We’ve all been guests at a wedding or other special event listening to what seems like the same speech over and over, just with different characters. How many times have you heard a speech start with “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m [Insert name, relationship to guest of honor]? How many speeches describe the guest of honor with a laundry list of adjectives (caring, beautiful, loyal, kind) that seem like they’re plucked straight from a thesaurus? Or list the states, countries and continents of every guest in the room? It’s not that these speeches are bad, per se. It’s just that they’re a dime a dozen. So how can you make sure you’re next speech doesn’t come off as overly generic?
1. Play with the structure. Don’t be afraid to take liberties with the structure of the speech. There’s no rule that says you have to start by thanking everyone for coming and giving a shout out to the VIPs in the room. You could consider thanking people at the end of the speech and start with a joke or compelling story to immediately capture the attention of the room. And definitely ditch the DIY outlines you can find on the Internet—this is a surefire way to sound like everyone else.
2. Stay away from clichés. The best way to avoid sounding cliché is to leave clichés out of your speech. When toasting a loved one, instead of saying, “You mean the world to me” spell out exactly how they make your world better. For wedding toasts in particular, refrain from “ball and chain” jokes and any stories having to do with alcohol or strippers. No exceptions. And when coming up with something meaningful to say about the bride and groom, you can do better than “you were made for each other” or “you’re perfect together.”
3. Opt for stories over adjectives. It’s natural to want to describe the guest of honor using adjectives, but most times it comes off sounding uninspired. Instead, think about one or two stories that truly illustrate the person’s character, your relationship with the person or his/her life choices. For example, if you want to express your mother’s thoughtfulness, talk about how she carefully prepares family meals, making sure everyone has something they love to eat. Or if your best friend and her groom are adventurous, talk about the cross-country road trip they took on their fifth date. Let the color of the stories do the descriptive work for you.
4. Don’t go too deep. Remember that you don’t need to explain marriage, the meaning of life or give profound advice. If you’re going to use someone else’s quote, make sure it’s relevant and relatable—you’re not Shakespeare so there’s no need to pretend you are. Using a funny or heartfelt memory as a metaphor can be a great way to express something deeper, without going too deep.
5. Tie everything together at the end. Go out on a high note by making sure your ending is top notch. If there’s a way to tie everything together at the end or re-reference something you brought up earlier in the speech this will go a long way toward delivering a compelling speech. And a little surprise or delight at the end can be a welcome addition. One of my clients surprised the bride and groom with their favorite beer instead of the traditional champagne toast. Perhaps there’s a catchphrase that sums up the guest of honor, or a wish you want to make for the happy couple? Whatever you come up with, make sure it has a bit more pizzazz than the standard “cheers.”
If this sounds like too much of a challenge, rest assured that I am here to help. With some careful thought and planning your next speech can be one-of-a-kind. Trust me, nobody will walk away thinking there was anything generic about it.