What this weekend’s wedding can royally teach us about speeches

To celebrate Harry’s and Meghan’s wedding on the 19th I’m sharing 19 canape-sized tips to make you a better public speaker.

The thing with speeches is that if you want to succeed you need not just to be able to speak but to say something that connects, holds interest and is remembered.

These tips help regardless of whether you are speaking in a professional or personal capacity.

  1. Be prepared. When you stand up, all eyes are on you, as is the pressure so best be prepared. Give yourself plenty of time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Ironically the shorter the speech the longer you’ll need to prepare.
  2. Keep it short. Any more than 20 minutes and even the most interesting speakers (Royal Princes and Hollywood A-listers included) lose their audience.
  3. Know your audience. If like Harry’s and Meghan’s, your audience is international, remember the Queen’s English will not be everyone’s first language! We speak more quickly when we are nervous. Keep your pace slow and steady.
  4. Find out what others are saying. You are unlikely to be the only speaker. Find out what your fellow speakers will cover. There’s nothing worse than the same ground being covered by multiple speakers.
  5. Determine what you want people to feel. This will help you focus your content. As someone far smarter than I once wrote, ‘they may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel’.
  6. Script it. It’s nice to think you can stand up with an A5 prompt containing three bullet points but unless you’re a seasoned speaker, you’ll probably go blank. Write out what you want to say and practice. You want to be familiar with the flow – nobody enjoys a speaker who reads from a script.
  7. Forget power point and props. You’ll increase your anxiety if you are relying on props that may (or not) arrive or work. More importantly, you want people to listen to your words, not divide their attention with distractions.
  8. Tell stories. We’ve been telling stories longer than the British monarchy has been in existence – it’s how we understand the world. Telling stories helps you emotionally connect with your audience.
  9. Use metaphor. Paint images that people can hold in their head by harnessing metaphor and visual language.
  10. Employ humour with caution. Remember your audience. In-jokes really aren’t that funny if you aren’t in the in-crowd.
  11. Be kind, always. Never put down another person or competitor to make a point or make yourself look better. There’s enough negativity in the world. Try and find positive news and stories to share.
  12. Rehearse out loud. Your speech sounds very different when you speak it. It has to feel comfortable when you say it. If you are stumbling over words or sentences change them.
  13. Film yourself. Nobody likes to watch themselves but record your speech and watch it back. Pretend it isn’t you on screen but someone you’ve invested time or money going to see – what do you like or dislike? You’ll be amazed at what you learn.
  14. Watch others. There are thousands of inspirational speakers that you can watch for free online. TED is a great resource – uploading new speakers daily. But as we are royally themed today, you couldn’t get a better example of a brilliant speech than from Meghan Markle herself – speaking at UN Women 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDvV-xfrqIM
  15. Be heart-felt. When you are genuinely passionate about something your audience knows. Include authentic content and talk about it in a heartfelt way.   Passion and happiness are infectious.
  16. Don’t drink. Regardless of how nervous you are on the day don’t consume alcohol before you speak – it inevitably ends in disaster. Indeed, try not to drink too much liquid at all, your nerves will already likely be getting the better of you!
  17. Plan your wardrobe. OK, if you are the Best Man you don’t get a choice but what you wear speaks volumes about you, long before you open your mouth. Also, if your speech is being recorded, avoid wearing small checks – they don’t film well.
  18. Empty your pockets. Take out keys, loose change and turn off your mobile phone – they’ll distract you or your audience. And last but by no means least…
  19. Relax. When all eyes are on you, being able to relax is no mean feat but take a few deep breaths before you start and try to enjoy it!

Alex has ghost-written speeches, scripts and presentations that have been presented by leaders on an international stage. She established not A Duff word in March 2017 to help businesses, brands and boards to wordsmith words that work, master their messages to matter and sculpt standout stories. Her blog ‘early words’ is published Thursday mornings at 07:00.

Photo caption Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash


Published by

Alex Duff

Freelance Communications Professional

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