I've seen a lot of speeches lately. Almost ten in one month- which sounds a lot but if you go to two events and one is a wedding, well, they rack up. The call to speak in public is far more ubiquitous than we often acknowledge and yet we act as though such occasions are rare. I wish we didn't and it reminded me to update this blog with some thoughts on speechwriting and form, which is the unacknowledged reason writing speeches is such a struggle. We know how to write a letter, an email, potentially even an article but speeches are so hard because the form is inextricably linked to audience and occasion, both of which defy a simple template. This is live and this is collective. 

Googling gets you nowhere, unless what you are looking for are terrible, static examples. Don't waste your time. Those blogs haven't met the people you need to stand in front of and can't help you understand the occasion.

In lieu of obvious guides on form, I always suggest people create their own template and let the ideas flow from there. For weddings, I'll often start with three categories, shaped as questions.

What do the couple want from me?

What do the audience want from me?

What does the occasion need from me?

From these, you can build an idea of what you want to communicate. That's key: we often focus on what we want to say which leads us into listing topics, or maybe the qualities of a couple we are discussing, but really, what we want to communicate is quite different. It might be the power of friendship, it might be the true value of commitment, it might be why you wanted to come here today. Either way, the speech has multiple functions: the formulaic function of thanking the guests and also a higher function, which is to provide meaning and significance to the gathering. The second part is tricky and whilst most people tell me 'But, I don't have anything I want to communicate', it often takes all of five minutes to find out that in reality they do. You can't do this part on your own: you need to talk to someone about what this gathering really means to you until some germ of an idea begins to grow.

Communication and connection can't be decoupled, which is why audience comes first. Once you have a sense of what you want to communicate, relate that to audience; what is the universal principle here? What is it that binds us? I'll run with friendship as an example and keep it really simple- no fancy language or big sweeping statements required, I'm not even asking you to avoid cliche. Just think about the ordering of your individual sentences. Instead of, I've known Dylan for many years and was honoured when they asked me to be their maid of honour, try: 

We've all felt the power of an enduring friendship and how a good friend can guide us through our most difficult moments. Dylan does that, and I don't think they even really know it.

The simplest part? “We” statements before “I” statements. You'll get to the “I” part later but always start with your audience. Again, instead of, I'm excited to be here today because… try:

The excitement we feel today, and feel most of the time we are with these two, comes from the sense of joy and ease they bring to our lives, which we now get to celebrate, and hopefully share, with all the people who love them most.

Then you can work your way to the “I” safe in the knowledge the audience are with you, because even if the experience you want to communicate is personal, it will speak to something they all understand and they've all turned up to take part in.

Book a coaching or writing consultation jane@jclcelebrant.com