Speechless – Tell Stories that Change the World

Bonus: Wedding speech 101

July 27, 2023 Maryam Pasha & Simon Bucknall Season 1 Episode 17
Bonus: Wedding speech 101
Speechless – Tell Stories that Change the World
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Speechless – Tell Stories that Change the World
Bonus: Wedding speech 101
Jul 27, 2023 Season 1 Episode 17
Maryam Pasha & Simon Bucknall

Wedding speeches. A giant elephant trap for the unwary or the arrogant. Author of three books on the topic, in this latest episode of Speechless, Simon Bucknall shares practical tips and ideas drawn from thousands of hours spent reviewing wedding speech scripts and helping the speakers prepare. Whatever the internet might say, “telling jokes” is not the answer!  Because no-one ever gave a great wedding speech by making the friends laugh and the bride's or groom’s parents cry… 

For more wedding speech guidance, check out Simon's books: 

Show Notes Transcript

Wedding speeches. A giant elephant trap for the unwary or the arrogant. Author of three books on the topic, in this latest episode of Speechless, Simon Bucknall shares practical tips and ideas drawn from thousands of hours spent reviewing wedding speech scripts and helping the speakers prepare. Whatever the internet might say, “telling jokes” is not the answer!  Because no-one ever gave a great wedding speech by making the friends laugh and the bride's or groom’s parents cry… 

For more wedding speech guidance, check out Simon's books: 

Maryam Pasha  0:03  
You're listening to speechless, the new podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall, here for now to learn how to tell stories that change the world.

Simon, let's talk about weddings. Okay. I honestly never, in a million years thought I would say that on a podcast.

Simon Bucknall  0:29  
I'm sure we'd be very happy. Yeah. By the way, if you're listening to this, that that's not you and I are getting married right

Maryam Pasha  0:36  
now. You're very happily married, and I'm getting married this summer. So either you've been asked to speak at a loved one's wedding. Or maybe you're getting married. And you're thinking about asking people to speak and we wanted to do this episode, as you want to do this episode purely selfishly, because I really want this advice. But also because incredibly Simon has a book, two books, 333 books on this subject, and has done this with lots of people, some of whom are under NDA, so he can't talk about, but as really good advice, and I think we've all seen now with like Tik Tok, and with other things, the videos of best man speeches of bride speeches that are amazing, and ones that are absolutely horrid crashes. And I can tell you, that there's definitely anxiety around the idea of people speaking my wedding. So let's, let's start. Well, let's talk about if you've been asked to speak

Simon Bucknall  1:38  
well, the first most important question to ask is why you as a new yourself, no matter if you have an official role, Official Function, obviously, the bride and groom have a pretty clear role there. And likewise, maybe the best man, maid of honour, mother of the bride, Father, the bride, or whatever the other people were certain roles. And we can talk more about that, if that's relevant in the moment. But sometimes people are asked to speak in a more informal capacity. And so if it's not clear to you why you've been invited to speak, then you should certainly spend a bit of time by thinking about it and talking to the bride and groom about that. Okay. Which of course, then is also relevant for what in your case, man was the bride, if you're inviting people to speak is key is to think right. What are you hoping for from that person speaking, because there's all sorts of people in your life, when, in both your lives, that all sorts of people, you could invite all sorts of different angles that they could bring. And the it's a prioritisation exercise, you know, who who is most relevant for the wedding day that you would most like to hear from and why and likewise, for those speakers, it needs to be very clear to them. Why? Of course many best men in particular misunderstand. Because a giant elephant trap of course, for so many best men in particular, I think our Yes, guilty of this is they think that they have been called up to speak as best man in order to make their friends laugh. Which is I suggest not the real reason.

Maryam Pasha  3:08  
I'm speaking like that. I can totally see how that's a trap that people fall into, you know, what are some of the like, what is the like, can you if people like Yeah, well, I thought that was my job to make people laugh. What is their actual job?

