“Just pretend to laugh even if I’m not funny, yeah? Will you? Promise?” I remember the desperation, nerves and sheer quivering anxiety I felt before giving a speech at my best friend’s wedding, speaking to the guests I knew - and a few I didn’t - rallying their support ahead of my big moment. My pal wasn’t on very good terms with her dad and so, instead, asked me to walk her down the aisle and give the ‘father of the bride’ speech. It was one of the most emotional and proud moments of my life, but also one of the most terrifying.
When she’d tearfully asked me, a few months earlier, if I would take on the role, I said: ‘Yes, of course, would love to.” But, on the inside, I was planning my escape: could I fake a huge career-defining work trip? Perhaps I could commit a petty crime and spend the summer of 2015 at her Majesty’s pleasure, or maybe I’d just ghost my mate? What’s 15 years of friendship worth anyway?
But, of course, I womened up and did it. I didn’t just do it, I NAILED that f**cking speech. And, I’ll say it, it was funnier than the best man’s speech - and there was two of them.
So, if you’ve been asked to give a Maid of Honour speech, a bridesmaid speech, a Mother of the Bride speech or even just give a toast at a wedding this summer, girl, I feel you. If you’re reading this it’s probably because you’re worried about it - and that’s fine. Below I’ve listed my tips on how to totally nail your wedding speech, plus I asked Radio 1 DJ Alice Levine for her tried and tested techniques. So, take a deep breath - and possibly a nerve-steadying gulp of wine - and prepare to wow.
1. Buy some Driclor
Ok, so this might seem a bit off-piste but a brilliant, heavy-duty deodrant like Driclor, (£6.99 from Boots) will give you peace of mind if, like me, you’re prone to getting a bit of a sweat on when under pressure. Apply the night before (it stings and itches a bit but that’s normal) and you won’t sweat one drop come speech time. Wave your arms in the air like you just don’t care, ladies.
2. Chat to the wedding guests before your speech
Perhaps don’t go down the begging and bribing people to laugh route like I did at my friend’s wedding but having a laugh with the guests that you do know, and getting to know the ones that you don’t, will really help calm your nerves and make you feel more comfortable once that mic is in your hand. Basically, charm the pants off everyone so that they feel guilted into laughing along at your ‘there was this one time in Ayia Napa’ joke.
3. Make eye contact
Don’t just do that pretending-like-you’re-looking-at-people-when-all-you’re-doing-is-scanning-over-the-room-in-a-frenzied-panic thing. The moment I had made eye contact with one of my pals in the crowd, who was gamefully laughing and clapping along, the nerves evaporated. The more you actually connect with people, the more they’ll respond.
4. Namecheck people
On that note, another good way to make sure people are really engaged and not just staring into their champagne and wondering how much is too much cake to eat, is to call them out. Reference memories and stories that involve other people in the room, thank family members and take the piss out of anyone and everyone (tastefully). Nothing keeps people alert like the mention of their own name.
5. Play a game
If you’re really not feeling being the centre of attention, play a game or a quiz. Like, everyone has to drink every time you say ‘…and then she passed out,’ for example, or ask the guests to guess things about the bride/couple e.g. which one of them had a penchant for winged eyeliner in the nineties, hint: it wasn’t the bride. That sort of utterly LOLs thing. Basically, get the guests to do all the work for you.
6. Don’t drink too much
It’s so, so easy to drink away your nerves. But is there anything worse than a slurring, blotchy, crying mess? Don’t be that girl. So have a few to steady yourself, but save the real partying for after you’ve given your wedding speech masterpiece.
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7. YouTube is your friend
I watched tonnes of inspirational women public speaking in the run up to my big moment. Now, I’m not saying my speech was anywhere near the realms of Hillary Clinton’s ‘women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights’ speech of 1995 (though, it was pretty close…) but seeing confident, powerful women totally bossing it makes you feel like you can do it too. Look to anything from Oprah, Michelle Obama, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, Meghan Markle - and Emma Watson. Remember the UN #HEFORSHE speech she did? She was clearly nervous, but still nailed it.
So they’re my tips on nailing a wedding speech, but I’m not a professional public speaker so I also asked Alice Levine - she of My Dad Wrote a Porno and Radio 1 fame, who’s incidentally just done a workshop on public speaking for Marriott Hotels. This is what she had to say:
Prepare: At the very least, preparation will put your mind at rest - as nerves can be the biggest impediment to public speaking. If you lose your way, you’ll know where you were heading as long as you know your material.
Slow and steady: No one ever goes too slowly when they're nervous. Resist the urge to race ahead; slow down and be more deliberate than perhaps feels natural.
Bullet points: Choose not to have scripts or speeches written out in full; bullet points are easier to jog the memory when mid-flow, whereas masses of writing swims in front of my eyes. If you have read everything through enough times beforehand, trust that those cues will be enough.
Looking up: Don't be tempted to bury your head in your notes for the whole time. It's fine to read them, but acknowledge the audience and glance up when the moments are right.
Read the room: If something you have prepared to say overlaps with someone else's piece, or you feel like it won't fit, be confident to drop it. Similarly if something gets a reaction - be it a laugh or gasp - enjoy that moment and react to it. You need to be nimble and flexible.
Fake it 'til you make it: If you don't feel assured, pretend you are, by standing confidently and avoiding fidgeting and smiling. No one knows what's going on in your head.
You've got this, girl.