Not every wedding features a young bride and groom and two sets of happily married parents. So for those of you celebrating a civil partnership or a second marriage, or hosting your own wedding without parents, speech writing coach Lawrence Bernstein has some wedding speech tips!
With more than 7,000 civil partnerships in Britain in 2012, you could say that gay marriage is becoming run of the mill. Which is great news all round. Truth be told, some of the best wedding speeches I’ve heard have been at civil partnerships. It’s hard to say why this is, but I think it’s partly because ‘form’ is left at the door. There’s no stuffiness, no forced etiquette. It’s a real celebration of love – but also of a hard-won union.
Also, civil partnership couples tend to be slightly older than traditional brides and grooms, (with an average age of 40 for men and 37.6 for women) which can mean that the wedding is less about parents and more about the couple. Naturally, this affects the type of speeches and who is giving them. It’s common for civil partners to give a joint speech. Most of the same rules apply as for traditional grooms but there are some extra things to remember:
- If you’re hosting the event, begin by welcoming everybody and thank people for travelling to see you.
- Tread carefully. Just because you might be hosting the wedding doesn’t mean you can dictate the tone. As with any groom’s speech, consider who is in your audience – and tailor your speech to them all, not individuals.
- Don’t speak for too long. If you’re giving a joint speech, there’s a danger of repetition. Just because there are two of you, doesn’t mean the guests need double the length of speech. Stick to five (maximum seven) minutes each.
- Don’t turn your special day into a political statement. Whatever you feel about the law regarding marriages and civil partnerships, today is not the time to bring it up.
- Don’t forget to mention your own parents and thank anyone who has played a key role in bringing you together.
This is another scenario which needs a slight shift away from the traditional groom’s speech. If, for example, you’ve been married before, you’ll probably want to rein in some of the ‘marriage is forever’ talk. And there will often be children to consider. It’s a tricky speech to get just right, but when it goes well, it’s incredibly moving. Here’s how to pull it off.
- Make plenty of jokes at your own expense, i.e. you’re a bit long in the tooth, a bit past it. This will endear you to the audience – and it will preempt any of their own thoughts along the same lines.
- If you’re divorced, don’t refer to the specifics of your first marriage, especially if it ended badly. It will sit uncomfortably with your audience.
- If you’re a widower you may want to refer, gently, to your first wife – but try not to dwell. This is about your new marriage – not a memorial service.
- If you or your bride have children, mention them. A lot! They need to feel part of the day. This is not just about getting together as a couple, it’s about celebrating a new family. Some grooms joke about how their kids acted as matchmakers, which always goes down well.
- Mention that you feel lucky to have this second chance. It works every time!
- If you need to joke about the fact that you’ve done this before, do so very gently. You could lightheartedly apologise to your parents for putting them through this again. But this is a very fine line. If you have any misgivings, take it out.
There are many reasons for absent parents at a wedding. They range from poor health (or death) to the complexities of family politics. In either scenario you’re likely to be hosting the wedding yourselves, which means you have to incorporate many of the traditional elements of the father-of-the-bride speech into your own.
- If you’re hosting, start as if you’re the father of the bride. Welcome the guests, thank them for coming and encourage them to have a good time.
- If one of your parents has died, you will want to dedicate a passage to remembering them. It’s probably a good idea to link this into a general toast to absent friends.
- Perhaps the bride’s father is a black sheep and nobody ever mentions him. If this is the case then don’t, for goodness sake, mention him today!
- Do it together. If your parents have taken no part in your day, then you might consider giving a joint hosting speech (see below).
The joint speech
Joint bride and groom’s speeches were really unusual 20 or 30 years ago. Today, they’re quite common – and, if executed well, extremely successful. Here are some tips…
- Don’t use this as an excuse to speak for double the time. Limit yourselves to five (maximum seven) minutes each.
- Make sure you each cover different topics. There’s nothing worse than hearing the same stories and thank-yous repeated.
- A joint speech doesn’t mean standing up at the same time and speaking in turn. It means planning, writing, editing and practising – together.
- Don’t exclude the audience. I’ve been at a wedding when the bride and groom stood facing each other, pronouncing heartfelt ‘I love yous’ and ‘You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me’, while the audience felt completely left out.
- Rein in the slush. One person telling the room how lucky he feels is bearable. Two people doing it can be agonizing.
- Don’t forget to thank the key people. The danger with speaking together is that you may both assume the other is going to mention Great Uncle Henry who died last month. Make a list together and divide it up. Then check it.
- The charm of a joint speech is that you can enjoy a bit of gentle banter and bounce jokes off one another. If you have fun it will be all the more memorable.