“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome! To this beautiful venue on the happy occasion of the marriage of Eleanor and …. John.”

What the hell happened there? For a second I’d forgotten the name of my new son-in-law. I, whose memory for names, for faces, for practically everything, was legendary among my friends and anyone else ready to hear a demonstration of said skill. No matter: on with the speech.

“I have the honour of being the Father of the Bride and for anybody who doesn’t know me, my name is …. James.” There it was again. The legendary memory starting to let me down again?

No matter. I knew enough about public speaking to have memorised the start and finish of my speech; it was just that tricky bit in the middle where I might need to refer to my script. So I felt, as unobtrusively as possible, into the right-hand breast pocket of my hired morning suit. The pocket where I always kept scripts, though I usually scorned their use. But for my daughter’s wedding, I was enough of a control freak that I needed it to be word-perfect.

My hand went into the pocket and came out with … nothing, if you don’t count a receipt from Moss Bros. Unobtrusively again, I tried the other breast pocket. Nothing. However, I knew enough of my speech to continue.

“My first task today is to welcome you all! Especially …” My wife and I had already spent several less-than-amicable evenings negotiating which members of our extended family merited a special mention … or shout-out, to use the ghastly modern jargon. The criteria had been (advanced) age and distance of travel. Simple enough, you’d think. But whose names had we come up with? I couldn’t remember.

“Some of you have come a very long distance to be with us today …” I ploughed on. At that point, I realised that some of the audience were looking at me rather quizzically. The reason soon became clear: my microphone had ceased functioning. All those hours spent practising with the bloody thing and now I’m let down by technology?

Suddenly I noticed some papers on the floor by my feet. Was this my script? I must have dropped it. And had I remembered to staple the pages together, or would they be out of order now?

Bending down to retrieve the offending sheets, I suddenly remembered my wife’s warning when we went to Moss Bros to be fitted for my morning suit: “Don’t forget that you don’t take a 36-inch waist any more, darling. Practicality is more important than vanity.”

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. I had of course ignored her advice, not for the first time, and now I paid the price. I’d almost scooped up the pages of my script when I heard the tell-tale noise of my trouser seam giving up the ghost.

The laughter that this produced in the audience was totally uncalled-for, I felt. As was the increased hum of conversation around the room. Most distasteful.

Suddenly the laughter and the buzz of conversation were silenced by another sound. A bell. OK, I must have remember to set a timer for ten minutes, which I had been told was absolute the longest that a wedding speech should last. Surely we weren’t there yet? I’d hardly begun.

The bell, however, didn’t care about my concerns. It continued unabated, louder and louder, until its strident tones were replaced by my wife’s voice saying “Wake up, you idiot. It’s eight o’clock and breakfast will be ready soon.”

I sat up in bed; the sweat was dripping from my brow. My eye lighted on a wall calendar, from which I could see two pieces of reassuring information. Eleanor’s wedding isn’t for another two weeks. And tomorrow I have another session with my wedding-speech coach. All is well.

As that wise man said (who was it? I must check): “My life is full of great disasters, most of which never happened.”


We’re all into ‘top tips’ these days and I don’t want to be left out.

Confidence is such an important thing but it can be ephemeral. So even people whom everyone thinks of as supremely confident sometimes need a ‘booster’, to borrow Covid terminology.

So here are five stories, or tips if you will. I didn’t originate them: they are all stories I’ve found or that happened to me. I was thinking about wedding speeches at the time, because I was doing research for a book. But maybe some of these tips could find application elsewhere than for wedding speeches, or elsewhere than for public speaking in general? You decide.

1. I was on a train journey (from Bristol to Nottingham, changing at Cheltenham, since you asked), and I got talking to a most interesting bloke; a chemistry professor. He had recently spoken at his daughter’s wedding and I was about to fulfil the same responsibility. He told me some great advice he’d been given by a friend.

His friend’s tip: “While people are finding their places for the meal, wander round the room, glad-handing the people you know.”

That was great advice: as he was the bride’s father, there’d be lots of people there that he knew. Simply shaking hands with those people and exchanging a few pleasantries would help to settle the nerves.

2. Winston Churchill (OK, I admit it, I never met him) was once making an important speech and as he walked away from the platform he dropped a piece of paper which he’d had on the lectern with him. An aide picked it up and brought it back, saying: ‘you dropped your notes, Prime Minister.’

