Working in telly for 15 years taught me a few things…
- The ‘green room’ always has free alcohol.
- The sets are shabbier than they look on screen.
- The BBC canteen does good bacon rolls.
- Some presenters are decent human beings (see Christine Bleakly, Adrian Chiles and that dancer off Strictly).
- And one ‘lovely’ presenting duo aren’t very lovely at all.
But getting back to wedding speeches…
Write for Your Audience
Whether it was prime time comedy shows I was producing or light-weight fluff like The One Show, I learnt to write for my audience. My natural humour might be on the Scottish sarcasm scale but that wouldn’t really cut it when I was directing a film with Dan Snow about the latest archaeology dig. Then, I was on my best behaviour and trying my best to get excited about finding an old spoon.
Of course, audiences expect different things at different times and it’s the role of any wedding speaker to adjust accordingly. Yes, be yourself, but only to a degree.
Never Underestimate Your Audience
After producing the same TV show for six months it’s tempting to think ‘that will do’ occasionally but when you’re a freelance scriptwriter and the ratings come in overnight, you know that’s not an option. Audiences recognise lazy writing. In wedding terms, they can sniff out if you’ve used a free template and can only moan when they hear the usual old jokes. Remember if you’ve heard the humour before, so has everyone else.
Tell A Story
This is key. Whether I was writing a topical comedy piece for David Mitchel, a consumer item for Martin Lewis or just trying to make Sharon Osbourne sound lucid, my script would always tell a story. Sometimes the story would be a 30 min programme, sometimes a 3 min item within a show – whatever, it had to engage people from the start, keep them hooked and end in a climax.
In wedding speech terms, you need to think about a theme before you start writing anything. Rather than just trying to connect a series of thank yous and ‘to dos’, think about the story you want to tell first, and then fit them in accordingly. Read more about themes on our Speech Advice pages.
Shorter is Sweeter
Everything is better shorter (insert anatomy joke of choice). Stories are better succinct and jokes are 100 times better the punchier they are. (Ironically it was Adrian Chiles who taught me that, who despite his presenting career suggesting otherwise, is surprisingly funny and not actually that grumpy.)
When it comes to wedding speeches, once I write a first draft I always challenge myself to cut it down by a third. It’s amazing how much waffle can lurk in there. As Earnest Hemingway said ‘the first draft of anything is shit’.
You Have Less Time Than You Think
Yes, even when I was working on daily shows, when I knew I had less than 24 hours to write the script, order the props, brief the presenters and fit in a loo break, I’d still think I had loads of time. I’d start my day by looking through the papers, waiting to be creatively inspired and well basically buggering around. This does not help.
The key to ‘divine inspiration’ is getting on with it. Only once you properly engage in writing your speech (googling advice doesn’t count I’m afraid) will the creative part of your noggin kick in. So start now. It doesn’t matter if the wedding’s still three months away, if new events happen you can add them in. The fact you’ve started will, however, mean that over the next few months you’ll notice more great content.
Yes even presenters. They come in all shapes and sizes (though generally smaller than they seem on screen). There’s good ones, fun ones, grumpy ones, inapt ones, really inspiring ones, ones you quite fancy and even ones who become your friend and help you get into swanky clubs where you can’t actually afford to buy a drink but the loos are really nice.
Whether it was Mel Giedroyc or Richard Hammond I was working with, it was important to appreciate their personal style and work around it. Some on screen talent had the power to make a pencil seem exciting, others liked to ad lib, others had photographic memories. Writing for them meant understanding their skills and exploiting those strengths.
Becoming a wedding speech writer has made me appreciate even more how different people are. I love getting to know the clients I work with and making sure the speech reflects the person they are and the couple they’re celebrating. It’s kind of obvious but no two people are the same so why should their speeches be?