Make every word count

As a guest, I tend to tune out wedding speeches unless I’m familiar with both the object of the speech (i.e., the bride or groom) and the speech giver. Listening to 45 minutes of daddy waxing on misty-eyed about his little girl’s swimming trophies for 45 minutes a la Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason tends to put me into a fugue state wherein I eat far too much cake and the champagne in my glass keeps disappearing mysteriously.

The bride and groom, however, are typically quite interested in what everyone has to say because they are the ones being talked about! I know that I was particularly looking forward to the best man’s speech at my own wedding because he’s such a tremendously sweet fellow and I was hoping he’d say something nice about me or us. Let it be known that he did not disappoint, and the air was full of Awwws and little sniffs the whole time he had the mic.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one to take a stab at wowing the crowd, but he was indeed a tough act to follow. The Beard’s mother told a story about car thievery, and an uncle of mine saw fit to remind everyone that he’d changed my diapers when I was but a wee lass. I even vaguely remember one of my brothers getting on the mic to tell assembled loved ones that he’d met The Beard in Nam and that we’re both “slick ballers.”

Thank goodness The Beard saw fit to end the speechifying by taking the mic himself and asking everyone to give me a round of a applause because I’d planned the whole affair singlehandedly. Have I mentioned lately how much I love my husband?

Weddings, unless carefully controlled, can degrade into open-mic nights where everyone present feels it is both their right and their duty to stand up and have their say. At some receptions, only the FOB and the best man are afforded the privilege of speaking. Others quickly devolve into Wedding Crashers-esque debacles in which distant paternal aunts offer passive aggressive congratulations peppered with divorce statistics, “but it’s all right, because that will never be you!” while the groom titters nervously and the bride has to excuse herself.

Do you want to make a speech? If you’re unsure as to whether you’ll be welcome to take the lectern, ask the bride or groom, the MOB or FOB, or one of the attendants what speech protocol will be on the big day. Maybe you ARE the bride or the groom, in which case you don’t have to ask anyone anything before grabbing the mic and signaling for quiet. But what to say… there are all sorts of speeches out there, from the downright hilarious to the ones that make all the married ladies in the house wistfully think back to their own nuptials.

What you say is ultimately up to you, though I offer a few pieces of advice in the spirit of mannerliness and continued good relations.


  • Introduce yourself, and state your relationship to the object of your speech. Nothing is worse than wondering who is talking when you’re listening to an absolutely gorgeous tear-inducing monologue. Is that a favorite cousin? Because that’s sweet. A regretful ex? That, on the other hand, is creepy. Can we get some context here?
  • Dig into the past to find those humorous — but relatively benign — anecdotes involving you and the groom that mom, great-grandma, and your rabbi never got to hear. Those funny stories involving the pair of you dragging a cot supporting a sleeping friend around a hotel during the Model U.N. conference will wake up those guests who slipped into a trance when grandpa started talking about the war.
  • Keep it light, unless you and the bride have shared a tragedy that everyone present is aware of. Talk about good times, the bond you share, and how much you love her new husband. This is not the time to bring up abortions, how you couldn’t afford to buy your bridesmaid garb, or your undying love of the groom. If you can’t think of anything nice to say, sit down and shut up.
  • Remember the old joke about how one gets to Carnegie Hall. I’ll admit that The Beard “winged” his vows and his speech, and both turned out lovely. (Personally, I worked on my vows for six months and had them written down, but that’s the kind of gal I am.) No one likes to listen to someone ramble on about nothing much in particular while they stare into their shoes, so practice, practice, practice.
  • Close with a toast. This serves two purposes: A toast involves your fellow guests in your speech and lets everyone know that you’re finally done.


  • Mention the groom’s genitalia. And don’t mention the bride’s genitalia. In fact, keep all mentions of genitalia, virility, or “childbbirthin’ hips” out of your speech, and consider waiting until the after-party to mention these things if you feel you really must gush about them to someone.
  • Lecture, pontificate, talk politics, or use your two minutes to tell us how sad you are that your latest boy toy has left you for a younger broad. This ain’t your day, and I recommend you don’t make a mad grab for attention. When you get home, the chat rooms will still be waiting for your lonely and opinionated self.
  • Get your drink on too hard before taking the mic, unless you want to spend the next ten years apologizing to your best friend for subjecting her guests to a free-style rap about the many humiliations she suffered in her past relationships.
  • Apologize. We don’t care if you’re not freaking Barack “Hope and Change” Obama, okay? We just want to know how you feel about the groom and his new wife. Your speech may not change our lives, but if you haven’t offended gran, shared any secrets better left to linger in history’s vaults, or made the bride cry, you’re doing all right.