Simon Bucknall  3:22  
As best man Yeah, to provide an inside view on the groom, right? In a way that is not about just taking the mick but actually is also somehow meaningful and positive for the bride. Or groom. If it's a if it's a groom groom, when it says wedding. And for the parents, in particular. And to my mind, the mantra is no best man ever gave a great speech by making the friends laugh and the bride. Parents cry.

Maryam Pasha  3:48  
Yeah, that's really good.

Simon Bucknall  3:52  
So, so, see that as well. Your job is to not make the bride's parents cry with distress at who their daughter is marrying. That's like the Antichrist the anti purpose. That's not a bad start. But then you think, Okay, well, what can I say? As best man, for example, that would have the nearest and dearest to the couple in their hearts thinking.

Maryam Pasha  4:16  
Yeah, I'm, like, so excited for these people. Yeah. That's such a. That's such a good distinction. Because you're right. Like, when I think about this cringe worthy either, either the speeches I've heard at weddings or seen online. It's exactly that is that, that kind of clash between, like, you know, people's friends around stitches, but they're, the family is just so deeply embarrassed. Yes.

Simon Bucknall  4:42  
Or crucially, a very small subsection of the friends that two or three friends on one table in one corner of the room falling about laughing, and maybe not for the right reasons, either. Maybe because it's excruciating. Yeah. But everyone else is either just lost or as you say, worse They'll actually genuinely upset or uncomfortable about it. And of course, in some cases with with with, say best man or any speaker who puts something out in a wedding speech, which through the choice of a story they use or other. It's not necessarily that they're doing it out of vindictiveness. It's a misunderstanding of what the real purpose is. And of course, for many speakers, particularly if it's a speaker who's never spoken at a wedding before, he may not have spoken in front of 100 people before 100 Plus, often going into panic mode, and you're caught in, I've got I've got I've got, I've got to go, I've got to get a reaction, I got to get a reaction and as a result, and this, this crops up in another episode in this in our podcasts, of course, the conversation around that around, almost speaking for a position of desperation, rather than being on the front foot with it. Sure. And having the confidence to say, right, this is actually really what I want to say, rather than hit the panic button and just try and provoke a reaction by any means necessary.

Maryam Pasha  5:55  
So if that's not what you should do, what should you do? Where do you start? So you've had that conversation, you understand why you've been invited? What do you do now? Well, human

Simon Bucknall  6:04  
interest is the key. human interest is the absolute key because because a wedding is a, it shouldn't be at least a profoundly human experience. One hopes, whoever's involved, right? It's a coming together of all these different people that are meaningful, important to the families concerned, right. And so and so therefore, what's at the heart of any effective wedding speech? To my mind, for my experience, over the years, it's working with hundreds of different speakers, it's, it's about identifying relevant human interest on the part of the bride or the groom, whoever it is that's being spoken about. Friends, family members that might be in the audience to identify relevant human interest in a way that is of that is not just relevant, but ideally entertaining and interesting for the audience. What does that mean? I think it can mean simply put a couple of things. One is to think about qualities of characteristics of the person or people concerned, right, and to and to bring that to life in some way, ideally, for the use of story. But then, secondly, that can be done in a way that is either poking fun, or done in a way that's much more serious. There's, there's two ways to think about it. It's that idea of the the human interest, the characteristics, and then to think about right, am I looking for something that's gonna be humorous? That's a behind the scenes kind of culture. That's so true that it's I can't believe it. Or it's something really heartfelt.

