Your best friend is getting married. You’re her maid of honor. It’s all great. You’re ecstatic. Except for one little problem: You HATE public speaking. You’re petrified about giving that toast at the reception. You haven’t spoken publicly since that incident in history class senior year and no one wants a repeat of how that went. Well girl, it’s time to face your fear. Giving a toast at the reception is part of your responsibility as a maid of honor. And you CAN do it.
First of all, preparation is your friend. You may be tempted to wing it, because this allows you to put off thinking about the speech, and thus experiencing some of the stress, until the last minute. Resist this temptation. Having a prepared speech will not only help your nerves, it will also help you deliver a speech you can be proud of.
Stuck on what to write about? Take a look at these speech writing prompts and my advice for how to get started with writing. The good news? I’ve already got your first sentence written for you. Start with “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Caitlin and I’m the bride’s sister/best friend/sorority sister/former roommate.” This may sound like a boring opening, but unless you know every single person at this wedding, it’s important to mention who you are and your relationship to the bride.
One way to approach the speech is to think of it as writing a personal letter to your best friend, telling her why you are happy for her on her wedding day. But remember to factor the groom into your speech. It can be tempting to tell all your favorite stories about you and bride—how you met, the club you started in middle school, that road trip you took in college, that one crazy night in college. But remember that this speech is about the bride and the groom. Talk a little about yourself and the bride, but make sure her man gets mentioned too.
If you want to incorporate a poem, song lyrics or a religious verse that you think will be meaningful to the couple, that’s totally fine. This can be a good option for those who hate public speaking, since it’s often easier to present words that someone else has written rather than your own thoughts. Just don’t let that be your entire speech. It’s important to include some personal remarks about the bride. She chose you to be her maid of honor because of your special connection. Use the poem or verse as the middle of your speech and bookend it with a personal introduction and explanation of why you think this verse will be meaningful to the bride. Then finish with remarks on why you think the couple will be a great match, your favorite story from their courtship or your well wishes for their happiness together.
Forget trying to memorize your speech. You’re already nervous, and there’s absolutely no reason to add another hurdle for yourself. It is perfectly acceptable to read your speech from a printout. Keep it to one typed page. You really do not have to talk for that long. Two or three minutes is completely fine. Double space your speech and set the font size to 12 or 13 (or even 14). You want it to be super-readable and easy to follow.
Now practice reading it. Out loud. Over and over and over again. The first time you read it, you aren’t going to be able to look up. But when you actually give the speech, you’re going to want to take a few pauses to look up at your audience. Practice looking up and smiling. You’re happy, remember? If you have to write in cues for yourself, like in a script, go right ahead. Like this: [Pause, look at Amber, smile.]
You’ve heard this before and you’re going to hear it again. Don’t just read the speech to yourself. Recruit a listener. They aren’t there to give you advice, they are there to be your crowd stand-in. They are helping you get used to saying your speech in front of other people. Pick someone who you are very comfortable with. You can even ask them to read the speech to you! Hearing how they read it may help you with your own delivery.
When you get to the reception, resist the urge to indulge in liquid courage. A drink is fine (depending on your tolerance, of course), but don’t overdo it. Liquor really won’t be your friend once you get handed the mike, and an earnest if jittery speech is going to be much more appreciated than a slurred, boozy one.
When it’s time to read the speech, hold your printout away from your face. If you have a podium to work with, set the paper down (this is when your large font size comes in handy). If not, keep your elbow at your side to achieve the right height. You want the guests to be able to see your face while you’re reading.
Keep yourself slightly turned toward the bride and groom while you’re speaking. You don’t want to turn your back on the other guests, but focusing on your best friend and looking at her may help your nerves a bit. Here’s a little trick for you: If you wear glasses or contacts, take them out/off during your speech. Not being able to see the eyes of those watching you can really help relieve that feeling of being watched. You’ll feel a bit safer in your own private sight bubble.
Finally, end your speech by raising a glass and toasting the couple. It’s the guests’ signal that your toast is over and it’s time to take a drink! Then give the bride a hug and enjoy the rest of your night. You did it!