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A wedding is like a theatre production and, sorry gentlemen, for most of the show you are just supporting characters who just have to turn up on time and not bump into the furniture.
The bride is the star and she probably won’t turn up on time but the hair, make-up, wardrobe and dramatic entrance are all hers. When it comes to the speeches part of the day though, the men may step forward for a brief cameo.
Like all good theatre, the success lies in the timing. You don’t want to wait until some guests may be ready to fall under the tables or dance on top of them, nor do you want it to be a case of premature oration. It normally falls to the bride and groom to decide when the speeches will be made but input may be asked for. It’s a good idea to write down who will be speaking in order and give that to the Best Man or Master of Ceremonies, that way you know when it is your turn to get nervous. If it is a casual reception with just drinks and nibbles let everyone arrive, meet the wedding party and get a drink then have the speeches soon after. This gives a focus to the occasion and, at the final toast, signals a time to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. Delegate the person (Best Man is good) to get everyone’s attention and go from there.
At a more formal reception (sit down dinner) there are a number of options. Again, you can welcome the guests and get the speeches out of the way at the beginning of the night, but that usually won’t produce the best ‘theatre’ – better to let people settle and mingle a bit. Also, an audience that has been fed and watered can be more receptive, especially if there are a few speeches to be made. If you do decide to open with the speeches, wait until after Grace if you are going down that road.
Another option is to leave all speeches until the end of the meal and have them before or after the cutting of the cake. This can be a little risky because of some guests getting stuck into the booze and cutting the cake is really a separate item that puts the focus back on the bride. On the other hand it can work well to tie all the formalities together. Also keep the speechmakers’ drinking habits in mind. They are there to enjoy the evening as well and, as a rule of thumb, when it comes to alcoholic drinks prior to speeches, think of them as breasts – one is too few, three is too many. A couple of drinks will diminish the nerves but not the performance.
The other option is during the meal. You may like to spread the speeches over the course of the evening – have the welcome before entree, a speech between entree and main course, a speech or two between main course and dessert and close the evening with a final speech, toast and the cutting of the cake. If you would like all the speeches together, after the main course is probably the most suitable time (let catering know your plans so they can also time accordingly).
Finally, a tip on toasting – a toast may end a speech but it is not is not a speech in itself (although for those of very few words it can take the place of a speech). It should only be a few pertinent sentences. If it is your job to propose a toast, take your time, look at the person/people you are toasting and speak directly to them, not the guests (until you ask them to join you in the toast). Following the toast (e.g. “To the bride and groom…”) it is customary to raise your glass and take a sip.