I put my half-finished pint down carefully on the beer-garden table and smiled broadly at Ben.
“Absolutely mate! Of course!” A thought suddenly occurred… “Yes! I get to organise your stag do! Let’s go and watch The Hangover so I can get a few tips.” And then another thought crept up on the previous one, viciously kicked its legs out from underneath it and jumped into the front of my mind. A chill ran down my spine, despite the glorious sunshine. I’d have to do a speech….
Now, I don’t mind public speaking. I often have to speak in front of large groups, and it really isn’t an issue. It certainly doesn’t fill me with dread. But the idea of making a best-man’s speech made me want to run away. Far, far away. It wasn’t just the speaking in front of a crowd that I was bothered about. It was writing the thing that was gnawing at me. That was pressure, right there.
Of course, what I should have done is enlist some advice from one of the UK’s best speech writers. Obviously. Lawrence Bernstein (Great Speech Writing) knows a thing or two about captivating an audience. He and his team of writers prepare speeches to be read in parliaments around the world; so helping you elicit a tear or a laugh from a friendly crowd at a wedding reception should be a walk in the park!
Lawrence kindly spared us a few moments to offer his thoughts on writing a speech for a wedding…
Hi Lawrence, thanks for agreeing to offer some advice for grooms, best men and anyone else stepping up to make a wedding speech! First of all, tell us a little bit about you, your background in speech writing and what services you offer.
After graduating in History from Peterhouse, Cambridge, I worked in the City wondering if this was all there was to professional life. I had always loved writing and found myself spending my summer weekends writing groom and best man speeches for friends and family. In 2005, I put a single classified ad in Private Eye offering my services as a speech writer. It attracted some interest so I decided to place a second ad. Within a year, interest had grown so fast that I decided to take the plunge and develop a full-time speech writing business.
Eight years later, I manage ‘Great Speech Writing’ and our small team of writers from our office in Highgate. The business specialises in helping clients around the world write, edit and deliver their speeches and presentations.
I split my time between running the business and writing for clients in parliaments from Brussels to Westminster and marquees from Bristol to West Lothian. But whoever the client and whatever the subject, my speech writing mantra has not changed: Keep it relevant, ensure it’s appropriate and make it original.
Great Speech Writing now has private and business clients based all over the world.
Why do you think people often find it hard to write a speech, even when they know the person they’re talking about so well?
Huge amounts of money go into organising a big event. But unlike the flowers, the starters or the fifth glass of wine, most people will go home afterwards and remember the speeches. At a work event they can make the difference between winning and losing a piece of business. In politics they can be the catalyst leading to an election victory or humiliation.
A good speech can make or break an event, so there’s a huge amount of pressure on the person giving the speech to get it right. If writing or communication skills don’t come naturally to you, or you are short of time, or terrified by the thought of standing up and giving a speech in the first place, then putting pen to paper can be a real struggle. Which is where we come in.
What makes a great speech then?
A great speech is one that has relevance (to those you’re giving it to), originality (no internet jokes) and brevity (a social speech should be no longer than 10 minutes).
How can people overcome their nerves? Any tips?
Here are a few tips that I have shared with clients over the years:
Remember it’s ok to be nervous: A little bit of adrenalin can give you focus and clarity.
Become familiar with your venue: Find out where you’ll be standing, whether there will be a microphone, and if there will be somewhere to rest your notes. This will avoid nasty surprises that might keep you awake the night before.
Practise, practise, practise! Get to know your speech so well that you only need to glance at your notes to remember what comes next. This also allows you to make eye contact with your audience, giving you reassurance and confidence.
Perfect your posture: Good posture can make you look and feel more confident. It opens up the organs, which in turn oxygenates the brain enabling you to think more quickly on your feet. Trained to the highest level in NLP and hypnotherapy, Michele Paradise specialises in improving public speaking confidence by working on your posture.
Breathe!: It might sound simple, but try some slow deep breathing exercises just before you start speaking. It is amazing the effect they can have almost immediately.
Get coaching from a qualified trainer: Great Speech Writing can point you in the right direction.
From my experience, great content is the greatest stress-relief of all. If you believe that what you have to say is punchy, interesting and easy to deliver then the worries should start to diminish.
What’s the difference between a good best man’s speech, a great father-of-the-bride speech and a heart-warming groom’s speech?
It is true that the tone, style and content will differ greatly between these three speeches. Each will also have a list of ‘must haves’
that need to be covered off. You can find a little more detail on how to differentiate each speech on our website here.
Have you ever had to rein in any of the best man’s story ideas?
Yes – all the time! Best men often write their speech for the boys on the stag do, forgetting that Great Aunt Martha (and most of the other guests) won’t be amused as they recount the story of the stripper undressing the Groom on his weekend away in Amsterdam. When you’re thinking about what to put in your speech, it’s best to keep the material as universal as possible.
Finally, what’s the best speech (not just weddings) you’ve ever heard?
Martin Luther Kind, August 1963: Not a controversial choice, but hard to look beyond this. It passes every test: memorable, significant, powerful, poetic and full of pathos.
Every schoolboy can quote ‘I have a dream’ but when you listen to the speech in its entirety it’s incredible how many other sound bites and phrases you will be aware of. You’ll also appreciate just how many other speeches have taken elements of this one as a template. On top of everything, MLK pretty much sings it. The word “Alabama” lingers for ever. The rhythm is extraordinary. When he talks about ‘rising’ his voice rises with it. Simply the best.