How not to write a speech

Disclaimer: In this post, I use a real speech as an example of how to write a better speech. If you were at the wedding and heard the speech I’m referring to, you know that it was a beautiful wedding, for a beautiful couple, and that I intend no personal offense to the speech writer or anyone else involved.

I did two subjects in uni that were all about speech writing and persuasive speaking for different purposes. I did well, so I’d happily say that it’s taught me how to structure a basic speech to make an effective effort, at least, to persuade my listeners to my point of view.

Image source: Corey Ann, "How to give a best man speech"

Image source: Corey Ann, “How to give a best man speech”

Then I went to a wedding recently, and I learnt how not to write a speech.

I don’t even know where to begin, it was so bad.

The Reverend got up and said how happy he was to be officiating this wedding because he’d known Alice and Bob (names changed to protect privacy) since they were babies. Nice, good for him.

Then he said, “We all remember where we were – well, if we’re old like me – in 1969, when man walked on the moon. And we all remember where we were on 9/11, when terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers. And that’s what your wedding day will be – unforgettable. It will be a date you will never forget. At least, I hope it will be, otherwise Bob will get in trouble every year when he misses the anniversary.”

Wow. Did he really just compare their wedding day to the most infamous terrorist act of the 21st Century and cap it off with a sexist joke?

Believe it or not, that was the high point. It only got worse from there. The entire way through the 40-minute train wreck, my husband and I sat there, trying not to cry with silent laughter and nudging each other in the ribs, whispering, “Can you believe this?”

Unfortunately, we could hear that the poor guy was actually trying really hard to say the right things. When he said the day would be unforgettable, he meant that they would look back on it fondly for the rest of their lives – which is lovely! And when he said that one day Alice would hate Bob, when she was knee deep in soiled diapers, with baby vomit in her hair … he meant to refer to the fact that they both love kids and will one day have a large family of their own to cherish and raise in love. And when he said that more than half of all marriages end in divorce in Australia (an incorrect statistic, thankfully!) because of unfair expectations, he was trying to say that he is glad their marriage is different, that they expect the right things of each other and themselves, and that he hopes their marriage will stand the test of time (and poo).

He was correct when he said while they were happy to be in love today, they would need a different kind of love later, a committed love, as life threw them challenges. Good point. But did he need to make sexist jokes that Bob would never want to leave work and come home to Alice’s nagging? Did he need to say that because Bob and Alice don’t earn much, they would soon encounter financial difficulties as one of their “challenges”? Umm, is that encouraging? Realistic, well yes, obviously, but certainly not encouraging.

Remember what I said about reading it aloud first to make sure you’ve worded it correctly? Yeah, I just don’t think he did.

It was a gorgeous wedding – really beautiful. And everyone, from family to friends, had a great time celebrating with Alice and Bob. Nothing wrong with the wedding. It was just the speech that I objected to.

But what’s his excuse? He gives sermons every week in church. Are they all this poorly-worded? Do they all drive people as far from his message as this one?

I hate to think how he would try to persuade his congregation not to sin. “We all know it’s fun to sin. A loooot of fun. Gosh, sinning is so much fun, I wish I was doing it right now. But it’s not allowed. Nope. No fun for us Christians.”

Long story short, my husband I spent the car ride home rejoicing all over again that we had chosen our wonderful pastor to perform our wedding ceremony! He used bible verses that were meaningful to us, he didn’t make any sexist jokes, and he honoured our commitment to God and to each other.

Now, you may be thinking, it’s a lot easier for me to criticise this poor Reverend than for me to rewrite his speech. (Although to be honest, I believe my friends’ 10-year-old nephew could have done better.) But in order to salvage my reputation, I’ve put together a structural plan for how to write a good wedding speech, with a second list of notes about what to avoid.

Image Source: Tampa Bay Speech Resources

Image Source: Tampa Bay Speech Resources

The wedding speech:

Thank you for coming. It’s great to be able to celebrate with these two, and great to see so many friends and family here today, especially those who travelled from far and wide to be here.
Do the legal bit – in Australia, marriage is defined as being between one man and one woman, for life.
Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. Here are some Bible verses about love that are meaningful to this particular couple.
And it’s clear to us that these two are in love.
They are renowned for these good qualities of character.
Here’s a nice, funny story from how they met, that illustrates how their unique characters fit together.
Mention how their bridal party loves and supports them as friends. And while we’re on that, we have to say how beautiful the bride and her bridesmaids are looking today.
Mention (BRIEFLY) how happy the couple’s deceased ancestors would’ve been to see them get married today.
Express hope that they are sure to honour God in their marriage.
Optionally, ask the guests to commit to supporting them in their marriage.
Looking forward to the journey ahead, finish with a prayer for the couple – thank God for love of the couple. Pray for blessings and protection of marriage.
The ceremonial bit – I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride. (Note: This bit is optional and it is not considered appropriate in all cultures. If your couple is from an Eastern or Middle-Eastern country, check first.)
The other legal bit – signing of the registry.
Present them to the guests as Mr and Mrs Whoever.

What not to do:

Explain the definition of marriage in more detail than the simple legal statement. (After all, nobody really knows what it is; that’s why they’re here, at a wedding… Durrrrhhh…)
Tell a sexist joke. (e.g. “Good thing he remembered it was on today, or he would be in big trouble.”)
Compliment the bride’s appearance in a way that makes her uncomfortable. (“I wish I were taking her home.” “She’s smokin’ hot today.” Or the worst, “She looks better than she usually does.”)
Warn the groom never to forget their anniversary, otherwise they will “get in trouble with the little missus”. It may be true, but it’s sexist to say it, especially when you use a degrading or condescending term for his wife.
Mention the possibility of divorce if he loses his job or she gets fat.
Talk about how having kids stresses all marriages, so these young lovers should enjoy their love lives now while they still can.
Quote a poem about love by any famous poet, ever. Bleugh, poetry. On a more serious note, poetry is commonly about contradictions, juxtapositions, or paradoxes, and very few poems are just about “I love you so much, you’re so beautiful”, so check that there’s not a hidden subtext before you quote it!
When you thank everyone for coming, mention every deceased friend or relative they ever had, and dwell on how sad it is that they can’t be here. Sing a song from the relative’s funeral.
If you’re just doing the ceremonial speech, feel free to leave out the bit about thanking long-distance guests! Guests have to listen to enough speeches on this special day, and the “thanking” bits get done over and over at the reception anyway, so you don’t need to cook the turkey twice!
Try to hit on the bridesmaids during your wrapping up of your speech. (“And if you want to chat to me later, ladies, I’ll be at the bar.”)

Got any speech writing tips for us? Comment here!


This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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