Wedding speeches – What not to do

Published date: 14th March 2019

Elsewhere on this site we have a simple guide to who gets up to make a toast, the usual running order, and what’s generally included in each speech. It’s not difficult, though it is important – a really bad effort can sour the mood, spoil the day, and even end a marriage just as it begins. No pressure then.

What is probably most important to think about as you prepare your speech (don’t even dream of winging it) is not what goes into the thing, but what shouldn’t. Unless you have charisma and great timing keep it short and sweet, make the toast, sit down. Sadly, so few stick to that simple formula.

Top of our list of things that should on no account be mentioned in wedding speeches is exes. This is not a comedy roast (and you are probably not a comedian) so don’t think that dragging up stories of old girlfriends (and if this is not the first marriage for one or both, former spouses) is needed. The happy couple must be the focus, made to feel super special, and a long list of former loves produces the opposite effect: ‘We all hoped you’d marry Jane’ if he isn’t doing so is not clever. Just as bad is using the wrong name in a toast. My own rear end actually sealed completely with embarrassment witnessing that once.

In the same vein, it’s not appropriate for a divorced father of the bride to bad mouth her mother, or for a best man (or maid of honour) to give their unhappy love history an airing. It’s not about them.

It’s equally inappropriate to ruin the mood by harking on about money – either what the big day must have cost, or that one of the couple brings more wealth to the relationship than the other. Bad form. So compliment the arrangements, generosity, style etc, but don’t harp on about price tags.

A bad gaffe for any wedding speaker – even the groom – is to focus on themselves. Again, it’s about the couple. As for the best man and if pertinent maid of honour, we don’t care about precisely where and when you first met them and what has happened to you since, where you work, or your relationships to date. Say nice things about their future life and how they are suited, and leave the rest for your autobiography or CV. Neither is it ok for BM or M-o-H to demonstrate that they fancy bride or groom, had an affair with them, or will be their insurance policy if things don’t work out with the marriage.

Many best men feel it necessary to give a detailed and often ribald life history of the groom. It isn’t. First it will go on too long, second any more than one gentle ribbing is too much, and third at least half those present will already know where he went to school/university/work etc. And however much you love that story of how he got so wasted he ended up in bed with a male prostitute and a suspender-clad goat, his maiden aunts, new in-laws, and (most) kids present won’t.

And while we are on the history tack, another element well worth avoiding is family tragedy. If someone dear to the couple died recently, a brief mention is enough. Pause, sigh, move on. Don’t go on about that person, or even less excusably about other long-dead family members. Wedding. Romance. Upbeat. Not obituaries please. The wedding, by the way, is also not the time for anyone to express doubts about either bride or groom, hope they will change for the better, that this time they won’t mess up, etc. Express love for them and wish them well for the future.

Plenty there about things to avoid saying. Just a bit about how to say it. Never drunk – just like the groom with the goat you’ll regret it later. Never off the cuff – not only does that show a lack of respect for the couple, but 99 times out of 100 it flops sooo badly. Never from a word-for-word script that will, we promise, make you sound like a novice speaker at a party political conference. And as people want to chat, drink, dance and mingle, never for longer than three minutes. Two is better.

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