The great man’s reply: ‘Oh, that’s just a shopping list. But I always carry it to give the audience confidence.’

Obviously this is only of value to someone who likes to speak without notes, either by having a photographic memory or being a great improviser. But I loved the idea anyway: even if you don’t need notes, carry some anyway.

3. One of my nephews was about to give a Best Man speech. Despite being a musician and an experienced performer, he was very nervous (and I always say that’s normal and it’s helpful). One of his other friends told him: ‘it’s a home crowd.’

Although Paul is not a particularly sport-loving person, this sporting metaphor was not lost on him: everyone in the audience was rooting for him and wanted him to succeed.

4. A couple of hours before my daughter’s wedding, we were about to get on to one of the buses that took us from the hotel to the venue. An acquaintance from the night before – an affable Irishman called George – greeted me: ‘How are you today?’ I replied ‘fine; but a bit nervous because I’ve got to speak in a hour or two.’

His reply: Ah, you’ll be fine; you’re a showman.’

Am I a showman? Most of the time, no. I’m a mix of extrovert and introvert, as many of us are. But George’s remark reminded me to get into showman mode. It wasn’t just what he said or even how he said it: crucially, his timing was perfect. (The speech went fine, by the way. Thank you, George!)

5. A few years ago, I coached my good friend Steve for his daughter’s wedding speech; and recently he told me he’d delivered the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. He told me that he hadn’t needed my input when writing it, ‘although I felt you looking over my shoulder the whole time.’ Then he added: ‘And I remembered that Maya Angelou quote.’

What was the quote? It was:‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you say. They’ll forget what you did. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel.’

OK, I never met Maya Angelou, the author of that quotation. But she might as well have said it to me personally. I’ve always liked it; I quote in my wedding speech book; and I’ve often passed it on, as I clearly had to my friend Steve.

That episode confirmed to me the power of a good quote. Why are they helpful? Because they can say a lot in a few words.

I’m about to publish a book of quotes / epigrams / mottos; and my author friend John Lynch who’s written the foreword, makes exactly the same point. ‘Multum in parvo,’ as he writes. And to reinforce the point, here’s the working title of my book: ‘Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit.’

Watch this space, as they say, for details of my book launch in April 2022.

Weddings restarting …. wedding fairs too!

It’s great news that weddings ‘as we know them’ are starting again. Wedding fairs too. This Sunday’s Wedding Fair at the ICC Wales venue (adjacent to Celtic Manor) is almost oversubscribed, with 1450 couples registered, which I believe is well above the organisers’ expectations.

Weddings returning to normal means that the reception will feature speeches; and that’s my thing.

I’ll be at the ICC, on stand D36. So, if you’re planning a wedding, do come and talk to me. You can snaffle a free copy of my book The Wedding Speech Handbook!

My client Tom Walker nails his speech at his daughter’s wedding.

The confidence trick

‘Fake it till you make it’ has been a meme or a slogan or a motto even, since the old king died. But confidence is a fragile thing. Even Grayson Perry, that celebrated, ebullient and larger-than-life artist who’s even higher profile than usual right now due to his lockdown TV series ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ (UK Channel 4), appears to have suffered from a lack of confidence. At one time he did, anyway. I learned this from an article he wrote ‘Letters to my 16-year-old self’ or words to that effect. He wanted his younger self to have more belief that his life would go well. ‘Confidence’ he wrote, ‘is the most important thing, because it allows one to fulfil one’s potential.’

But how do we get it if we haven’t got it? How do we get more of it?

Self-esteem is another way of putting it and maybe a more central quality, of which self-confidence is an aspect or a manifestation. I have been amazed at the number of times I’ve met people who seem to be confident on the outside but actually suffered from lack of self-esteem. Maybe they were applying the ‘fake it till you make it’ thing.

Self-belief is another way of expressing it and that’s maybe the best way of describing the quality we’re looking for.

What I do know about confidence is this: It’s context-specific. Should be obvious but maybe it’s not. I’m confident at some things, less so in others, and not at all in others. Anyone who is supremely self-confident in all aspects of their life is either very lucky or deluded.

