What do you do when you are invited to speak, and it’s not to educate, entertain, or inspire? You never know when your public speaking skills come in handy to serve your friends and family. That’s what happened to me when I received an unexpected invitation to deliver a wedding celebration speech for my sister. I have never done that before.
The audience is different, the intention is different, the outcome is different, the pressure is different, yet the process is the same.
- The audience is different. They are friends and family.
- The intention is different. It’s about love and romance.
- The outcome is different. It’s about two people, not the audience.
- The pressure is different. Yet the process is the same.
If invited to deliver a roast, toast, eulogy, or wedding celebration, what would you do? Where would you start? Honestly, I was excited and nervous at the same time. It was different, so here is what I did.
Here’s a Six-Step Process to Consider:
1- Reach out to experience
How you prepare, and the depth of your preparation will make a big difference when it comes to that once in a lifetime moment. Go deep to make it memorable. The preparation done will help make their moment magical.
Reach out to people who do wedding celebrations. I live in Las Vegas, the world’s wedding capital, so I have many friends who do it for a living. I called all of them and got different insights that I used from each of them. Yes, all of them. Always tap into experience whenever you can.
I watched and modeled wedding celebrations. You can find many on YouTube.com. Mark Brown, CSP, WCPS, even sent me a video filled with tips that I watched, and it suggested that right after you say, “You may now kiss the bride,” that you need to step out of the way! No one wants the celebrant in the picture of the couple kissing. I would not have considered that! Duh. It made me realize that there may be other insights I needed, as well. The cool bonus to research is that some of what you learn may help you with other future speeches, even if it does not apply directly to this one. Be a sponge.
2- Structure the celebration
One of the critical factors to a different type of speech is the different structures. I had to learn that in step one. Thank goodness my pastor, Vince, could help me with that knowledge. Just like a good speech, a celebration is based on a solid structure. If invited to deliver a eulogy, celebration, or any special occasion speech, first uncover a strong structure, which is the framework on which you build your speech. Do your research and ask experts to find the one that will work best for you and the situation.
3- Discover their story
Two critical aspects of the success of your celebration are in this step. The people who invited you to deliver this did so for a reason. You are special to them, so you need to make it memorable. We need to ask what their expectations are. Are they looking for formal or more casual? Do they want anything unique during the ceremony like a unity candle lighting or the sand ceremony? Maybe something else? Do they have expectations of length? Any don’ts? Are they looking for humor or more serious? Find out what they want. This is similar to my first conversation with an event planner. Why me? What will success be for you? You will get different answers, and if you don’t ask the questions, you can work hard in the wrong direction.
As we know, great stories are the heartbeat of a great speech. A wedding celebration is no different except that the stories you use are not from your story file. The key is the stories are best when they are about the couple and their love. My pastor, Vince, also gave me a list of questions to ask the couple to prepare and make sure the celebration is specific to them. Those questions were gold. Among the questions are, how did they meet? How is the couple similar, and how are they different? Ask friends and family for stories as well. You never know who might have a gem that would work magic in your speech and make it unforgettable.
4- Get it all down
Just like in a speech, first, write out everything you want to say. Now is not the time to edit. Now is the time to get all your thoughts on paper or in a word document. As you brainstorm and gather ideas, gather all of them. When you like an idea from one speech you watched, jot the idea down in your notes. When you get a different view from another, write that down too. Even if some are similar, write them both down. One key to organizing this is to insert your thoughts into the structure you laid out. In the next step, you can weigh out which idea works better. You will need the big picture to see what fits best and where.
When Mark Coached me on creating his first version of his competition speech, he said, say everything you want to say. His first version was 1,492 words. I eventually had to cut it down to 750 words. It is creating that big block of clay that will be carved into a masterpiece later. It’s a process.
5- Tighten it up
Now, it’s time to make it stronger and more poignant. Now is when we see which examples or ideas work best. The speech must flow. When working on my contest speech, I kept asking himself, “How can I say it better in fewer words?” We also need to make it our own words. I read the wedding celebration over and over again out loud. Each time I read it some words changed a bit. When I looked at my ideas in each section, some of them were redundant. It allowed me to compare them side-by-side to determine which would be strongest and work best in the flow based on what is before and after it.
Ask for help. Run yours by a trusted friend, or if you are a Toastmaster, ask people from your Toastmaster club. Toastmasters love to help. Let them. Listen to ideas, but in the end, remember it is your celebration and for your couple.
Since it is a one-time occasion, you will not do this same speech again. Though you are not expected to memorize this speech word-for-word, you still want to know your presentation enough to be fully present and be able to look up often. Mark suggested getting a portfolio to be classy and yet have your notes at your fingertips. I immediately went out and purchased one.
I also recorded successive versions of the celebration into my phone’s voice memo and listened to it first thing in the morning, before bed, and even while driving. It helped! It also helped me to know what words needed to be my own. Find a way that works best for you.
I have to be honest. I never regretted any of my preparation, but I was still nervous. There was a point that I pulled the portfolio to my stomach because I started to shake a bit. Yikes! As I said, it’s different. It’s my family and a big moment in my sister’s life.
My experience, combined with this six-step process, helped it to go well. I got a ton of compliments, but mostly just glad my sister and her new husband were pleased. It was for them and about them. Had I skipped over any steps of the process, it would not have gone as well. If given this privilege at any stage, will you follow this process?
What do you take from this?
Thank you Darren for this detailed outline of how to prepare.
I had the challenging experience of being asked moments before the wedding banquet celebration began to speak on behalf of the groom’s family. (He was my godson.) Thankfully my Toastmasters experience helped me organize my thoughts into an extended “Table Topics” speech. And I remembered some of your recommendations re speaking humorously, ending up with a punch line as the last words of my speech.