Maryam Pasha  7:31  
That's already so helpful. I'd love if Is there any examples you can give what you seen this done really well? Or I know you gave a really brilliant best man speech. It's on I've seen on YouTube,

Simon Bucknall  7:46  
what kind of you to say that say so and how I got into doing this little bit of line of work. But it's only a very, very small percentage of the work that I watched the work that I do, but it came as a result of the best man speech that I gave for a very good school friend of mine, back in 2007, just before going literally days before flying to Phoenix for the semifinals and appellate speaker World Championships. So you can imagine what the groom said, to set me up when introducing me to say, oh, yeah, this guy is about to go to America, our expectations were high. He did his best to spike me in the setup. But it was recorded, and the speech went down really well, which was great. And in that speech I did and it's on YouTube, it's easily find with my name, best man speech. It's had lots of hits. It's very easily findable on there. But but there's plenty of jokes at the groom's expense. There's nothing to say for certain, I don't think, but he did absolutely close with something really heartfelt. I refer to it, where I invest it both in the coaching work that I do, but also in the book is The groom's great gift, or whoever it is that one's wanting to celebrate what's their great gift, what's absolutely at the heart of what makes them a real, which in my case, when I thought about wilro, for whom I was best man. It was it's his sense of loyalty, absolutely law to the front of the house, which I thought well, that's a lovely thing for for his wife's parents to hear. A best man that I worked with some years ago who said look, he said the problem I've got is that people are expecting me to be funny. It expected me to crack jokes at the expense of the groom, he said, but the problem is that everyone knows I'm the villain. I'm the naughty boy at school. I'm the one that always is in trouble. The groom is an absolute down the line, never in trouble. Always golden boy, he said and for me to try and buy gags at his expense. It can't do how can how am I gonna do that? So there's this really interesting kind of inversion in terms of of roles, personalities, so where he netted out was putting together a speech knowing full well that anyone that knew either the groom or him knew what their respective characters were, I think the groom was up if I remember rightly was, uh, was with a corporate lawyer. Absolutely. You know, so always on time, always, you know, always follow through. Oh, absolutely. Never put a foot out of place, right. And so in the end, the best man to sides picked his his theme. And he decided that since the groom was a lawyer, he decided to put him on trial. Oh, right in front of the court really caught the members of the jury, of course, being the audience for a series of unforgivable crimes, crimes, which each of which, by the way, of course, is a virtue, always being on time. And then a story of him being deeply deeply punctual. Right. And that was that was the crime. And members of the jury, you have heard all the evidence, do you find the guilt, the the accused, innocent or guilty, and it was the first time he said, he called out guilt. By the end of the speech, he said, the response from amazing people picked up on it and everything. So so it was an understanding of, of how the audience would perceive them, and doing something which was which, which was clearly tailored to the personality of the person that you wanted to celebrate. And, of course, he was making lots of jokes at the groom's expense. But actually, what he was doing was celebrating his strengths rather than its weaknesses. I

Maryam Pasha  10:57  
love the idea of that this is about celebrating the person, you know, and about it being a gift. I think that makes a lot of sense. I have. I have a question about so that I mean, in a way, I feel like when you are either the best man or the best person, or, you know, on all sides. I feel like there's a lot of precedent about the kinds of things you're supposed to say. Or not supposed to say but the role of that speech, let's say, but I purely asked this for selfish reasons. What about if you're the bride or the groom? Or the groom with agree with the by the bride? Like, what if you are involved in the one that are getting married? You know, I'm always I don't always know and understand like, what? What is the expectations there? Around what you are saying? Are you speaking about your partner? Are you speaking about your family's being by yourself? Your friends? Like? Like, what have you seen? How do you how do you support people? Like because I know you support? You've done a bride's

