As wedding season approaches, experts in the industry are examining the tradition of speech-giving and exploring how people truly feel about it. Despite the hashtag #WeddingSpeech receiving 914 million views on TikTok, almost a third of Britons (30%) believe that the custom needs modernising for the year 2023.
A recent poll conducted by Hitched among couples in the midst of wedding planning revealed that over four in ten soon-to-be-weds (42%) experience nervousness at the thought of giving their wedding speech. Of those, 27% cited anxiety about speaking in front of a room full of guests, while 72% were more concerned about the content of their speeches and how it would reflect on them.
While wedding speeches are a customary expectation, with parents of the happy couple and leading members of the wedding party often expected to deliver one, it is clear that many are looking for help in preparing for this task. A Google search for the term “wedding speech” yields 16,500 monthly results, while TikTok has over 914 million video views for the same.
For those who are nervous about giving speeches, a life coach shares advice on how to overcome stage fright on the day and why we experience fear of public speaking. While the majority still find wedding speeches fit for purpose, over a third of respondents in the poll found the tradition to be “boring” (8%) or felt that it required modernization (30%).
Life coach Amy Thwaites says the fear of public speaking is more common than we might think. “If you’re feeling a bit uneasy about your upcoming wedding speech, you are certainly not alone!”
“Around 70% of the adult population will experience nervousness around public speaking, while approximately 20%–30% are said to have an actual phobia of public speaking. In studies of the most common human fears, public speaking ranks at number one in the US and number two in the UK, ahead of spiders, snakes, the fear of death, enclosed spaces and the fear of flying.”
Reasons why we might fear public speaking
According to Amy, our nervous systems are programmed to feel fear when we are on our own, and while there are loads of reasons we fear speaking in public, one originates from thousands of years ago.
“Back then, living as a group would protect us from predators, so standing alone away from the group could mean the risk of death. “So the first piece of advice I’d give is to remember that despite what your nervous system is programmed to think about you standing up there alone, you’re not in a life or death situation.”
“The fear of the unknown that comes from taking on this task alone is still very relevant today and can feel overwhelming. We don’t know what people will think, how people will react, or if we will get through the speech without tripping over our words, going blank, saying totally the wrong thing and completely embarrassing ourselves.
“When we are faced with the unknown we protect ourselves by preparing for the worst. Then, if the mother-in-law doesn’t get up and punch us in the face we can deem that a success. But this does not help with the anxiety leading up to the speech.”
Advice for overcoming a fear of public speaking
Amy’s advice for overcoming the fear is to simply ignore it: “Listen to what your mind is saying and question it. Is this thought a fact that can be proven or is this just a story you are telling yourself? If the thought is not based on fact, dismiss it.”
She continues: “Your audience is listening to what you say, not judging your performance. A majority of your audience would feel as nervous as you standing up there doing the wedding speech so they’re probably impressed that you were brave enough to get up there in the first place.
“Try to focus on just talking to them, not performing for them. It can even help to look for a handful of kind faces in the audience and direct most of your attention towards them. This will make the crowd seem smaller and make you feel more comfortable.”
Breathing exercises to try to relax
The best advice Amy has for those nervous about giving a speech is to breathe. “Bringing yourself into the moment rather than thinking ahead to what might happen is a great way to reduce anxiety around public speaking.
“A really simple and effective way to bring yourself into the present moment is to focus on slow deep breaths.” A couple of effective breathing exercises you could try are as follows:
- Inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath in for 4, exhale for 4, and hold your breath out for 4 (repeat 5–10 times)
- Inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 6 (repeat 5–10 times)
- 10 deep breaths
Amy also shares her best advice for the three-quarters (72%) of couples concerned about what might be said during their wedding speeches.
“The fear of what may be said in the wedding speeches again stems from a fear of the unknown, the potential public embarrassment and judgement, or fear of how others may view us. And again, fearing the worst is a subconscious way to protect ourselves.
“An important thing to remember is that your guests are at your wedding because they love you no matter what, and they are all human with their own embarrassing moments and regrettable decisions.
“However, my key piece of advice would be boundaries. If it is not appropriate for your elderly grandmother to hear about that thing you once did when you were at uni, set the boundary that this anecdote is off-limits.
“This is your wedding and if the stress of your dirty laundry being aired to your brand-new in-laws is going to distract you from enjoying your day, have a chat with those you’ve chosen to do the speeches about where you draw the line.
“Just because it’s ‘tradition’ for the wedding speeches to embarrass the happy couple doesn’t mean this has to be the case for you.”