The other thing I’ve learned is that confidence can be cut and pasted – or maybe copied and pasted, from one are of one’s life to another. A practical way of proving that is the practice called anchoring, or the circle of excellence, that I first learned from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioner Dianne Lowther. I learned the technique of capturing, or anchoring, the emotions from previous success, in order to improve my performance at an event. I was confident that the event would go well; simply wanted to find a way to become less jittery three or four hours in advance of the event, which was speaking at a fundraising dinner. Not only did the technique work in that way, it also enabled me to engage with other people at the event in ways I would not have done previously.

Context, cut-and-paste. Those are the two key things I work with. Then the next thing is the difference between confidence and self-esteem or self-belief. They are of course tied up in the broader issue of personality. Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Or something in between? Or does it vary from day to day, from hour to hour? If so, you’re normal.

Because I’m a coach and not a therapist, I tend to deal in the present and the client’s picture of the future, not the distant past. Yes, we might deal with the recent past if there’s a pattern of behaviour that still persists and which inhibits performance or belief of both. But we don’t usually deal with what happened in your childhood, for example.

Maybe that’s something missing from our armoury. For example, I once had a client who on the face of it had a supremely successful professional life. But after questioning at a deeper level than I usually go (helped by the fact he’d completed a psychometric questionnaire: a most helpful tool), it transpired that he was still trying to prove himself to his parents. At that stage I think both his parents were dead; but nevertheless those scars run deep. Memo to self: one size doesn’t fit all. If I think about my own childhood, a long time ago, I recall that we were encouraged, implicitly if not explicitly, to believe in ourselves. Our parents would not have expressed it that way; but that was the outcome. Some kind of osmosis, maybe.

I still remember the best stage production I’ve ever been involved in. It was nearly ten years ago: a production of Richard III in a small pub theatre in Bristol. The director (a multi-talented young man called Tristan Darby) succeeded in getting us all to maintain the beauty of the pentameter, and yet to portray the inimitable drama of the play … and I still don’t know how he did it. I don’t recall a single ‘note’, i.e. the verbal critiques you receive or don’t receive at the end of each rehearsal. His work too was done by osmosis, as far as I can work out.

Parenting sometimes works like that. If you get it right, the child believes in him- or herself and that is a priceless legacy. Worth more than all the money you can leave them. On which subject: the richest man I know once said to me: ‘giving loadsa money to your kids is the worst thing you can do for them.’

‘Discuss’, as they say. Or they did, back in my rather traditional schooldays.

To conclude: if I, and my ex-wife, have given our daughters a reasonable measure of self-belief, then we’ve done our job. Maybe the most important job of our lives.

‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them …’

It’s always great to discover new angles on stuff you’ve been working with for years. As the saying goes, it’s what you learn after you know it all (or maybe you think you do) that counts.

How do you feel when confronted with a microphone?

A few years ago I was speaking about presentations at the breakfast meeting of The Business Club in Warwick. The invitation came through the good offices of my good friend and market research guru Nick Thomas. Nick tells me that the club has folded since, but he hasn’t.

The discussion during my talk reminded me that there are many ways to skin a cat. For example:

I described and demonstrated a technique for managing stress before a presentation. I’d learned it from NLP expert Dianne Lowther of Brilliant Minds. She called it “The Circle of Excellence” and it’s explained in detail on pp 68-70 of her book ‘Introducing NLP for Work, A Practical Guide’.

In the Q&A, club member Helena Lapworth commented that she’d used these NLP techniques in her own work. Of this ‘circle of excellence’ tool, she said, “we call them anchors & triggers.”

Whether you call it circles of excellence or anchors or triggers, I can attest that I’ve tried this technique and it works. If you want to know more, get in touch with me, or see the link below.


There’s an old saying about public speaking that’s been used for ever and a day: “Tell them what it is you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what it is that you’ve just told them.”

As that phrase used to be used by Army officers, I knew the technique as the Sandhurst method, after the famous Army staff college of that name. However, after my speech at Warwick, business club member Caroline Woodward came up to me and said “I know that technique as the “News at Ten method.”

Of course! That makes perfect sense. News bulletins have headlines both at the beginning and the end. And millions of us watch or listen to broadcast news. Not so many millions are familiar with Sandhurst, so ‘the News at Ten method’ is the description I’ve used ever since. Thank you, Caroline!

As I said at the beginning, it’s what you learn …

Further reading on The Circle of Excellence (aka anchors, aka triggers): see ’Introducing NLP at Work’ by Dianne Lowther.

Stage fright … the key to a magical performance?

Much has been written on the subject of public speaking nerves. If I want a suitable quote on this or any other matter, I look first to an American writer and humorist who never lets me down.

