My partner and I recently decided to get married. While out with one of the wedding guests last week, she remarked, out of the blue, "I've been working on my speech for your wedding." I was stunned. While my partner and I like this person and did invite her to the wedding, we had not asked her to speak.
I think I said, "great," because I was so caught off-guard. The problem is, when it came to deciding who should speak, we chose from the many friends and family who know us better and longer than this woman. Is there any way we can explain to her that while we still welcome her attendance at the wedding, we would rather leave the speech-making to others?
First of all, may I say I think your instinct is a good one?
A wedding ceremony is, in part, theatre, spectacle, entertainment - bread and circuses to keep the half-crocked rabble you've invited (a.k.a. your friends and relatives) from becoming restive and cranky. And too many speeches can do as much damage to an otherwise well-orchestrated wedding as too many long-winded monologues can to a play or movie.
I once flew to the Italian Riviera to attend the "destination wedding" of a hotshot pal.
The cash outlay to get there was like a knife in my heart. But it quickly shaped up to be one of those awesome, once-in-a-lifetime, this-is-what-it's-all-about type deals. The food was delicious. The scenery, breathtaking: gilded youths jumping off the decks of their daddy's yachts into the azure waters of the Gulf of Genoa. People scooting along the cobblestone streets on Vespas. The whole thing was like a Fellini film.
The ceremony and speeches took place in a hauntingly beautiful medieval monastery.
And that's where the bride's sisterzilla single-handedly almost kiboshed the joyful momentum of the entire proceedings with an unbelievable toe-pincher of a speech.
She droned on and on, filling the summery Italian air with meandering anecdotes beginning in earliest childhood. Her words were deeply moving - to her. Halfway through, she burst into tears that flowed down her cheeks as freely as the chardonnay had, no doubt, flowed down her throat beforehand.
Her speech lasted, I swear, 25 minutes. People were openly groaning. Afterward, the groom was grim. The bride was furious, and heard to be darkly muttering her sister "ruined" her wedding.
Now, I've seen a fair amount of this in my time. So, with wedding season upon us, before I get to my advice re your friend, allow me to offer as a public service announcement, David Eddie's Three Cardinal Rules of Wedding Speechification.
They're simple: 1) Don't get drunk beforehand; 2) Do not attempt to ad lib or "wing" your speech; 3) Never, ever do both.
I've seen whole reputations go down the toilet like a struggling spider when people ignore these rules, especially the last one.
In particular, I recall a face-grabber from a drunken, winging-it father of the bride, which began by informing us his daughter "was never the most attractive or intelligent of my offspring …"
And it went downhill from there. Afterward, no one could look at him the same way.
Okay, on to your case. As I say, I agree with your instinct to limit the speeches. I would go even further and say: If you can, keep the number of speeches down to four or five.
Second, unless the speaker is a noted raconteur, wit and bon-mot specialist, ask him or her (with great politeness and circumspection, natch) to keep it short and sweet. Say, five minutes max. Remind them that when it comes to speeches, brevity is the essence of mercy toward the other guests.
As to what to say to this woman who wants to speak at your wedding, that seems pretty straightforward to me: Just tell her what you told me, i.e. it's nothing personal, but you've been planning this thing for a while and you already have a full roster of speeches.
Deliver the message gently, but with wedding-crystal-like clarity - and as soon as possible. The less time your friend spends preparing her remarks, and the more she has to adjust to the fact she won't be giving a speech, the better.
But I wouldn't feel guilty about it, not for a nanosecond.
Your coming nuptials are not about her. It's about you and your spouse-to-be. As a guest, she should abide by every last one of your wishes with good grace, no matter how capricious and arbitrary they may seem.
It's your big day. You want it to be moving and poignant, of course - but also legendarily fun. And the fewer and shorter the speeches, the sooner the DJ can drop that needle - or fire up his iPod - and get the party started.
David Eddie is an author and the co-creator of the TV series The Yard , airing this summer on HBO Canada.
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