Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Speeches

By Lorna Urwin

Speeches and toasts are such a touching part of the wedding reception. The combination of humour, anecdote and heartfelt sentiment has the potential to create unbeatable wedding memories, but equal power to induce boredom, embarrassment or no reaction at all! Keep yours in the first category by following the etiquette and advice below (and share with the lovely toastmakers in your life!).

Who usually speaks?

speeches, advice, toast, reception, guest, etiquette

Image by Brumley & Wells

  • Best man. Etiquette-wise, the best man is the only person required to give a toast, though someone else can replace him if he’s truly uncomfortable with the role. He usually takes the floor first.
  • Maid or matron of honour. While the best man’s is the only customary toast, it’s fast becoming a tradition for the maid of honour to offer an equivalent one after he’s finished. 
  • Fathers (and mothers) of the bride and/or groom, especially if hosting. The host of the wedding usually takes the opportunity to add a brief word of thanks to the guests for their attendance. Depending on who hosts and who has a preference for speaking, this role can be played by one or both fathers, one or both mothers or all four.
  • Bride and groom, especially if hosting. Whether offered together or individually, the bride and groom most often thank and toast to their family and guests. If speaking individually, they may also toast each other.

speeches, advice, toast, reception, guest, etiquette

Image by O’Malley Photographers

Remember, wedding traditions are only a custom. Make the toasts work for you by discussing ahead of time who you’d like to speak, taking into account that speeches can last anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes each and that some of your loved ones may be more eager than others. (If you have a large number of people vying for the opportunity, you may want to give people a speech at the rehearsal dinner instead.)

Tips for the couple

speeches, advice, toast, reception, guest, etiquette

Image by Krista A. Jones Photography

Set clear expectations

Invite loved ones to speak well ahead of time, especially if they’re not in a ‘traditional’ speaker role (perhaps a bridesmaid or another family member that you know would do a wonderful job). Ideally, you want everyone to approach the role as prepared as possible.

It can also be wise to set some guidelines for your toast makers. Decide the order of the speeches and set firm time limits. While you certainly don’t want to micromanage the content –the joy of the speeches is the surprise – you may wish to share expectations over who will toast to whom, to ensure no one is missed.

When to offer toasts

How long you’ll need to allot for the speeches and how they will fit into your wedding timeline will depend on a number of factors, including the formality of the wedding, whether food will be served and the number of people speaking. 

Given that toasts call for glasses to be raised, they typically fall around the serving of food. Immediately after the meal is the traditional moment for a sit-down reception, but in reality there’s a lot of flexibility. They may be offered with the first course, spread out across courses, given before or after the cake cutting or the first dance. So long as guests are gathered together, relatively comfortable (ideally with a seat) and have been served drinks, any time is fine!

Etiquette for being toasted

speeches, advice, toast, reception, guest, etiquette

Image by Fineline Photography

Stay seated and don’t raise your glass or drink from it until the toast is finished and everyone else has taken a sip. You want to avoid giving the impolite impression that you’re toasting to yourself!

Tips for speakers

speeches, advice, toast, reception, guest, etiquette

Image by Megan W Photography

Prepare yourself

For most of us, pulling off an eloquent, witty and poignant speech requires quite a bit of advanced preparation. Take time to gather inspiration, note ideas and practise your delivery. Our article on how to deliver an unforgettable toast is the perfect first port of call, but read below for some additional tips.

Introduce yourself

Chances are there will be a few people in the crowd who aren’t sure who you are; don’t forget to briefly introduce yourself and your relationship to the couple before launching into the speech proper!

Keep notes neat

speeches, advice, toast, reception, guest, etiquette

Image by Avodah Photography

The jury’s out on whether or not notecards are advisable. It’s true that rifling through papers isn’t ideal, but unless you’re a seasoned orator you’ll also want to avoid the anxiety of having your thoughtful words swept clean from your mind under pressure. While it’s still a good idea to commit the toast to memory and appear as unrehearsed as possible (i.e., avoid reading the speech), having some subtle notecards with key points to fall back on is a good compromise.

Body language

Public speaking can be nerve-wracking for many, but use your body language to present a poised and confident demeanour. Direct your speech to the whole room, not just the bride and groom, and make eye contact as best you can. Speak clearly and a little more slowly than you would normally. Allow pauses for laughter or other responses and don’t forget to smile through it all!

Shorter is better

If you’re given a time limit, be sure to stick to it. In general, though, shorter is better. Certainly less than 10 minutes but, unless you’re a particularly gifted speaker, somewhere around the 2 to 3-minute mark is ideal to ensure you are able to continuously hold the room’s attention. 



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