You have been asked to make a speech. Whether it’s for your brother’s wedding, daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, grandma’s 90th birthday or your boss’ retirement party, you will be standing in front of a group of people who will be listening to what you have to say. A common question I hear again and again is: Where do I start?
First, remember that you should talk for no more than five minutes. If you can keep it to three, even better. Like James Roosevelt said, “Father gave me these hints on speech-making: Be sincere….be brief…be seated.”
Time limit aside, these are some key questions to ask yourself when you sit down to craft the speech. What will be the foundation of the speech? What are one or two key themes you want to weave into the speech? If your speech had a tagline or hashtag, what would it be?
For the most part, speech givers have a good idea of the details they want to share--special memories, personal anecdotes and maybe a joke or inspirational quote. But they struggle with the framework. Thinking through these bigger picture questions can help you transform your ideas and thoughts into a more cohesive speech.
For example, at my own brother’s wedding, which was also my first gay wedding, I had a lifetime of memories I wanted to share. I wanted to address our relationship as siblings, Scott’s strong character and how he and his partner Bruce have evolved as a couple. I had a lot of material to cover, but not enough time to say everything I wanted to say.
He and Bruce adore art, so I decided to use art as my framework and overall theme. I used words to paint them a masterpiece. I addressed how different colors represented different parts of their personalities (e.g., deep reds for Scott’s passion and drive and muted blues for Bruce’s calm demeanor). I created a verbal mural by cherry picking specific images to share in the speech (e.g., an image of Scott, the “big brother” hugging me, the “little sister” to comfort me, alongside an image of these same siblings pulling each other’s hair and hauling pieces of a Monopoly board game in every possible direction; an image of Scott and Bruce holding my daughters shortly after they were born). I then tied it all together with a closing wish, “May your life together be filled with the richest of pleasures, the sweetest of memories, and, of course, the most beautiful of art.”
By embracing art as my overall theme I was able to share a variety of memories—both humorous and sentimental—without going into too much detail. By recalling these images I could actually paint a picture (no pun intended) of my brother and my now brother-in-law both as individuals and a couple. Although this took place way before the hashtag movement, I think this speech could have been labeled #masterpiece. Certainly, the tagline could be “The art of Scott and Bruce.”
The bottom line is that people remembered the framework of the speech (my brother told me that his friends still talk about it seven years later) because it was relevant to my brother’s and Bruce’s life. While they likely could not recall all of the images or memories shared, I know people walked away from this speech knowing how much I love Scott and Bruce and how honored I was to be part of their special day. And really, that’s what it’s all about.