Inspiration for your wedding speech – are you looking but not seeing?
In this glorious age of online shopping, you can now buy ‘inspiration’. There are websites where you can pay to read other people’s wedding speeches and get advice on how to emulate them. But we think that’s kind of like selling bottled air. Speech inspiration is everywhere – you just need to be looking for the right things.
We have no beef with people who sell speeches and speech tips. They’re just making a living and we don’t doubt they’ve helped loads of people. But it seems a bit… uninspiring.
If you’re struggling to cobble a speech together, it probably feels like inspiration is hard to come by. But it’s all around us. Here are some examples of people you can look to for inspiration, and what you can learn from them.
John Green – Go off on tangents to make your point
Novelist and YouTube mega-nerd John Green is a hyperactive public speaker, to say the least. But he’s also a great one. Often because he goes off on seemingly random, intriguing tangents to make his point.
In this speech, he’s explaining why storytelling is so important. But he spends half the actual speech talking about being ‘trapped’ in his body and his struggles with OCD. His off-topic excursions always work towards strengthening his final point though. And it helps to hold attention, because the audience are thinking “where on earth is he going with this?”
So although your wedding speech is ultimately going to be about a specific person, relationship or occasion, remember that’s just the destination. How you get there is entirely up to you. Tell a story. Draw an analogy. If it ties back into your main point, it’s all good.
Lee Evans – Make your weaknesses work for you
Lee Evans is, on paper, everything a stand up comic shouldn’t be. He’s full of nervous energy, has a squeaky voice and sweats profusely. But he makes it work. He makes it his thing.
If you’re just not cut out for public speaking, then giving a speech probably terrifies you. So if you really can’t get past it, play up to it. Make it clear you’re terrified and use that nervousness to energise your delivery.
Marmite – Make yourself the target of a joke
Remember those 90s adverts – ‘I hate Marmite’? They were unexpected, funny and showed huge personality from a brand you wouldn’t expect it from.
Joking about yourself gets people on your side. It guarantees you two things: 1) the target of your joke won’t be offended (because it’s you), and 2) your subsequent jokes about other people will land better – because you’ve put yourself on the same level as them, rather than above them.
Self-deprecating humour can only go awry if it comes across as self-pitying. So make sure you’re doing rehearsals with someone who’ll flag it up if it’s lacking confidence.
Barrack Obama – Take. Your. Time.
Regardless of whether or not you like his politics, no one can deny that Obama is a brilliant public speaker.
One of the ways he comes across so confident and assertive is his pacing. He leaves very distinct pauses between his points. This exudes confidence because a nervous speaker will always try to rush through a speech. A nervous speaker will always try to avoid silences.
Obama’s delivery makes him look absolutely in control when he’s addressing a room. Because he is. He looks like he’d happily stand there all day telling people what he thinks.
So take your time. If there’s a legitimate need to rush, then your speech’s too long.
Me – You need fewer jokes than you think
In 2012, I gave a speech at my grandfather’s funeral.
He was a really funny guy. A proper dry-witted Englishman. I knew he’d have wanted some laughs at his funeral, so I took it upon myself to deliver them.
After a few days of crippling nerves, I delivered my speech and it went down a storm. It was sweet in places, sombre in places, but really funny. It’s quite an experience to make people laugh at a funeral, and it totally changed the mood of the entire day. It’s become quite a legendary moment in my family.
But here’s the thing. When I started planning this blog, I dug out a copy of that speech (from three laptops ago). And I was amazed by how few jokes there were in it. It took about five minutes to deliver, and had only five real ‘pause for laughter’ moments. The rest was all sweet and sentimental stuff.
All anyone remembers of that speech was how funny it was. And it only had one joke per minute. So remember – quality over quantity.
Jimmy Carr – A stage persona can get away with things you can’t
There are two really good rules to remember about mocking people for laughs:
Ricky Gervais: “Always punch upwards.”
Chris Rock: “Joke about what people do, not what they are.”
Those two rules always help to keep track of the line between playful ribbing and mean insults. But if you really want to push that line, make sure your speech-delivering persona is very different to your normal personality.
Compare Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle. Jimmy Carr has a very distinctive on-stage persona. He says horribly offensive things, but they’re delivered so clinically and with such faux-arrogance that you know he’s just playing a caricature of himself.
Frankie Boyle has always taken much more heat for his jokes than Jimmy Carr. Why? Because his delivery is much more conversational. His on-stage persona isn’t that far removed from how you’d expect him to be in private conversation. And that makes his jokes seem more personal.
So if you want to push the boundaries, make sure speech-giving you comes across as a very different person from everyday you.
Amy Schumer – Stay in the bit
Here’s a luxury problem: what if your speech goes too well?
You’re reeling off the jokes, they’re all landing and the audience are howling with laughter. In fact, they’re laughing so hard that you keep having to wait for the laughs to die down before you can carry on your speech. This can really disrupt your flow. It disconnects lines that are meant to work together and make you feel really awkward. Do you laugh along with them? Do the ‘quiet please’ gesture? Take a sip of water and wait it out? What?
This is how you fix the problem: as Jerry Seinfeld would say – you ‘stay in the bit’. Whatever expression or emotion you’ve used to deliver the joke, you hold it through the laughter. Instead of kicking your heels and waiting, you stay in ‘I know, right?’ mode.
Amy Schumer is a master of this. Watch her acceptance speech at the 2015 Glamour Awards. She has some really long pauses to deal with, but look at how well she bridges them. It’s the little facial expressions and mini-lines that just subtly reiterate the punchline she’s just delivered. It makes her speech seem really fluid when it’s actually really stop-start.
So when you’ve got them rolling in the aisles, remember – stay in the bit.
When Harry Met Sally – Show, don’t tell.
This movie is cheesy as hell. But this final scene is a really good example of the difference between showing and telling. Especially when you’re delivering the feels.
Anyone can say ‘I love you’. ‘You’re the most beautiful woman in the world’. ‘You’re my best friend’. ‘I’m the happiest man alive’. Literally a total stranger could pick up a mic and say these things.
But only you can explain why these sentiments are true, and how you came to feel that way. You can remember the little details. You can tell the stories.
He’s your best friend? Tell that story about when he did something insanely embarrassing just to help you out. Don’t say ‘best friend’ – say your equivalent of ‘you’re my person’ (Grey’s Anatomy) or ‘thunder buddies for life’ (Ted).
You’re the happiest man alive? Talk about the moment you first realised you absolutely had to marry this woman. Tell stories about being a hapless loser chasing a girl way out of his league. Make sure the words you deliver are your words – that no other person could ever have written them.
Show, don’t tell.
Where do you find inspiration?
Have you given a brilliant speech in the past? What inspired you? Let us know in the comments.
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