More and more brides are stepping up to the mic at their wedding. Bride-to-be Kate Wills trialled various methods for delivering the perfect speech…
Mute brides have always bugged me. Iâ€™d watched too many funny, clever, confident female friends struck dumb at their weddings, while their fathers, grooms and best men got to rock the mic instead. I swore that if I ever got married, Iâ€™d make a speech. I didnâ€™t want to feel like an ornament, sitting at top table looking pretty – I wanted to be part of it. But now my own wedding is fast-approaching, and thereâ€™s just one problem – Iâ€™m terrified of public speaking. Heartened by a report which found that more brides than ever are making a speech on their big day, I knew Iâ€™d kick myself if I didnâ€™t take this moment, and I hoped I might actually really enjoy it. But I was going to need a little helpâ€¦
Considering I write for a living, youâ€™d think penning some words to say at my own wedding would be a breeze. But after staring at a blank word document for hours I got in touch with Robin Bayley aka The Wedding Speech Guru (weddingspeechguru.co.uk, sessions from Â£250). Bayley has helped hundreds of people compose and deliver a wedding speech, from the nervous father-of-the-bride who contacted him a year before the wedding, to the desperate best man who called him from the pub a few hours before his speech. â€œFrom my own research 1 in 5 weddings now has a â€˜best womanâ€™â€ he says. â€œIâ€™ve also been working with a few brides recently. As the bride, the first thing to remember is the pressure is off as this speech is free from tradition and expectation.â€ But I feel like the lack of template is the reason Iâ€™m struggling, so Bayley suggests focusing on two areas – thanking people and paying tribute to my new husband.
The process starts with Bayley sending me a detailed questionnaire designed to get my speech-writing juices flowing, with memory-jogging questions about me, my family and my boyfriend Sam, such as â€˜What were your first impressions of Samâ€™s family?â€™ Did you commit any faux pas in front of them?â€™ Samâ€™s Jewish and Iâ€™m not, so we had a few funny moments at the start of our relationship, like when I tried to bring perfectly-risen cupcakes to Passover (a festival known as the â€˜feast without yeastâ€™). Stories like this feel like a nice way to talk about the really mushy stuff – like how welcoming Iâ€™ve found Samâ€™s family and how much I love all their traditions – without being too cheesy.
Bayley also has some great tips for anyone making a wedding speech, like making sure the toast at the end of my speech is something people can repeat, and the importance of a really strong opening which youâ€™ve memorised. He suggests that brides can start by riffing on the old classic â€˜My wife and Iâ€¦â€™ by starting with â€˜My husband and Iâ€¦â€™ By the end of our session together I have 3,000 words of material, so he helps me edit it down to 1200 words, which equates to about 10 minutes of actual talking time – â€œthe perfect lengthâ€ to Bayleyâ€™s expert eyes. On paper itâ€™s looking pretty good, now itâ€™s about the delivery.
There are whole libraries full of books for men on how to ace any wedding toast, but I couldnâ€™t find a single book or website devoted solely to speech-happy brides. But Michael Parkerâ€™s new book <Unaccustomed As I Am…The Wedding Speech Made Easy> (Â£9.99, Vermillion), is pleasingly ungendered and has sections on â€œThe Coupleâ€, â€œThe Parentsâ€ and â€œThe Best Man/ Best Womanâ€. It also has really cute illustrations and quotes from everyone from Taylor Swift to TS Eliot – possibly the only time theyâ€™ve been in the same book, but they do both like cats.
â€œI looked at other books on giving wedding speeches and kept coming across expressions like â€˜These days the bride might say a few wordsâ€™,â€ Michael Parker tells me by phone. â€œThat seemed very old-fashioned and I knew if Iâ€™d said that to my two daughters they probably wouldâ€™ve kicked me.â€ Hear hear. â€œThe most important thing to remember is the audience donâ€™t want to listen to a â€˜Brideâ€™s Speechâ€™ – whatever that is – they want to hear <you>. So have fun with it. Itâ€™s a great privilege and joy to speak at this significant moment in your life, so go in with that positive mindset and you canâ€™t go wrong.â€
The book recommends coordinating with other speakers to check thereâ€™s no overlap, and that feels especially relevant to a brideâ€™s speech – Auntie Jill was amazing to make the cake but she probably doesnâ€™t need thanking three times, so I cut that from my speech. The section on â€œThe Coupleâ€ even suggests thinking about doing a joint speech, which I consider as it could be fun. But I eventually decide I want this moment to myself!
