and ensuring that the quantity isn’t greater than the quality.

Still not sure? Send me a message below and book a free 20-minute consult so I can help you find your wedding mantra, perfect your timeline, and ensure that your journey to the day is as awesome as the best day of your life.


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