Monthly Archives: September 2013

Public Speaking 101


Posted on September 15, 2013 by

Delivering the speech.

Last weekend I was extremely privileged to see two of my best friends tie the knot. Even more so, I was asked to give a short speech at the reception, in conjunction with another very close friend.

It was, I have to say, a very nerve-wracking but enjoyable experience. The thing is, it really shouldn’t have been.

From the age of 10 right through to a year or so after I left university I was regularly involved in amateur dramatics, performing in front of crowds larger than that which was present at the wedding. I didn’t even have to learn lines for the speech!

Further to that I gave dozens of presentations at university. Almost all of them to people who knew their stuff but none of them came close to the nerves last Saturday.

I have actually spoken at a wedding once before, and rather less joyously at the funeral of my mother in 2007. And yes, I was extremely nervous before both of them, for completely different reasons.

At the first wedding, in 2010, I was convinced no-one would laugh, that my jokes would fall flat. It didn’t help that at the time I was struggling with very severe cataracts, which made reading the words a bit more of a challenge.

At the funeral, well, I just wanted to make sure that I gave mum an appropriate send off, which in hindsight I have no doubt that I did.

I’ve always said that standing up in front of those crowds, particularly the latter are two of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I thought this time would be different.

I read the speech out in front of a few friends who would be at the wedding, and my partner-in-speech did the same. No nerves at all. I absolutely nailed it.

‘I’ve done it all before, people laughed last time, anyway it’s a wedding, unless you’re being offensive people are legally obliged to laugh or something,’ I kept telling myself in the run up, and it worked to an extent. The several glasses of free Pimm’s I inhaled at the reception certainly helped too.

When the speeches were announced I was feeling OK, but then as the previous one finished and I was preparing to go, it all went to hell. All of the possible scenarios went through my head at once and I lost it.

But, of course the speech went off without a hitch like it did before, and, if I’m privileged enough to be asked a third time, it likely will again. So why the nerves? Given my history of getting up in front of crowds of people and talking this kind of thing should be my bread and butter.

The only answer I can think of is the personal nature of the words I was saying. A wedding is obviously a huge moment in the lives of two people and to screw that up by saying the wrong words is a momentously bad thing to do.

The words you say on stage are, unless you intend to pursue a career in acting, largely inconsequential. But the words you write and say about someone you love (platonically of course – that would be awkward) are much more meaningful than that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that to anyone who is bricking it about delivering a speech like that, be it for a wedding, a funeral, a bar mitzvah, whatever, the nerves are there for a reason. They’re there to remind you that the words you are about to say actually mean something, that you care enough for the person you’re saying them about that you don’t want to screw up.

And that is why, despite the weeks of worrying I got it right, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. That and all the free alcohol.

Finally I would like to extend the heartiest possible congratulations to Llinos and Cara for taking the plunge, and wish you eternal happiness and lots of dragons.