â€œI actually think women are better than men at speaking at weddings,â€ says Parker. â€œTheyâ€™re more emotionally in tune with the audience and theyâ€™re normally a bit more prepared.â€
I definitely feel like my speech is in good shape now, and as the book suggests Iâ€™ve rehearsed with a friend (and in front of the mirror, naturally). But will I feel differently in front of 150 guests?
Maybe itâ€™s the popularity of TED Talks or just the fact thereâ€™s an app for everything, but there are now hundreds of technical tools which promise to help with public speaking. Thereâ€™s VirtualSpeech (free, iTunes), which allows you to use a VR headset to practice giving your speech with an interactive, virtual audience and also the Pace Keeping app ProMetronome (free, iTunes) which was created for stage performers but allows any kind of speaker to keep rhythm and flow.
Having rehearsed my speech in front of friends and also recorded it on my phone and played it back to myself, I recognise one of my main problems when Iâ€™m nervous is my use of â€œumâ€s, â€œerâ€s and â€œlikeâ€s. And Iâ€™m not alone. A recent study found that women use filler words like â€œumâ€ 22% more than men. So I Â decide to download an app called Ummo (free, iTunes) which generates a transcript of my speech and highlights exactly when Iâ€™ve used these words. Seeing all my â€œumâ€s (27 in total!) in bright red letters is a shocking moment. The app also gives me feedback on my clarity – which dips to 80% when I talk about things that I find emotional, like thanking my dad – and also pace – which goes up to 202 words/ minute at various points when I get more nervous.
Ummo also has some really interesting public speaking videos to watch, including one which explains why our adrenaline is hard-wired to kick in when we see lots of eyes looking at us. Apparently itâ€™s all due to our â€œpredator threatâ€ which meant that if a pack of wolves was looking at us, it was time to run. But wedding guests arenâ€™t wild animals (even that weird uncle) so it is possible to break that reflex. I hope.
The idea of being hypnotised calls to mind <Little Britain> sketches (â€œLook into my eyes not around the eyesâ€) and thinking youâ€™re a dog on stage. ButÂ hypnotherapist Aaron Surtees (cityhypnosis.com, sessions Â£195) specialises in public speaking confidence. He regularly works with people who have to deliver presentations at work, and has also treated a lot of best men and grooms, but Iâ€™m his first bride.
â€œHypnotherapy is perfect for giving a wedding speech as it puts suggestions into your subconscious mind which will allow you to control the adrenaline naturally and feel at ease when the spotlightâ€™s on you,â€ he says. I feel a little apprehensive as I lie back on a big black leather chair, and Surtees asks me what happens when I speak in public. I mention blushing, dry mouth and losing Â my breath and he tells me these are all common anxieties.
I close my eyes and take deep breaths as he talks me through some relaxation exercises. He asks me to visualise a lift and going to down through many floors until Iâ€™m way below the surface. Then he asks me to remember a time when Iâ€™ve felt confident and in control and gets me to push my thumb and forefinger together and feel this sensation.
Lastly he asks me to visualise being at my wedding and hearing my MC introduce me as the next speaker. Even this gets my heart racing, but Surtees dulcet tones are telling me that Iâ€™m calm and confident and Iâ€™m able to say what I want to say, how I want to say it. He gets me to imagine the applause rippling around and that Iâ€™ve enjoyed giving my speech.
When Iâ€™m gradually brought back to being wide awake, I feel like Iâ€™ve been under for hours but itâ€™s only been 25 minutes. Surtees had suggested that I record the session on my phone and he recommends listening to it in the days leading up to the wedding. I feel great knowing that Iâ€™ve done everything possible to prepare for my speech, and a nice side benefit is that doing all of these exercises has made me feel a lot less nervous about the whole day in general. Iâ€™ll definitely toast to that.