Jeremy would be standing in front of 220 people the next day, including colleagues, friends, family and his bride. As he walked the streets, the groom-to-be mentally composed his wedding speech. The following evening, without missing a single beat, Jeremy had the audience in fits of laughter and bouts of tears as he delivered a sincere, witty and memorable speech.
Most of us cannot – and should not – think that inspiration will strike us at the last minute. In fact, when Jeremy’s close friend, Simon, got up to speak without much preparation at his own wedding, his mind went blank. Simon made some lame jokes, mumbled on and finally freed up the stage for his best man.
Many of us will eventually find ourselves standing up during a wedding to give a speech — bride or groom, parent, grandparent or friend alike. With all eyes on you, it’s important to be prepared, composed and ready.
Here are some tips to help anyone craft the perfect, memorable wedding speech.
What not to do!
• Once it’s written, keep your speech safe. Rivka was at a wedding where the groom got too close to a candle and burned his notes.
• If you’re called on to give a toast, make sure you get the names right. At Rose and Roni’s wedding, the father of the groom mistakenly toasted Rose and Donny (brother of the groom).
• Don’t overdo the superlatives. Josh told us, “At one of my closest friends’ wedding, he kept referring to his new wife as ‘my darling.’ ” He said some people tuned out while others started taking bets as to how many times he would say ‘my darling.’ ”
• Some things should not be shared in public. Sam was at a wedding where one of the mothers announced where she had conceived her son (the groom).
• Be generous with giving praise, and be gracious when receiving praise. Jen told us, “My husband only mentioned me the first time eight-and-a-half minutes into his 10-minute speech. When I praised him in my speech, he was caught in the act of eating a huge mouthful of smoked salmon.”
When it comes to speeches, be guided by a wise principle: Less is more.
“My father told me that I should speak for no more than 10 minutes. When he said that, I was blown away because I have often heard him ramble on for 20. But I thought the advice was wise, and that’s what I aimed for,” Jeremy said.
Timing is also about when you speak.
In an unconventional move, Erez and his bride, Lee, walked together to the chuppah. Just before they stepped up to the bimah, the music stopped and they turned around to face their family and friends.
“These are our last moments before we seal our marriage in Jewish law. Lee and I would like to stop time and dwell upon the magnitude of this moment,” Erez said.
At that point, both bride and the groom shared some short thoughts about their impending marriage before continuing to the chuppah.
If you’re the bride or groom, you can share some wise ideas — ideally based on Jewish wisdom.
Michael remembers that he mentioned the qualities of fire, which related to the parasha of the week. In a marriage, he said, one must be careful not to be fiery — impulsive and destructive. He still remembers his own words 25 years later and tries to heed them at challenging moments.
You will also want to include thank yous — to parents, in-laws, rabbis, people who helped you in your relationship and, of course, to your new husband or wife. “Words that come from the heart will enter the heart,” according to the talmudic saying. Be generous with praise, and choose each word of your personal message to capture the essence of the person you are speaking about. When you address your partner, you can express some of your hopes for your relationship as you embark on your new life together.
If you’re a guest speaker, your job is to “touch” the couple by sharing a meaningful thought and kind words. You could impart some advice or tell a personal story. When Sharon spoke at her best friend’s wedding, she elicited some chuckles when reminding her that in elementary school they had a mock wedding and “technically” were still married. (Of course don’t get too personal and divulge information that shouldn’t be shared in such a public forum!)
Often people want their speech to be memorable for its humor. Our advice is don’t try to be funny if you can’t pull it off. The most memorable speech is when the speaker stays true to who he or she is, genuine and sincere.
Scott decided that instead of a speech, he would serenade his wife in song. He composed and performed his own music and lyrics. She loved it, but most of us won’t be singing.
To deliver your speech well, you need to know the 3-P rule: practice, practice, practice. You should plan your speech well in advance, write it up word for word, and rehearse it. When you feel you have the speech memorized, you can find someone to be your pretend audience and practice in front of that person. If you are nervous on the night of the wedding, it may calm you to focus on that person’s friendly and encouraging face.
Bottom line: If you’re the bride or groom, the parent, grandparent, best man or maid of honor, be prepared, be sincere, and remember: Practice! Practice! Practice!
Tali Tarlow and Debbie Last run a speech-writing consultancy service for all lifecycle occasions at yourjewishspeech.com.