You’ll notice that these guidelines are rather loose. That’s because there’s a lot of wiggle room where speechifying rules are concerned. Maybe yours will be a small, friends-only reception where penis jokes will be entirely appropriate. Perhaps your entire family loves free-style rap and is the sort that is more likely to laugh at than gasp at drunken ramblings. Only you know this, so only you can decide what is and what is not all right to say. Good luck!

8 Responses to “Make every word count”

  1. dr nic says:

    I just gave a toast three weeks ago when I was in my friend’s wedding. I will admit that I winged it (jotted some notes as I was going from the hair salon to the bride’s house to change). I kept it short and to the point. The groom’s dad, however talked for > 5min with props. There’s a great shot the photographer got of both bride and groom looking horrified/embarrassed.

    The best man at our wedding was absolutely, completely, and 100% drunk by the time he gave our toast (he actually doesn’t remember giving the speech). Thankfully, no one listening to him had any idea, mostly because his (ex)wife insisted that he write it down. And it was a great speech.

    I’d definitely have something written down.

  2. met says:

    2 days too late! I did my speech on Saturday. If you type in wedding speech on youtube, you will find many speeches of videos. These gave me a great idea of what to do and what not to do.

  3. I try to be timely when I can, met! I hope your speech went dazzlingly!

  4. De says:

    Of course, if you want your wedding party to give a speech, it would be awesome if you told them ahead of time. The Wedding We Generally Don’t Speak Of (or The Trainwreck of ’06) was a moment of triumph for my improv skills – because the Bride didn’t mention she expected a speech of me until she hissed at me to “get up by the best man – you HAVE to give your speech”. ((For the two months leading to the ceremony she’d maintained a “no speeches” position to all of us.))

    Yeah….I ended up pulling something appropriate out of my butt that people seemed to like, but I hated being put on the spot. Maybe because I’m an overachiever and would have liked to practice and have a GREAT speech instead of a “that was…nice” speech.

    I’m determined that when the day comes, if I expect anything of someone for my ceremony or reception, by golly, I’ll tell them in advance!

  5. La BellaDonna says:

    I’d like to take a moment to give props to my brother, who was best man at our eldest brother’s wedding. He spoke fluidly and eloquently, and it was both very funny and genuinely touching.

    It was also apparently completely ex tempore, and he didn’t remember a word of it. Fortunately, I believe it has been immortalized on video (thanks, video!) and put on CD, and I look forward to being able to appreciate it again.

  6. Twistie says:

    Mr. Twistie’s best man had a lot of practice, having been best man at about six other weddings before ours…including Mr. Twistie’s first one. It went swimmingly and was both funny and sweet.

    Unfortunately, I was MOH in a wedding once where after the best man and the bride’s uncle who came all the way from New Zealand for the event both gave wonderful, touching speeches, the groom’s entire family gave a set of hideously tacky performances…including his brother who gave a fifteen-minute rendition of the moose turd pie joke (told as personal experience) as a wedding speech. Suddenly, I had a much greater appreciation for my own family who aren’t much given to speechifying, but know what’s appropriate to say – and not to say – if called upon to speak.

  7. Dianasaur says:

    Our best man and MOH were the only ones to do speeches. We wanted to keep it short. I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum.

    On the positive end we went to a wedding where the groom had been addicted to drugs as a teenager and young man, but went through a year long rehab program called teen challenge and it was a beautiful wedding focused on the amazing good that God can bring from horrible circumstances. Several people shared and it was so honoring and uplifting of the bride and groom.

    On the negative, we were at a wedding where the groom’s father was the best man, and he went on and on about how they were sure he’d never amount to anything, fail’s at everything. Probably the nicest quote, “we never thought he’d get a driver’s license, I don’t know how he got a marriage license.” The worst part was that the dad seemed to think he was being funny and complimentary. It was so dysfunctional. Sadly that marriage didn’t last long.

  8. La BellaDonna says:

    Twistie, my mouth is hanging open. I don’t know the pie joke – and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. That’s horrific.

    (Note to self: Prepare moderately expensive line of “Bridal” Super-Soakers, with minimum 25-foot distance, suitable for cutting short similar speeches.)