There are only two kind of speakers: (1) the nervous; and (2) liars.’ (Mark Twain, 1865-1910)

That gem, as true today as it was then, is the subject of a short video I recorded last year for my YouTube channel ‘The Mottoist.’

Like the inimitable and often-quoted Mark Twain, I said in the video that yes, most people are nervous when speaking in public. Not all, but most. There’s even a word for it now, ‘glossophobia’, and we’re told that 75% of the public suffer from it.

Not just the general public but stars from every genre of the performing arts. Dames Judi Dench and Janet Baker. John Lennon. Leonard Cohen. Stevie Nicks. Henry Fonda. The list goes on.

So back to my headline at the top of this piece, and maybe the key takeaway, from the aforementioned Stevie Nicks (she of Fleetwood Mac, if you’re not into rock): ‘If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But maybe the stage fright is the key to that magical performance.’

The good news: stress is helpful, provided you can manage it.

Want to know more? Message me!

Here’s a link to the video:

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’.

Sherlock’s Hardest Case: How to Write an Unforgettable Best Man Speech


221b Baker Street

Image by hknong via Morguefile

Sherlock Holmes is wrestling with a difficult problem at 221B Baker Street. So problematic, in fact, that he sends an urgent summons for help to Detective Inspector Lestrade. As Lestrade arrives – with a full backup team, having left a crime in progress – Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch on BBC-TV, holds up a slim book entitled How to Write an Unforgettable Best Man Speech. “This is hard,” he says. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

If you should ever need to do that “hardest thing” and make a best man’s speech, don’t rush out to your favourite bookstore, be it Amazon or bricks-and-mortar, to find a copy of that book. Sadly, it doesn’t exist. (I say sadly, because that episode of Sherlock went viral and it would have been a fantastic piece of product placement.)

YOUR OPINION SOUGHT … wedding speeches on screen

A good friend told me that it would be an interesting exercise to analyse that now-famous speech, and I’ve decided to ask my readers for their opinions on it … and on other wedding speeches on screen, both TV dramas and feature films.

There are of course millions of real wedding speeches now on YouTube but I’m looking for fictional ones, because I believe that their lessons are more easily remembered. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Sherlock, has millions of fans (aka Cumberbitches), but that’s not the only reason for writing about his now-famous but fictional speech.

The other reason is that the latest series of the drama has just finished on BBC TV – personally I didn’t like the way they developed this last series but that’s just my opinion, though I know I am not alone – so maybe you fans are suffering withdrawal symptoms.

The Sign of Three: solve a crime or two, write a speech

This speech came, as any Sherlock fan will tell you, in an episode called The Sign of Three, broadcast in 2014. Sherlock has been invited to be Dr Watson’s best man, to his surprise and confusion. Simply writing it is, as he tells D.I. Lestrade, “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Your turn to comment!

So here’s the survey. What do you think of Sherlock’s speech? If you were planning a best man’s speech, what lessons, if any, would you take from it?

Here is a link to a video of the speech, via our old friends at YouTube:

That link takes you to almost the full speech, apart from a section at the beginning where Sherlock reads out the messages from absent friends; or, as he says: “First things first: telegrams! Well, they’re not actually telegrams; we just call them telegrams. I don’t know why. Wedding tradition, I suppose. Because apparently we don’t have enough of that already.”

This is all fiction, of course; but I think there are some useful lessons that can be learned from it. Do you agree? If so, what are they? And what do you think about what he does at the very start – reading the so-called ‘telegrams’ – which isn’t in this video?

If you want to see that part too, the only version I found on YouTube isn’t of great quality and has subtitles in Dutch; but here it is.

And for a final piece of background, here’s a transcript of an interview with Steven Moffat, who was Executive Producer of the Sherlock series and who wrote the speech, talking about this episode. He says he always wanted to see Sherlock as a best man. (That idea was his, not Conan Doyle’s:  in the original novels, Watson marries Mary Morstan between stories, off-screen so to speak). Moffat’s thoughts are very instructive.

Please post your comments: I’ll post mine soon. I will also post links to posts about this episode by other bloggers, so that you can compare your views with theirs.


That episode of Sherlock? It’s called The Sign of Three.

Other fictional wedding speeches from movies and TV dramas? I’ll be posting in coming weeks about other onscreen speeches. Watch this space!