I've recently had a few requests for public speaking tips and as the main part of my job is to bring my wedding scripts to life I feel well qualified to share some advice. For some people speaking in front of an audience is a very nerve-racking thing to do but hopefully these tricks and tips will give you some confidence.
Keep it short — Most speeches I've heard would be vastly improved if they'd been cut down by at least a third. Think quality rather than quantity and you'll be on the right track. Nobody minds a short speech but everyone hates one that goes on too long. If you find it difficult to edit your speech ask someone else for help in getting rid of the insignificant bits.
Use humour (wisely) — Adding a few well-placed jokes will draw your audience in but there's nothing worse than a joke falling flat. Avoid anything sexist or offensive and steer clear of the 'you had to be there to find this funny' anecdotes. Wedding audiences often appreciate 'saucy' humour but measure this against something the bride's granny would find funny.
Be complimentary — Have the guests been in such great spirits to make the wedding a memorable one? Then let them know! Was the cake the bride's Aunty Maureen contributed the finest known to humanity? Tell her so. I've heard a couple of best men's speeches where the groom's reputation was hilariously torn to shreds yet the speakers ended their speeches by saying some incredibly touching things about their friend meaning there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Always try to start and end on a really nice note.
Know your stuff — Always work with notes or even a full script. Very few people can wing it successfully and they often they end up droning on for ages...
Involve others — Whilst it is really good to bring your personal experience into a speech it sometimes means that a large proportion of your audience won't get it. If you're doing a best man's speech asking other friends of the groom — outside of your own social circle — and his family for anecdotes is not only thoughtful but will give everyone something to enjoy. Equally if a groom adds in some thoughts that have come from other people who know the bride that can be a lovely surprise and shows he's made an extra effort.
Smile — Begin your speech with a happy face and you will instantly gain your audience's affection. I always look happy at the beginning of my ceremonies so everyone knows they will enjoy it from the word go. Smiling opens up your face, raises your head and gives you a confidence boost.
Be Heard — If you get the opportunity, do a test run in the room you'll be speaking in and ask a friend to stand at the back and let you know how you sound. A good time to do this at a wedding is either before the ceremony begins or briefly during the drinks reception — arrange this before the big day. Many venues offer a microphone for the speeches and be sure to use this if you're not confident of being heard. Always speak directly into the microphone! You'd be amazed at how many people don't.
Look up — You should know your script well enough to look up at your audience regularly. A good trick is to run your hand down one side of your script as you're speaking, marking your place. This allows you to raise your eyes without losing your next line.
Slow down — Most speeches are delivered far too quickly. This is the cardinal sin of public speaking as it makes you sound like you just want to get it over with! When I started as a celebrant I used to write 'SLOW DOWN' on every page of my script.
Bring it to life — If the story you're telling is exciting this should be reflected in your voice. Equally a sombre moment should be accompanied by a serious demeanour. Listening to short stories on Radio 4 and audio books is a good way of hearing how this is done. Newsreaders are also experts in varying their delivery according to the story.
Make eye contact — This one is the Big Kahuna of public speaking. Every time you raise your head from your script, aim to look directly into someone's eyes rather than a general gaze over the audience. This gives your words sincerity and if you perfect this you'll have your audience in the palm of your hand! Where possible I find out where people who are mentioned in the wedding ceremony script are seated so I can look towards them when I say their names.