I didn't speak at my wedding. Back in 2000, I let my husband carry the bag. He gave a great speech - I'll never forget his line about marrying the 'triple black diamond' woman. But with many years of hindsight, I wish I had spoken. It was the last time I saw my Dad alive as he was terminally ill - I would have liked to thank him and my Mom.
To be honest, I never even thought about speaking. I was perfectly happy to go with tradition and not have to worry about butterflies in my stomach and not drinking champagne before standing up in front of everyone. Women's voices weren't totally quashed - my Maid of Honor Betsy spoke - she warned my new husband that he had much to do to live up to the previous love of my life Tom (my beloved cat of my childhood.)
But as I get older I find I'm with Warren Ellis - I mistrust tradition. As he wrote, its "one of those words conservative people use as a shortcut to thinking." Or as Caitlin Moran wrote recently of her mistrust of traditions, "I don't trust a machine without an "off" button."
In my seriously unscientific study asking my Facebook friends what they did at their weddings I got varying responses - unsurprisingly many of my recently married lady friends did speak up. Those who got hitched over fifteen years ago were less likely to have done so, but there are still a few who did. My friend Nathalie who broke the mold in 1996 by speaking said that it was considered so unusual at the time that the Daily Mail called her up to interview her afterwards.
But even for those who want to have their own say - giving speeches is scary!
So what advice can I give you?
The best speeches - no matter who is giving them and for what purpose - have a few things in common - the speakers build connections with the audience. They look and sound comfortable and confident - their messages land and resonate with the audience.
So how do you do that? I divide speaking into two parts - how you speak and what you say.
How you speak
We know that over 60% of the impact of the spoken word is from how you appear when you're speaking. Stand straight up, keep your shoulders back and down and use your hands. Imagine you've got balloons under your arms - don't keep them clutched by your sides like Tyrannosaurus Rex. Make eye contact with people in the audience. Imagine you've got a watering can and you're out in the garden - giving each person some attention before you move on.
No matter how you're feeling inside - you'll start to look and sound more confident. Plus we know from Amy Cuddy that standing in a more powerful position makes you feel more powerful as well.
Pause! When the spotlight is on and we're feeling the nerves one of the most common things that happens is that we sprint through the speech at the pace of Usain Bolt in the 100 meter race. How to counter this? Pause three times more often than you think you need to, for three times longer than you think you need to. Does it feel ridiculous? Film yourself on your camera and watch it back. What feels like an eternity comes across as measured and judicious.
What you say
Think about the points you want to make. Then for each of them think of a story or anecdote you can tell to illustrate each message. Why? Stories are easier for the speaker to remember. They let your personality shine through because they happened to you. And they're memorable.
Meh: 'I'd like to thank my parents for always being there for me.'
Better: 'I'll never forget going away to UCLA - I'm an only child and my mom had always been at every high school volleyball game and my dad helped me through every Calculus and Physics homework question. It had always been the three of us. I got to college and felt terrified. So, my dad found a way to link our computers together (this was 1988 - at this time it required some effort) so he could look at my papers and give me advice. I made the crew team and our first big race was in Long Beach. I was proud and excited but even more so as I carried the boat down to the dock past my parents who had driven 396 miles to surprise and support me.
So go out there and do it! And let me know how it goes.