Wedding speeches – Q&A with Tony Wilson

Bearded maids of honour, nervous Nellies with a recording from their ‘subconscious’ or firefighter grooms delivering the Heimlich manoeuvre – there’s no doubt that wedding speeches come in many shapes and sizes. They can be memorable for all the right reasons. Or sometimes for all the wrong ones.

speakola 2So to help your speeches be the former, we caught up with Tony Wilson, the brain behind the terrific website Speakola, for all speeches great and small. Tony shares a thing or two about how to make your wedding speeches sing. Literally.

In curating the speeches for Speakola, you would have read and seen plenty. What do you think makes a goodie?

As the old saying goes, there are plenty of ways to marzipan a wedding cake. That’s been my experience watching friends and siblings’ wedding speeches over the years, and also studying YouTube for this Speakola project. The most important thing is warmth. For a groom or bride, we want to see the love he or she is feeling towards the new mister or missus. For a best man or maid of honour (awful term!), love and friendship needs to nestle alongside the funny or embarrassing stories.

Anecdotes are so important, we want to picture the moment, not hear bland generalities about love and life. How did the couple meet? What’s one of the groom’s really annoying habits? How can you make fun of a weird hobby or idiosyncrasy?

brendon james

Brendon James’ speech for Jodie & Jorge

This bearded maid of honour, Brendon James, has produced a masterpiece in my opinion – listen to how brilliantly he gets away with mocking his best friend for being ‘cold’ and ‘emotionless’.
There have been some musical classics in recent times, either of the heartfelt balladeer type, like Daniel Buccheri, or the comedy ditty like Irishman Matt O’Boyle.

The most popular wedding speech on YouTube is Tom Fletcher’s virtuoso, multimedia masterpiece, which adapted the tunes from his own band’s songs. 15 million hits so far! You can do a ‘cookie cutter internet jokes best man speech’ like this guy, although I always prefer actual stories about the bride and groom.

The most popular two Speakola wedding speeches are this best man speech that Australian comedian Julian Schiller wrote for his radio mate Tony Moclair, note the effectiveness of a decent concluding poem, and a roast the husband classic by Emma Race, for sports broadcaster spouse, Andy Maher.

Have you come across any clangers? What are some of the common mistakes people make when giving a speech?

Clanger? Look no further than this partner of wedding toaster vomiting on him, mid-toast. Horrible. If a speech is ‘bad-funny’ I’ll put it up, but I’m not as interested in bad-bad, or bad-boring.

The biggest clanger I’ve seen live is when my drunk friend, RS, forgot to mention his bride in the speech! Shame on you, Richard Sp … I mean RS. Another speech went wrong when a guest started choking, and the firefighter groom had to do a Heimlich manoeuvre.

Alex & Paul Miles wrapping up their speeches

Alex & Paul Miles wrapping up their speeches

If you know your parent or bridesmaid/best man is bit of a Nervous Nelly, how can you help them feel more relaxed?

I did see the most brilliant speech from the USA from a genuinely shy best man. He recorded a monologue onto tape, and then stood there shrugging, as his ‘subconscious’ delivered its thoughts (‘ok, Casey, here we go’). I imagine that idea will be pinched a lot, given its YouTube success.

My advice is – work to your strengths. Can you write a poem? If you can’t, you can certainly read one, so finish with a beautiful and original reading about love. Do you have an artefact that is symbolic of your friendship or love? Props are fantastic, and can be a jumping off point.
If you’re going to read the speech, print it out with big type so you can scan more easily. If you’re going to ad lib, practice a few times, and arm yourself with bullet points, even if you don’t look at them.

And prepare! Be personal, and be prepared! Weddings are such big events, and the speeches will be remembered long after the centrepieces on the tables have been forgotten. They need more preparation time than the centrepieces.

Should you give your speakers a time limit? If so, how long do you reckon?


The mathematics of speeches

I think feature speeches (best man, bride /groom) work best at about 8-15 minutes in length. But there are always exceptions. This gem from Canada seems about perfect at thirteen minutes, but then I like speeches. But the ‘subconscious’ speech mentioned above knocked it over in two.

I went too long for my brother, Ned, with this one, but it did go well. I think the most important thing is not to add endless thank yous, that don’t represent much entertainment for the guests. Great aunty Noelle who swept the patio doesn’t need to be thanked!

Fathers and mothers of the bride /groom need to be kept in check. I rate this one as an absolute beauty – welcomes guests, brief quirks about son, welcomes daughter in law to family, expresses love for son in the most beautiful way. All done in three minutes.

Are there any topics that speakers should avoid?

A really good speaker can get away with anything, but some topics require more dexterity than others. I’d normally avoid ex-lovers, party politics, the first rejected proposal, medical histories, how the bride couldn’t fit into the original dress, how the family is at breaking point over holding this effing wedding, scandal in the catholic church … all that sort of stuff. But anything can work. This guy leads with an anecdote about the groom crapping his pants. Does he get away with it? Almost.

Is using technology a help or a hindrance in a speech?

Technology can be fabulous if it all works without a hitch. Keep in mind that in places that aren’t reception centres, it’s sometimes hard to get vision lines on screens, and good audio.

Slides and music montage are usually pretty safe, but anything where hearing the words is important (eg sketch or old video), you need to check the venue to see if the audio system is good. Live music can also be wonderful, but again, microphones have to work, instruments have to be plugged in, and lyrics have to be audible. Technology increases the speech workload.

Are there any speech highlights from your own wedding?

tony and tam

Tony Wilson & wife Tam enjoying the big day

My own groom speech is on Speakola. My wife and I used to laugh at the Heath Ledger ‘fun montage’ in ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ and so I structured the bit to Tam as ‘Ten Things I Love About You’.

The other highlight was the cutest ‘toast to the couple’ from Tam’s then 96 year old grandfather, Mr Hay. He called me a ‘silvertongue’ because I worked in radio! Gold.

My best man was Chris Daffey, a very accomplished speaker who is also up on Speakola. Daff spoke without notes, and was just hilarious. Sadly Daff passed away in 2013. So thinking about those speeches is quite bittersweet.

Overall, what would you say is the secret to having happy speakers (and a happy audience) at your wedding.

Most importantly, a good sound system. The speeches have to be heard.

Secondly, a running order that is clearly understood, so nobody gets a surprise or puts away two bottles of champagne because she doesn’t know she’s on.

Thirdly – preparation –  give the speechmakers plenty of time to prepare, and choose somebody you can trust to care about doing a good job.

Fourthly, choose people who suit the job. Sometimes best man duties can be shared between a ring bearer (shy retiring type) and the mate who is always the life of the party. Having said that, short and quiet and heartfelt, is often vastly preferable to loud and brash and unfunny.

Finally, set an approximate time for the speeches, and try to stick to it (especially you, dad!). Too much speaking can mean too little dancing, and there has to be a balance!

My final advice is to enjoy the speeches, both as a speech maker, and a speech listener. There is more goodwill at a wedding than for any other type of speech. Everyone wants you to go well, and you will!

Have a wedding speech (or any speech) to share?

speakola 2Tony Wilson’s new site is Speakola. He is collecting wedding speeches, and indeed speeches of all types, and would like you to send your one in. You can submit your speech or follow Speakola on Twitter or Facebook.

Discover more speech secrets

For more secrets to organising speeches for your wedding, check out Secret #37 The mathematics of speeches in the book Sixty Secrets for a Happy Bride

And here’s one final one that Tony just posted onto his site. You can see below or view it on Speakola.

Here’s to life!!