Your friends and family have all gathered together to celebrate your big day and at some point they’re going to want to hear all about how you both met, what you thought and when you decided to pop the question (amongst other things!). If you’re not used to public speaking, let alone writing speeches, then the prospect can be nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t have to be.

To help you, we’ve asked leading speechwriter, commentator and coach Lawrence Bernstein of Great Speech Writing for his hints and tips. As he says, making your audience listen and engage with you doesn’t happen by accident…

Preparing your speech

Be organised

This may sound obvious but too many people think they can create the speech about their life 24 hours before the big day. However, as with most things in life, there’s no substitute for proper preparation. This means thinking about what you want to say, gathering information and writing a number of drafts in advance.

Do some digging

Don’t just rely on your own material. Contact friends and family who have known the person at different stages of their lives to gather unusual insights and anecdotes.

Consult the other speakers

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Your biggest risk is covering ground that has already been mentioned in the other speeches. I would strongly recommend that however original you think your speech may be, you have a quick chat with the other speakers to ensure there is no frustrating overlap.

Pick a theme

Anecdotes and observations are key elements of many speeches, but they don’t always link together naturally. Choosing a theme that ties everything together can help it flow and an original and amusing theme is often the difference between a decent speech and a great one.

Writing your speech

Less is more

I recommend a 8-10 minute speaking length for any wedding speech. Too many go way beyond this, creating a bored and restless audience as a result.

Keep it relevant

There’s nothing worse than a best man’s speech focusing exclusively on the stag’s drinking exploits in Amsterdam dressed as Spiderman or a father of the bride gushing about his daughter without mentioning the groom or his side of the wedding party.  Try to include something for everyone.

Use language accessible to everyone

If people don’t understand your joke, they won’t find it funny. So don’t use a long word when a short one will do. Don’t use a clever pun if many of your guests have travelled from overseas. And don’t use slang that only a small group of your friends will understand.

Keep yourself separate

It’s tempting to focus your speech on your own relationship with the person you’re speaking about. But if you labour the point too heavily, it can start to sound a bit like narcissism and can become very boring for everyone else.

Delivering your speech

Say it again and again!

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Rehearse your speech out loud over and over again, reading very slowly and emphasising key words. You want to know your speech so well that you only need to glance at your notes to remember what comes next.

Talk slowly

When your big moment comes, speak slowly and pause between sentences. Your audience need time to digest the story before they get the punchline. So give them time to get it.

Check out the location

Find out where you’ll be standing, whether there will be a microphone, and if there will be somewhere to rest your notes. This will avoid nasty surprises that might keep you awake the night before.

Stay sober

This is not to say you can’t have a drink to take the edge off your nerves. But to give a good speech you need to be sharp and clear–headed, which means staying clear of the booze until after you’ve sat down.