Simon Bucknall  12:04  
Yeah, yeah. And and we'd love for more brides to speak at their weddings than at least currently do. I know, in some parts of the world, it's really quite common. And another part of the world is it's unthinkable, and everything in between. So it's true. There's a lot of received wisdom and protocol around what what the expectations are. And I sometimes asked, you know, what, what do I need to make sure that I cover as if somehow there's a rulebook, and my instinct is always to hell with the rulebook, this is your wedding. Now that it's true that there'll be all sorts of priorities and concerns depending on the people, the personalities that you have within your personal circumstances with your family. So when I say, check out the protocol book, it doesn't mean disregard the needs, wants, wishes, aspirations, feelings, values, beliefs of your audience, quite the reverse, actually, it's, it's running through the protocols and just acknowledging or saying certain things, just because it has to be said, I'm not convinced that that that's I'm not sure that the audience is craving that. So for example, it's you know, it'd be on the subject of say, a bride saying something about the about the the fiance or now husband wife. In a way, it's not that you have to talk about your, your spouse or your partner, it's, well, the question is, can you imagine not talking about them? So So I think in most any any bride or groom speech, I think it absolutely makes sense to say something about the other person, it'd be a bit curious if one didn't, it, of course, then a question about when often it's best done towards the end of the speech, it's a lovely, strong way in which to close rather than upfront, but sometimes I know some speakers who have chosen to dedicate the entire speech to the other person, if so, great, go for it. But there's no rule that says that you have to, I think the other thing to consider with with a bride or groom speech is, of course, is traditionally is the acknowledgments, the thank you recognition to all the various people that have helped make the day possible and so on before and, and if that feels right. To you, the individual to want to do that, then, fantastic. If there are people that one really wants to acknowledge that then then absolutely do so. The the catch, I think is is what I'd call shopping list syndrome, which is I like to thank Dan, you know, I'd really like to thank him. And I'd realised that and it just becomes literally a recital with no real creativity around the edges of just write this person. That's, if it's a transactional list of just lots of people, then it quickly becomes bluntly, quite boring for the audience members, no matter how well intentioned it might be. And so therefore, there are ways to, to mix that up a bit to think about what story could you bring in to help or insight Could you help us to help illustrate bring to life some of the people that are most important, then if there are some more if you'd like transactional, thank you, then fine, but just be a bit more efficient and punch with that just to mix things up a bit.

Maryam Pasha  15:00  
That's great advice my brain is. I'm gonna find it very hard to ask questions in this episode. I'm just thinking very practically what do you think is the single most common piece of advice you give someone who is speaking at a wedding,

Simon Bucknall  15:19  
don't tell jokes. So. And this is influenced by the fact that proportionally I've done more work with Best Men, right than any other wedding speakers. I've worked lots of brides lots of grooms fathers by mothers, the bride, maid of honour and others, yes. And also, MCs for weddings as well. But more than any other. It's been with best men who in some cases are freaking out at what, what they what they have accepted. And seeing it as a nightmare, rather than actually what it really is, of course, which is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate friendship, and to celebrate the relationship and the marriage that's taking place. And so therefore, yeah, panic button, I need to get some jokes. And I'm going to go to the internet, I'm going to put some stuff off pre tried and tested jokes off the web from other people's speeches, or from some website that says, right, just open with this. And it's just such a mistake. It's such a mistake, because it's not real. It's not yours, it's not specific to the individuals concerned, there's a good chance that some if not all of the people in the audience will have heard before. And it reeks. Yeah, and certainly the biggest mistake I've, in my experience over the years working with people from all walks of life. entirely normal weddings, as well as some weddings that have been literally in global news. The default to go on the internet and get stuff is always a mistake. Because a wedding. Surely a wedding? If nothing else is a profoundly human and personal experience. Why wouldn't the speeches be?

Maryam Pasha  16:53  
Yeah, yeah,

Simon Bucknall  16:54  
I'm going to go and take this joke off the I'm going to start with the line of right, you know, fornication for an occasion. I'll please for the love of all that is holy, you certainly can open that that kind of comment there for an occasion fornication. Right? Please, seriously, seriously, is that honestly how?

Maryam Pasha  17:11  
And I guess it's also not actually the way that most people would probably normally communicate? No, that's deeply like clashes with our own way of speaking.

