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A Stand-Up Comedian's Best Tips for Giving a Great Wedding Speech

If you want your speech to bring the laughs, these tips are for you.

Contributing Writer
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Photography by: Sterling Social

Emma Willmann is a hilarious stand-up comedian who co-hosts Waking Up with Taylor and just snagged a spot on the upcoming season of HBO's Crashing. But she has one other role under her belt the rest of us can relate to: maid of honor. While many tremble at the thought of public speaking, Willmann (to no one's surprise) recently delivered a hilarious speech at sister's wedding. Now she's here to share her expert advice with anyone looking to deliver a funny (yet touching!) toast at the reception.

 

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Let people know who you are.

And that entails more than just what your name is. "A popular school of thought when doing a stand-up set is that you should contextualize yourself right away," says Willmann. "If I don't make fun of how I look, address my hair, the Ellen-ness of my appearance—people get confused. They are wondering if I know, and if the audience is thinking for more than a nano-second, they are not listing, and that is a problem." So, what does contextualizing mean for you? If you and the bride are related, tell everyone (you'll also be able to get away with teasing her more). If you broke your arm two days before the wedding, address the fact that you've got a hot pink cast. "Your relationship to the bride helps contextualize your point of view, and in a way is like a credit," Willmann adds. "At a comedy show, a comic is introduced with their best credit so the audience knows this is a pro—say your credit!"

 

Remember your voice.

Writing a speech is different than writing a research paper (for many obvious reasons), but the most important one of all is the fact that this will be read aloud. The way we write and the way we speak are two different things, and it's important to keep that in mind while preparing your words. "Try and write how you actually speak," advises Willmann. "It might feel weird at first but, it's much more realistic and it will work in the moment."

 

Choose your words carefully.

This is your best friend/sister/cousin. You share everything! So is anything off-limits in a MOH speech? According to Willmann the answer is, "Yes. Lots of things," and she's right. If you have a hilarious story from spring break, or an embarrassing moment that brought you closer together, save it for the card. "Anything that does not enhance the experience for the person you are there to support is off limits."

 

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Think about your delivery.

The way you deliver a speech is just as important (if not more so) than what you're actually saying. On this topic, Willmann stresses the importance of pacing and reading slowly. "I had a big show where I kept forgetting what I was going to say next. The next day, a reporter reviewed me and noted how great my timing was. They said I really had a master of the pause. The truth is, I usually talk too fast, and was just totally in my head going, 'Was I going to say eagle or English muffin for this joke?'"

 

Another part of delivery is your body language, and it's something Willmann cites as one of the biggest mistakes people make when speaking in public. "I think sometimes people are so focused on what they are saying, and trying to get through it, they forget their movements. If all else fails, just focus on holding the mic, don't touch your face, don't move your hips or tap your foot—it sends all kinds of confusing signals." In other words: fake it 'till you make it. You may be nervous and think you're reading at a snails' pace, but your audience will think you're crushing, not crashing. 

 

Don't fear the crowd.

Even the toughest room at a wedding is still a great audience, Willmann explains. "This group of people rooting for you because you have something in common... you have a friend or family member you both care about, and that is a very special group of people," she says. Ultimately it means you have a bit more leeway when it comes to long stories or jokes, you can stumble on your words, and your material doesn't need to be Seinfeld-esque. The crowd wants to laugh and wants to enjoy your speech—and that's a very good place to be. "I've seen people say, 'Oh no, I have to follow XYZ,' but it's not a competition…just pay attention to making the couple feel good and you are golden!"