Tips For The Wedding Speaker

wedding-speaker“Here,” the wedding planner handed me a 3×5 card at my little sister’s wedding. “Read this into the microphone after the head bride’s maid is finished with her speech.” What was handed to me was my “wedding reading,” in this case a short drivel filled with unicorns, puppies and beaches. Well, maybe not exactly, but you get the picture. It might as well have been. So overly-sweet and corny that anyone hearing it would have immediately become a diabetic. I would have none of it.

A quick re-write later, and this is what made it into the wedding video:

“May you embrace one another, but not encircle one another, or become obsessed with each other and certainly not stalk each other.”

It is June, the month of weddings, and countless other brothers, sisters and relatives of all kind will be handed similar overly-sweet and corny things to read in a wedding. Or be told to participate somehow in a wedding with pre-planned, pre-approved comments. Everyone has been through it. The whole family is there, even people who have lost touch with everyone else. Cousins and in-laws you haven’t seen for decades will be there. What you figured will be 20 to 30 people will be more like 100.

The only suspense is whether anyone will mess up their lines and how badly they reveal their nervousness. “Can they see me shaking?” countless people will be asking themselves as they speak into a microphone.

And the words usually spoken don’t really matter. People expect to hear trite, well-worn empty phrases at a wedding. To the person not asked to participate in the wedding, the spectator, it usually becomes a blur of predictable wedding phrases and words, easily interchanged and rearranged from one wedding to the next. Nothing original or memorable.

Don’t do it. Don’t read that assigned boring, statement you are supposed to read, or speak that scripted comment. Spice it up. Rewrite in an awkward comment or two, blend it in with other wedding-like comments, and make it funny. Don’t overplay the humor, and remember this is someone else’s wedding, not yours. Don’t take too long, just make your comments or read your speech a little different from what you were handed, and a little funnier. People will think you are really reading your lines as assigned.

When I re-wrote that brief speech and read it, there were no smirks or smiles, and certainly no laughs that I could hear. As I read my amended speech I didn’t laugh or present it like it was anything out of the ordinary. For a few seconds after my speech, I thought no one had really heard what I said. The wedding proceeded as if nothing unusual had happened.

But at the reception it was the only subject people wanted to discuss with me. And when the wedding video was mailed to everyone, surprisingly very little of the wedding itself was in the video except for my strange speech. Success! And I am not normally a funny guy! Well, not intentionally funny.

Every occasion when people are asked to make a comment at the podium, everyone in the audience is nervous and everyone knows that the person at the podium is nervous. Very few people at these occasions do these ceremonies all the time. The nervousness transmits itself from the podium to the audience, and then back again. So bring in some humor. People will appreciate it. In fact, even slight attempts at humor will go over very well. You will be surprised.

Of course there are limits. After all, you are at a ceremony celebrating real love for two people, and this is their show, not yours. So don’t stray too far in your humor. Sexual jokes and crude comments will not work; they will just embarrass.

But if you keep it funny and not crude, an unexpected rewritten speech with some comedy in it will go over very well.

It has been five years and two adorable baby girls born since my little sister’s wedding, and while it was otherwise a beautiful wedding, what family members still remind me of was my wedding reading and how unexpected and funny it was.  And I know that 10, 20, 30 or more years from now, people will still be talking about that slightly-changed wedding reading and its unexpected humor.

So just do it. Years from now this will be a great memory, and you will be glad you did it.

Photo credit: Dave Whelan via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)