Wedding speeches: high crimes and misdemeanours

The best man as wannabe standup comic

I find the subject of wedding speeches fascinating; but for me it’s a part-time project. Therefore, when writing The Wedding Speech Handbook , I consulted many people whom I shall call ‘wedding professionals.’ By this I mean people who have a full-time business providing wedding services. Their input was of great value, especially with regard to the things they regarded as a ‘no-no.’ Here are some examples of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ according to those wedding pros. Most of them are covered in a little more detail in Chapter 10 of the book.

Lack of personal context to stories

This was the ‘#1 crime’ reported by professional storyteller Polly Tisdall and it absolutely mirrors my own view. Because humour is so valued in our culture, jokes by a best man have for years been seen as a necessary feature of his speech; but not everybody is a gifted joke-teller. Far better, in my view, to tell stories that feature the bride or groom, how they met, etc. Yes, of course the stories can be funny but the essential point is to make them relevant to the occasion.

And please, please, please don’t find jokes on the Internet. Thanks to that very Internet, a joke that you think is brand-new might well be known to half the audience. And it might also be thought tasteless by the other half. Bear in mind that most wedding audiences are very diverse, especially as regards age. This is one of my major bugbears and it’s well illustrated by the cartoon above, which is by the talented David Lewis.

Not being heard

These days most venues have a PA system available. That’s helpful but it does put a premium on microphone technique, so I’ve included a section on that topic in the book. Fortunately my daughter Madeleine is a professional actor and singer, with plenty of experience of using mics, so she wrote the section for me. There are also tips about choice of microphone types; and for those situations where PA is unnecessary or inappropriate, I’ve also added a section on voice projection.

On PA, a word of warning from photographer Giles Bracher: ‘if you’re going to use a lapel mic (which of course presupposes that there is a sound man on hand and that he doesn’t mind switching the mic over from speaker to speaker) and if you should need to use the loo between the time the mic is fitted and the time you actually stand up to speak (Mother Nature ensures that this occurrence is common), be sure to check that the mic isn’t switched on!’

Failing to prepare properly

Giles Bracher again: ‘My pet hate is speakers who think it’s OK to just turn up and chat.’ In my view, that shows disrespect to the couple, the event and the guests. In our culture the speeches are a big deal at a wedding and a speaker’s preparation should reflect that fact.

Going on for too long
Most wedding speeches are between five and ten minutes. However, I have heard horror stories of speeches lasting over an hour. By which time some guests had departed for the bar or the loo, or had dozed off.

Photographer Tasha Park says: ‘keep it short and sweet. Even the best speeches become difficult to listen to after the 15-minute mark’. And venue host Brigid Holdsworth told me about a wedding featuring three garrulous and adoring best men, where the speeches took two hours in total.

The dreaded booze

One or two drinks before speaking is of course a great temptation, but the meaning of ‘one or two’ depends on your constitution. Only you know your tolerance for the stuff, or at least you should. I know some people for whom the first two drinks don’t touch the sides.

I was once doing some work in a cafe and two strangers at the next table looked ideal candidates for my informal research: men in their thirties, extrovert types who wouldn’t object to being quizzed. I asked if either of them had spoken at a wedding recently and both said yes. ‘So how many drinks did you have beforehand?’ The first answered: ‘five or six pints of beer, just to take the edge off’ and the second: ‘I was so nervous beforehand, I couldn’t have faced it without getting hammered first.’

Luckily, most speakers take the matter more seriously. One of my coaching clients, speaking at his daughter’s’ wedding , said that before speaking he had ‘half a glass of wine. I’m a control freak: I wanted to get it right.’ However, at my suggestion he had a reward in his eye-line during the speech: a very large glass of whisky, his favourite tipple, visible in front of him but not to be touched till after the speech.

Hypnotherapist Sharon Stiles told me about speeches at two different friends’ weddings, where the respective best men’s speeches were both ruined by too much drink. See my book for more on that.

Not consulting the other speakers

This is an absolute no-no in the case of multiple best men, which as you’ll probably know has been a trend for some time. But for any speaker, nobody wants to hear the same story twice. Consultation is useful anyway: after all, which of the bride’s father and the groom will thank whom? Best to sort those details out in advance.

Speaking too fast

This is a natural reaction to the stress of the occasion. The remedies: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Record your voice (you’ve probably got a voice recorder app on your phone) and listen to it! Better still, play the recording to a partner, a friend, your dog.

(OK, I lied about the dog; they are famously poor judges of anything said by their owners. As Aldous Huxley said, “to his dog, every man is Napoleon, hence the constant popularity of dogs.” )

For more on high crimes and misdemeanours, see The Wedding Speech Handbook, Chapter 10: ‘Tips From the Professionals’.

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