Give less shitty wedding speeches in 4 easy steps

It doesn't have to be that hard, and I'm tired of sitting through terrible speeches.

Give less shitty wedding speeches in 4 easy steps
Photo by Thomas William / Unsplash

(This article was originally published on Medium on September 26, 2021, with some mild changes applied to this version.)

As someone in their early thirties, I’ve been to a large number of my friends’ weddings. I’ve heard a lot of speeches, and nearly all of them have been bad. They haven’t all been bad in the same ways, though, and I would like you all to learn from other’s mistakes. Perhaps I can save a few man-hours of people’s lives going forward!

I think every bad wedding speech fails to meet one simple thesis statement: “Here is how I’m uniquely qualified to judge this relationship, and here’s why that relationship rules.” Here’s four easy steps to make sure yours hits this thesis statement in its fullness.

Talk about your relation to groom or bride

What should you do?

You’ve got a few sentences to establish three things: Who you are, how you know the bride or groom (heretofore referred to as ‘victim’ or ‘celebrant’), and how well you know the celebrant. The first is only as important in serving the latter two.

You can fulfill all three with a neat little anecdote involving the two of you together, or, failing that, a story about the newlywed that you played witness to. It should hopefully give insight into the victim’s temperament or values. This temperament and these values ideally contain some kind of shortcoming, or incompleteness to be referred to later on. This shortcoming can also can lead into a cute little roast, if you have that kind of rapport.

How can you screw this up?

Speeches that skip this step can result in half of the audience sitting there for minutes wondering, "Who’s this asshole?"

Some speeches seem to stop after this step, resulting in some kind of half-done roast of the celebrant, followed with "Good luck with being married, buddy." It leaves the audience with a questions "What was the point of that speech?" and "Was this a roast or a wedding speech?"

Some speeches maybe reveal a little too much about you and the celebrant’s relationship. Do NOT get into past romantic involvement with the either celebrant unless you know that literally everyone at the reception is incredibly chill.

Talk about how the celebrant relates to their new spouse

What should you do?

So you’ve established your observation of the person in question. Now we broaden the speech to include the other celebrant. How has your concept of the celebrant changed since they got together with their S.O.? Did any of the flaws in the previous section get addressed or complemented? How did they improve as a result?

You can tell another story here to back that up, but beware of making a speech that’s twice as long as it needs to be.

How can you screw this up?

The most common misstep here is revealing that (or appearing as if) you know nothing about your victim’s new spouse. Either you skipped this step, or you tell something so generic as to make it obvious you never met this person, or even talked about them. And if you don’t know half of the couple, why should half the reception care?

A less important sin committed here is to drag the speech on. If you’re going to tell two stories, they better be quick, and they better be relevant–they should reveal something cool about the couple’s relationship or infatuation with each other.

Talk about how the couple together relate to love

What should you do?

This doesn’t necessarily have to be its own full section, but if it isn’t, you should ensure that the story (or stories) in your previous two sections obviously tie into the idea of romantic love without explanation. If they do, a quick “That’s the sort of thing you can build a loving household off of” should be fine. If they don’t, you might have to do a little more legwork to tie it back into marriage. Say something about completing each other.

How can you screw this up?

If you skip or do not succeed in this step, what you have described could just be a very good friendship, or even worse, a business partnership or an employment situation. If this relationship doesn’t feel like a marriage, or at least a romantic relationship, then the reception feels more like a very expensive family get-together.

A wedding speech without mention of romance feels like damning with faint praise.

Congratulate the couple

What should you do?

Say something to the effect of “I know you’ll [do a good marriage]. Cheers!” It lets people know that you’re done. Make it tie into something earlier in the speech if you’re feeling fancy.

How can you screw this up?

The speech just sort of tapers off, and it’s awkward. If there’s someone talking after you, there’ll be this pause as they try to figure out if it’s their turn yet. You’ve left the job unfinished, and everyone feels that.

You’re done!

Congrats, your speech is complete. Go enjoy yourself. Hopefully there’s an open bar.

If you do anything not in these steps, you’re taking a risk, and making your speech run longer, which nobody likes.