This past weekend, my sister and I had the honor of giving a toast speech at my brother's wedding on his behalf. The night before the wedding, my sister and I sat side by side drinking wine to get our creative juices flowing, then we started typing. After many grueling hours of debating and negotiating, we both finally managed to create our own meaningful speeches.
The speeches were great! But then it dawned on us that perhaps our speeches were too true, too deep. What if we cried?
Now if you know my sister and I, you would know that we are pretty stone-cold, emotionless people. Okay, not completely true, but we aren't ones known for carrying Kleenex in our pockets. We had to keep each other from crying somehow, so we made a bet. Whoever cries first buys lunch. In a way, we did so half jokingly, half seriously because crying in front of 120 guests would just be mortifying for the both of us. Regardless, we weren't going to compromise our speeches just because of our fear of crying in front of people, and neither should you!
I'm going to share with you a few honest tips that I've learned by making mistakes on my brother's wedding day.
1. Know your audience. You probably learned this in speech class in high school. Yes, you are speaking to the bride and groom but keep in mind that all of the guests are also learning about the person you are representing through your speech. Your goal is to make the bride and groom look and feel good. Things to avoid: brazen sarcasm with an older crowd of people; overly pretentious language with younger crowds or audiences who don't speak English well; assuming that the audience know both parties well.
2. Use bullet points. Unless you are a confident public speaker, it will usually help to have a few bullet points in hand when the nerves start kicking in. Write out everything, try to memorize it to the best of your ability, but then translate the most important parts into legible bullet points. No one likes seeing someone read off verbatim what they wrote in a monotone voice. This will allow you to be more natural and hit all of the major points in your speech, as well as allow for eye contact with the bride and groom.
3. Use notecards rather than paper. I rarely get nervous when speaking in front of crowds, but this speech was about my brother and I. I was sharing pretty personal stuff. I noticed that my hands started to shake, and along with it, the paper in my hand started to flop around. I simply hid my hands behind my back so that the guests would not notice. However, this distraction could have been avoided if I used discreet notecards instead.
4. If you start crying, own it! As you can probably guess, both my sister and I started crying during our speeches. It wasn't as embarrassing as I imagined but I wish that I had just acknowledged it and communicated with the guests about my feelings rather than try to act tough. Something like, "Wow, this is a lot harder to say that I thought!" or really anything to let the audience know that you are acknowledging your emotions would curb the tension. It's good to keep in mind that crying is a good thing. Remember: pacing and deep breaths will help you carry through.
5. Be genuine and honest. Above all, say it like it is from the deepest parts of your being. Don't sugarcoat things and don't be afraid to share important, intimate details. When they look back many years later, they're going to remember the raw and honest things shared with everyone else.
I hope you like this list. Let me know what other great tips and pointers you have that you would like to share with others!