Simon Bucknall  17:21  
And so therefore, what's the pot? So therefore, if it's like, don't do this, like get jokes off the internet? So therefore, what is the best advice, it is to think deeply about reflect on what you know, of the people that you're talking about in the speech in particular, as a best man, for the person whom you are both ribbing a bit, but also celebrating? And to think, right? What are and this is, and this is a transferable skill for storytelling more generally, in speech building, I think, which is to think, right, what are the qualities the characteristics of this person? Let's say it's if it's a best man for a groom, let's say, then what are the qualities literally list that that person's qualities? Characteristics? Good or bad? Yeah. Always on time. Lazy. Yeah. honest, loyal, whatever it is, she loves their food, whatever, do you make a whole list of these different things? Whatever qualities, I just list and get them out, and then in a separate column think right? And what sorts of stories experiences do I have that could illustrate those things? How do I know that's true? And sometimes people say, Well, I find it straightaway, I think, immediately this experience this story, fine. What's the message? What's that say about the person? Or you start with the quality and then think like, what story could I use? And that will give you immediately some building blocks, because no best man speech will, for example, will go will go badly wrong. If it contains three observations on the groom's character, each of which is illustrated by a story and right there, you've got the middle 80% of the speech. That is right, incredible adventure. And within that, and then this is the thing I think the thing which takes a little bit of time, it takes a bit of working through whether it's with somebody like me if it's guidance, or it's with friends or whatever is to talk stuff through in that human experience. There is humour it is that I think Craig Valentine in the world champ public speaking in 99, who said, you know, humour is there waiting to be discovered it's, you unearth it right? From experience from what you know, of people, rather than plucking a joke from somewhere and trying to impose it. And I think that's so so true. I love

Maryam Pasha  19:14  
that way of thinking about it. I mean, not in this world, because I've never never done anything in this world. But, you know, in in HR, I'm talking yet at least, but soon, right? I always tell people don't tell a joke as well, like, even just in general because of it unless you have like, a side gig as a stand up comedian that I'm unaware of. You're not like, you know, if you tell a joke, and it falls flat, you're done. Yeah. You've just done that. You're not gonna be able to recover from that because because you're not a stand up comedian who knows how to recover from a joke that doesn't work.

Simon Bucknall  19:43  
And actually, surprisingly few comedians do are pure joke teller. Right, exactly. Yeah. I mean, Michael McIntyre said, well, they come in here in the UK. He is not a joke teller. Yeah. It's a really, really nice skill, even within stand up comedy.

Maryam Pasha  19:58  
Exactly. And so I think What I found is that people are the funniest when they say something that is true, but also happens to be humorous. Because, because because I find that then if it's true, and people don't laugh, you can just keep going, because you've just said anything that's like out of sorts. And if it's true, when people laugh, then awesome, you can pause and enjoy it. But it's, it's not throwing you off or taking you off some kind of weird dark alley. That doesn't make sense. Yes, yes. So it's interesting to know that that applies here. Okay, I have a final question for you, which is a bit of a different take on it, again, purely selfishly. If you are part of the pair getting married, and you're asking people to speak at your wedding. One of the things you should keep in mind, like both both one of the things you should keep in mind in terms of like, in terms of like, asking, but also, you know, what's a good brief kind of really technical language to give people so that you don't end up having deeply terrible speeches and embarrass you and your partner?

Simon Bucknall  21:10  
Yeah, I'd say the two, the two key things are number one, to set out what you really hope, what you hope for from the speech in terms of as a member of the audience. And of course, it might be a very personal thing to but but in the end, if you're asking somebody to speak at your wedding, you're not literally asking them just to speak to you. They're asking you to address your wedding guests. So what do you as bride and groom? What do you hope for hope for from the speaker for your wedding guests, which may not be quite the same as what you precisely hopeful, personally, right? So so that's the first thing. And then I think the second thing is to set out very clearly what's taboo to do, which is not a bad thing, of course, to consider when going to actually speak in a professional capacity, of course, at a conference or an event where one's visiting, of course, is right, is there anything that's taboo? Is there anything which for whatever reason, should be needs to be off limits? Right? So as an example, some years ago, I was working with a, with a speaker for whom it was I think it was a maid of honour, and it was the I forget whether it was either the bride or the groom second marriage. Right. And the first marriage was off limits taboo as a topic. Right. Fair. Now, I know that I know, that's not relevant, not relevant in your case. As far as I know, there's a really good example. Just being very clear. This really needs to be off limits. Yeah. Because it will be because of this, this and this reason,

