I had the honour and privilege of performing a wedding ceremony at the weekend.
It was a new one for me.
As a trainer in presentation skills and a frequent public speaker, I need to work hard to relate to the nerves that our clients often feel before giving a presentation.
This, however, put me right outside my comfort zone.
Here’s what I believe I did well, and things I would do differently if I did it again.
They’re principles that are designed to help you in all of your future public speaking engagements and high-stake presentations.
I asked myself three questions:
Normally I would have launched into ‘Best Man’ mode.
I’ve given a few best man speeches, and the format is straightforward enough (while the content is very difficult to get right).
But I had to stop myself right there.
I needed to give equal weighting to the bride and the groom.
It was also far more about representing the coming together of two wonderful people, rather than making people laugh.
I wanted to talk about: how they’d got to this point, what marriage meant to me, and offer some words of appreciation from the parents.
My audience: was there for the bride and the groom.
So I’d keep myself out of it as much as possible, and focus instead on them.
Any ‘in-jokes’ were banned, and throw-away comments were thrown away.
I rehearsed the presentation with my wife a number of times before the ceremony.
It was made interesting by our one-year-old running about at our feet, but I felt on top of the content.
When practising, I timed myself to make sure the pace was really slow, so everyone could digest every word.
I was conscious, for example, that we had seven different nationalities represented in the audience.
And I’d worked so hard on the content that I needed to let it breathe.
Slowing down also gave me far more time to think ahead to make sure I stuck to the script religiously (pardon the pun).
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I was offered a microphone, but I knew I’d struggle to hold that as well as my script, and the rings (more on the rings later).
So instead I spoke as loudly as I could without shouting.
When I spoke words written by Scottish poet Robert Burns, I knew I had to speak even louder and slow down even more.
“Ilk care and fear”
“When thou are near”
“I ever mare defy them”
My goal was to ensure that all ten rows, including elderly guests, made out every single word.
I had so much to say.
But only ten minutes.
So I left anything out that was getting repetitive, and I concentrated on making every single word count.
When running public speaking training courses in Glasgow or Edinburgh, we work on three-minute presentations.
That’s a short period of time, and people are often three minutes in before they end the formalities.
With ten minutes, I had to take out all informal language.
Get straight to the point.
I dropped the ring.
With the wedding taking place on the balcony overlooking the sea, it seemed like time stopped until the ring was recovered (three seconds later).
My wife filmed the whole thing, and while it’s excruciating to watch back, I believe I did everything I could in the aftermath.
I stayed quiet until the ring was recovered, announced “we’re fine” and made a joke to ease some of the tension.
There’s little like the potential of ruining your best friend’s wedding to focus the mind.
If I could go back and do the ceremony again, there are plenty of things I would do differently to avoid that situation happening.
However, reacting to things when they go wrong is something we all have to do as public speakers.
And some things I would do differently if I did it again:
Naturally, I asked for feedback after the event.
The one thing I would change with the content is to make it absolutely clear whose words I was using when speaking on others’ behalf.
That would have avoided any confusion.
OK, the rings.
What I really needed was either for the ring-bearer to hold them up until the last minute, or for a folder that had an area where they could sit.
I learned after the wedding that the rings dropping into the ocean was the bride’s biggest fear.
Any further fear would have been avoided with better planning.
There were a couple of stumbles based on combinations of words, which could have fitted together better.
By reworking some of these, it would have helped things flow better, as I really wanted to get it right.
The feedback I had from the ceremony was overwhelmingly positive, which was really nice to hear.
It’s always difficult to accept praise, but it’s really important to reflect on your public speaking performance positively, as well as appraising what could have been done better.
I trust that helps you plan your next big speech – as it did mine.
Written by Andrew McFarlan, the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications. You can view his full profile here.
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