Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wrangling Butterflies

Public speaking. We all know that many people would rather leap from a burning building than get to their feet and say a few words, but the website Great Speech Writing gets more precise. The most stressful occasion of all? Wedding speeches. The most worried person of all? The father of the bride. Imagine that! Where do these people get their ideas from? From the father of the bride who is certain that this is the most important day of his daughter's life. No pressure! My youngest daughter, Bex, recently announced her engagement and has set the big day for next February. I plan to break every great speech writing rule and let it rip on the day. It's going to be straight from the heart. I bet the best man is already feeling the heat! I'm told that even frequent public speakers (ambassadors, politicians CEOs) get a mental black-out when they have to stand up in front of a wedding crowd. Go figure.

So here are 8 tips for the big day.

1. Write it down. Even the most experienced comic with a user-friendly crowd does not wing it. Sure you’ve known your friends for a hundred years and have stories that go way back, but a great speech is about pace and that needs to be worked out in advance. The second worst wedding speech fault (after being boring) is speaking for too long. Keep to the point. Don’t ramble. And the third worst fault? Reading your notes word for word! No one said it was easy.

2. Keep it personal, keep it positive. Weddings are about connecting the past, present, and future. Think about where you stand on that continuum and tell stories that make those connections with feeling. People want to be touched, perhaps to be reminded of their own weddings, to look forward, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, to be inspired. And please, leave the personal wisecracks to the professionals. They spend many, many hours honing their seemingly improvised insults. Trust me, you will break the magic circle of inclusion a wedding creates if you play for cheap laughs.

3. Know who you’re talking to. At a wedding this is usually straightforward, but remember you’re not up there to entertain yourself or a few select friends. This is a major social gathering for a lot of people and your role is to touch them all. The simplest way to do it is to stay focused on the newly married couple. Sounds obvious, but so often speakers get diverted and lose that emotional connection.

4. Speak to one person. There will always be someone out there who’s dozed off or looks bored. Don’t take it personally. No point in talking to them. Better to find someone out there who is enjoying what you say and talk directly to them. Everyone else will feed off this focus and you can start to relax and enjoy yourself.

5. Bring something to the party. This is not a suggestion that your next wedding speech features PowerPoint, but pulling out an object that you proceed to show has deep meaning is a very powerful way to animate your story. A favorite pasta sauce, a family locket, a toaster – no matter how off-the-wall the object may at first appear, your challenge is to reveal its special meaning right here, right now.

6. Place your best material at the beginning and at the end. This old piece of advice still holds true. People remember what you say when you start and what you leave them with at the end. I often start my presentations with a clip of the New Zealand All Blacks doing the Haka. It captures attention, sets a high emotional tone, and is a surprise.

7. Practice, practice, practice. The mirror is your friend. If you can get a response out of your toughest critic, chances are your words will be treasured by the people who matter most – the newly married couple.

8. Ignore all the above and open your heart to everyone.