Maryam Pasha  22:47  
you know, I'm that's fantastic advice, actually. Because I do think that there's this pressure that, you know, because traditionally, speeches are seen as a bit, you know, to be a bit funny, a bit racy, that you're not supposed to give people those guardrails, but actually, you know, especially when I think about how many of myself, my friends, you know, where you're bringing together two very different cultures as well. Yes, that's something that may be totally okay for one family to talk about, is completely not okay, for a different family. And there's not, there's not okay, but like, it's not your that's not the context in which we're speaking. You know, like, if you have a family who doesn't drink, even if that individual does, if all the jokes are about how this person just got drunk all the time, it's deeply insulting.

Simon Bucknall  23:36  
Absolutely. Or just heat it out. Yeah, insulting, and or just tedious in it at best is tedious. And in no way correct. And that another great example of the kind of thing that should be in the brief right there, please stay clear of this, this this sensitivity of these things are those things that say I mentioned the example of a previous marriage, that might be in a way be an obvious one, but you reference alcohol, there could be other topics, it could be stuff that's politics related, it can be something to do with an aspect of, of work experience, for example, or career background, or the fact that this particular incident, yeah, now, of course, depends on the characters that one's inviting to actually speak. And particularly within the sort of the fraternity of male friends as I find it very tedious inhibitors are well, you know, I'm deliberately going to bring up even though I know they don't want to and as if it's somehow truly heroic to do that. No, it's just doing a disservice to the audience. And it's disrespectful to the family. Yeah, I can't imagine that you would be engaging that kind of personality to speak at your wedding consideration for the brief, right? Who is it might influence your choice, which is yeah, I've got certain parameters. am I engaging in inviting a speaker who's going to be respectful of those parameters or not? And if not, well, then go in with your eyes open and think well, I'm gonna be taking a bit of a gamble here because you know, it's not even discussed

Maryam Pasha  24:58  
that you don't think you have There's a world of other things you could talk about. I think that's the thing where people go, Well, if I can't talk about that stuff like what is that? Well, there's a world. Absolutely friendship that you can talk about. That is probably much more relevant and much more interesting. This has been an absolutely illuminating. For me, I like to think of as it's a little bonus, a lighter bonus. We've covered some pretty heavy stuff this season. So I like to think about this as like a little light bonus as we go into summer wedding season four, because as you said, you know, this podcast is about speaking so you can change the world. And as you said, like someone's wedding really does change their world and you have the opportunity to say something memorable and meaningful, or you have the opportunity to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Simon Bucknall  25:49  
Absolutely. It's yeah, the world. Yeah, it's built for the people that are intimately involved with a particular wedding. That is a very important part of their universe. Yeah, a few things stand out in one's mind like a wedding day. Yeah. And yeah, lovely when it's for the right reasons, speech wise, rather than for the wrong reasons.

Maryam Pasha  26:07  
I'm super excited for people to listen to this episode. And then I highly recommend going and reading and checking out all of Simon's books. Can you give us some titles please?

Simon Bucknall  26:18  
Yes, sure. They are. Easily find on Amazon, the best man speaker, the groom, speaker, the bride speaker you spot

Maryam Pasha  26:27  
it's pretty simple. And I really recommend checking out Simon's best man's speech on YouTube because it's good inspiration to get started. Thanks Simon for sharing sharing this I will report back Always a pleasure

Simon Bucknall  26:42  
you were listening to speechless the podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall. Hit follow now to keep learning how to tell stories that change the world and if you enjoyed it, please leave us a rating and review. Until next time, speak less, say more.