Speeches – How, Who and When? (and what NOT to do!)
So, I’ve shot more than a few weddings, and therefore got used to and seen a few things. More importantly for this page, I’ve seen and heard a LOT of speeches given.
Speeches are one of those special times in a wedding day: it gives a select few people a chance to say some very meaningful and heartfelt words about the day and what it means to them.
I’ve also been asked more than a few times for my opinions on a few things about them, and that’s why this page exists!
1 – All together, or split between courses?
One of the “new” ideas is to have the speeches split up between the courses of dinner: for example an introductory speech before starters, the father of the bride between starters and mains, the groom between mains and desserts and then the best man after dessert. The traditional approach of course is to have all speeches together, normally after dessert.
The logic for the “new” way seems to be to keep things short and sweet, keep people’s attention and also give the audience a break. Logically, it sounds good: however in my honest opinion there is a reason why the traditional approach is better.
Firstly, every time I’ve been witness to the “new” approach, it is a constant game of getting everybody back in the room, and people missing out as they’re outside or at the bar. This becomes very frustrating for the speakers as people wander back in half way through and also disrupt other people listening.
Secondly, this approach means it is VERY difficult for the chefs and the catering team to keep on time and deliver the best quality meal for you. If the length of a speech under runs then suddenly they need to plate in no time at all, alternatively if it runs over meals can get cold. Also the potential issue here is guests are still eating as the next round of speeches start and they tend to stop eating and go hungry.
Finally, and probably most importantly, it seems to take longer as a result. The most important thing to me as a wedding photographer is you getting quality time as a couple, enjoying the day with your family and friends.
If you have to wait for people to return, or dinner is delayed coming out your time together gets shorter. It also can have a knock on effect in limiting the amount of time you have me to do couples photos: obviously I will adapt to anything but equally I want to do you proud!
If you were to ask me whether to go for “All together”, or “split courses” for the speeches it’d be “all together” every time! I’m certainly not saying “split” is wrong, just that in my professional opinion it is not as conducive to you having a stress-less day!
2- Timings and content
Another big area of contention is the length and content of the speeches: I say keep it simple.
For me, ten minutes maximum for each speaker is about perfect: there is of course no necessity to use all ten minutes. Thirty minutes total is about the limit of keeping peoples interest at the highest level, and the maximum you are likely to be able to keep our younger generation entertained without them running around the venue causing your guests to abandon speeches to follow them. Again, I’m not saying that longer is wrong, just that for me this is about the perfect length and is the most likely to keep everyone smiling, entertained and engaged.
Content wise DO feel free to ask the maid of honour to “screen” the best man’s speech. 95% of them will be perfect: but there is always that 5% of best men that will want to go for the “shock and awe” approach. If this fits with your wedding great and let them go for it, but also factor in that all your family and friends will be there which most likely involves the older generation.
Jokes are to be expected, a bit of gentle ribbing at the groom and bride’s expense a given: however those times I’ve seen best men indulge in ridiculous levels of crudeness and continuous expletives no matter how best intended it has been a bit of a recipe for disappointment.
How long are speeches?
Short and snappy, or detailed speeches? Obviously special people saying wonderful and heartfelt things about the day is priceless: but it is important this does not become overbearing for both you and your guests.
For me I’d say either 10 minutes per speaker, or 30 minutes total.
3 – Who Should Speak?
Traditionally there are three speakers: namely the father of the bride, the groom and the best man. However this is far from prescriptive and moreover certainly not a requirement particularly as our family and friendship groups have evolved over the years.
It is not uncommon for the Father of the Groom to say a few words, the Maid of Honour may wish to say something touching and important or you may even have multiple best men who team up together to say their speech. It is also becoming very common for the bride to say a few words after the groom has had his say, often to remind him who is the “real” boss and also for a little bit of good natured banter.
The most important thing here is feel free to ask: if you would like someone to say something on your wedding day ask them! Ultimately if they’re not one of the traditional three they are unlikely to directly ask you to let them speak as they wouldn’t want to offend or step on anyone’s toes! Equally please don’t force someone to speak even if they are in traditional three speakers: the least welcome speech is that from someone that is petrified of public speaking. If you do have someone that wants to say something but is not a public speaker absolutely discuss this with your toastmaster or photographer. On many occasions I have read out speeches from those guests that felt unable to do so: it is actually a massive privilege to be asked to do so and a responsibility I take incredibly seriously. Ultimately I’m there taking photos anyway: people may as well make the most of my presence!
Who is speaking?
The most important thing is that it is your day: therefore your friends and family saying touching and heartfelt messages about your relationship is a really important thing.
At the end of the day, if someone matters hugely to you let them say a few words. After all, it doesn’t need to be an essay, even a quick toast to you will mean the world.