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The I Do’s and I Don’ts of Writing a Wedding Speech

Leave the ukulele at home, you'll thank me later.

Wedding Speech Graphic

The wedding bells are ringing, the bouquets are flying, your drunk cousin is vaping in the bathroom—it’s wedding season! If you’ve gotten to the age where all your college best friends are marrying their soulmates (or that guy that's good enough), wedding season is a marathon, not a sprint. Being a member of a wedding party (or parties) comes with a slew of extra-curricular responsibilities: planning a bachelor(ette) party, booking travel, rehearsals, and finding yet another flimsy Reformation dress to squeeze into on the big day. In addition to all the nuptial tasks, you may get the rare honor of being asked to give a speech. This ask is not as simple as it sounds. Don’t be alarmed if, as the big day approaches, it starts to weigh on you like unfinished homework.

If I’m being honest, a majority of wedding speeches are mediocre to bad. Oh, you two met in college? Thrilling. Oh you had a crazy night where the bride got too drunk and did something mildly embarrassing? Groundbreaking. “Merriam-Webster defines love as…” I’m gonna stop you right there. A wedding speech is a delicate dance of humor, sincerity, and sentiment. No, you don’t need to be proficient at writing or public speaking, but whatever you say has to be heartfelt and original. The good news is this is likely the easiest crowd you will ever have to speak in front of. Unlike the comedy open mic at Joe’s Coffee Shack, this crowd wants to laugh. They want to cry. Even the most canned, corny jokes will usually get a chuckle rolling through the crowd. The room is already on your side.

If you’re dragging your heels on that wedding speech, here are a few helpful tips to make sure you leave a good impression on the happy couple:

What to Do


Unless you are a credentialed improviser or have off-the-cuff charisma on par with Cardi B’s Instagram lives, please don’t wing it. I’m sure you’re a delight at dinner parties, but going up to the mic with a loose idea of a story isn’t going to cut it.

Make sure you give yourself time to write, edit, and peer review with a trusted friend. You are also totally welcome to reach out to the married couple to ask them questions about their relationship, how they feel about marriage, and significant moments in their relationship. Ask them for boundaries on what they are comfortable with you sharing and any sensitive material they want you to avoid. While most speeches focus on a person’s relationship to one member of the couple, it’s good to remember to include both of them. This is their wedding, so make sure your speech is less about you and more about them.

Use Your Own Words

Keep in mind that you’re writing something to be spoken aloud. Flowery metaphors and all those words from may feel a bit clunky when read off the page. It helps to practice reading your speech aloud on your own and changing awkward phrasing to the way you would speak to a friend.

Don’t plagiarize. Don’t quote a speech from your favorite movie. Keep the Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes to a minimum. This isn’t a book report, so best not to cite too many sources. Of course, there is creative license to be taken, but too many references or blustery quotes can bog down your speech. If you are using a quote as a setup to an original joke, make sure it’s funny.

Mind the Time

Time your speech to land between 2-5 minutes. There is nothing wrong with something short and sweet, especially if you dread public speaking. I was once at a wedding where one of the groomsmen read off a four-page, single-spaced document and you could feel the audience losing patience.

Don’t rush. People that are nervous tend to speak very quickly and quietly. Take your time and make sure you are letting your words land. Punctuate what you are saying with eye contact with the couple and the crowd. If you feel yourself getting choked up, it’s okay to take a little pause and a breath. If you try to stifle the tears you could get too choked up and make it even harder to talk. Breathe through the moment, and take your time. Don’t force yourself to blubber through anything.

Be Yourself (Kind Of)

Play to your strengths. If you are a funny person, pepper your speech with jokes. If you aren’t comfortable writing jokes, don’t force it—it can come across very awkwardly. Since this is a wedding, there is no shame in sincerity. In fact, everyone will be so hopped up on sentimentality after the ceremony that if your speech isn’t a little bit sappy, it can come across as cold. When you put your personality into the writing, you’ll have a lot more fun. That being said, this isn’t a talent show so maybe leave your ukulele at home.

Show Don’t Tell

“You are an incredible friend, a devoted sister, and the most generous person I know.” Cute, but boring. How are they an incredible friend? When were they a devoted sister? In what ways are they generous? Be specific! I promise this will make for a much more engaging, heartfelt, and compelling speech. This is a place where anecdotes and stories really shine. Paint a picture of the person you are talking about.


You don’t need to be “off book” as they say in the industry but definitely know your speech well enough that you aren’t reading off your notebook or phone. Have your notes there as a resource, but your words will be much more powerful if you are connecting with the audience while you talk. Practice alone, time out how long it’s taking you, and get comfortable with the material.

Additional Tips

  • Don’t forget to introduce yourself at the top of your speech. Tell the crowd who you are and your relation to the wedding party.
  • Be gracious. Thank the hosts, the staff, and everyone that helped put the wedding together.
  • Plan ahead with the wedding planner or MC so you know when you will be speaking.
  • Finish your speech with a toast to the happy couple.

What Not To Do

Don’t Get Too Drunk

It’s fine to have a drink before your speech to calm your nerves. In fact, for some people, I’d even encourage it. If you know your body well, have two. No matter how nervous you are, don’t go up there drunk. It’s not cute. And you run the risk of seeming sloppy and disrespectful.

Don’t Go NC-17

I’m not going to go all the way and say you shouldn’t swear or make a few ‘grown-up’ jokes but know your audience. Don’t write anything in your speech you wouldn’t say in front of your best friend’s grandma. Because she’ll probably be there. Keep the jokes classy and PG-13.

Don’t Tell Dumb Stories

Part of avoiding vulgarity is knowing where to edit. That story about your friend shitting their pants after a long night in Amsterdam—this maybe isn’t the place for it. Sure, it’s a hilarious part of your friendship lore, but unless the story ends with an incredibly moving character arc, this is not the audience.

In general, I have issues with people telling stories in speeches. Oftentimes they start off strong but when they get to the conclusion, there really wasn’t so much a story as it is just a string of silly details. A story needs an arc, a twist, and a good ending. Yes, there were funny elements at play, but if it doesn’t have a satisfying ending, the bit will fall very flat. If you want to tell a story make sure it shows off their strength of character or resilience. Not just embarrassment.

Don’t Make It All About Yourself

Yes, you will be talking about your decades-long friendship with the bride, but this isn’t an opportunity to tell us your life story. Make sure the subject of your speech is the protagonist, not you. Also, yes, the thrill of the spotlight can be intoxicating but this isn’t a high school showcase. I’m sure you’re a very talented singer, interpretive dancer, or freestyle rapper, but you are not the main character of this wedding, Ashley.

At the end of the day, you are there as a best-supporting actor to the bride and groom. A wedding speech may not be a tour-de-force performance, but regardless of your fumbles or nerves, heartfelt emotion and a few cheeky jokes will go a long way for the happy couple.

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