On Bended Knee: The Speech

18 Jul

So far with On Bended Knee, the process of planning for a grandiose wedding has been described by the groom of said wedding.  For this installment, perhaps the penultimate one, we toss it over to the P.O.V. of someone set to stand behind the groom on his big day, and take a look at the art and science of the wedding toast.

When it comes to making a wedding toast, it seems like there’s a basic formula that everyone should follow if they want things to go over well.  This formula would be the science aspect of the speech.  After you’ve got the formula, though, there is a lot of room to add your own personal touches, and many directions in which you can take the overall mood of the speech.  This would be the art of the speech.

Science

The first place to start is the formula.  The core components of a great wedding speech can seem pretty simple.  So simple that it can be easy to take them for granted, and this is where a lot of aspiring speechmakers fail before they get within sight of the microphone stand.  The speech can’t soar if the building blocks aren’t there.  So what are they?  In no specific order:

1)  Humor.  The piece of advice to ‘start it out with a joke’ has pretty much become a cliche at this point, but that doesn’t diminish the truth at the core of it.  No one likes someone who’s serious 24/7, and it’s always a good thing for the speaker to show the crowd that they appreciate the lighter side of life.  Also, one of the quickest ways to a woman’s (or man’s) heart is a sense of humor.  And for all the single speakers out there, a well-timed joke or two is going to go a long way towards your dance floor prospects.

2) Appropriateness.  This one is coming right after Humor for a reason.  It’s always necessary to remember that the wedding toast is not just for the bride and groom.  While that story about that one drunken night at the Tallahassee Nudist Colony might be really funny to the three of you, it’s not something that’s going to go over well with Grandma Jean at Table 2.  There are people of all ages and backgrounds at these weddings, and it’s not your party to ruin with an unfortunate dick joke.  So keep it tasteful.

3) Selflessness.  A speaker should never forget that they wouldn’t be at the mic if it wasn’t for the two best-dressed people in the room.  This is the bride and groom’s Special Day, and the wedding toasts should reflect that.  There’s nothing wrong with sharing some of the personal connections you have with one or both members of the Happy Couple, but stop the personal sharing there.  Nothing sucks the happy air out of the reception hall quite like a buzzed Best Man going off on a tangent about how his own marriage ended in a swirl of quaaludes and baristas.  Keep the spotlight on the two beautiful party people in front of you.

4) Brevity.  Keep it short and sweet.

5) Emotion.  There’s a lot to remember when prepping the wedding speech, and there should be a lot of thought put into what words will be said, but the one thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is the emotional importance of the moment.  The wedding speakers have been selected to take a supporting role in the Happy Couple’s Big Day, and that usually means that there are some strong emotional connections there.  Those emotions should shine through bright and clear in the speech.  Ideally, there will never be another chance to say some wedding-specific words to these two people, so the speech should reflect that.  Leave it all on the table.  Tastefully.

Art

The art portion of the speech is where a confident (or foolhardy) Best Man can shoot for the moon – trying for five-to-seven minutes of transcendental oratory greatness.  As long as the basic parts of the aforementioned formula have been followed, there’s plenty of room for some personal flourishes to set one speech apart from the thousands that have come before it.  To create something that people talk about, that builds a cult following through social media, and eventually cements itself into the modern cultural lexicon as a point of reference for all future wedding participants and attendees.  In order to achieve this with a speech, there needs to be some serious brainstorming time spent beforehand, and then even more time spent practicing after that.  There’s nothing wrong with thinking on your feet once you step up to the podium, but this isn’t sketch comedy.  Everything should be tightly timed and thought out beforehand, not improvised on the spot.

The ideal result of this timeless speech would be that every wedding attendee is doubled over in laughter, sobbing uncontrollably, or going through some combination of both, by the time said Man drops the mic.  If a wedding speaker puts the time and effort in before the Big Day, are these results guaranteed?  No, not at all.  Truly great wedding speeches are rare things – the products of preparation, effort, heart, good timing, and perhaps a little magic.  It’s easy to be good if you put in some effort, but it takes something special to be great.  So keep that in mind, but by no means should the elusiveness of a great speech deter future speakers from aiming for the best.  Shoot for the moon, and you might fall among the stars.

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