I was on a mission.  I wanted research from the trenches.  So I decided to poll some of Toronto’s top event planners to learn what’s happening out there in the wedding speech arena.  Are couples coming up with innovative ways of entertaining their guests? Are multiple toasts still the norm?  Who’s speaking? Who’s M.C.’ing? Has anything proved disastrous?

Here’s what my people in the know had to tell us, and I thank them for sharing their knowledge:

Melissa Baum, Melissa Baum Events

Rebecca Chan, Rebecca Chan Weddings and Events

Jodi Gagne, Simply Perfect

Karen Garscadden, Karen G Events

Heidi Gruenspan, Heidi Gruenspan and Associates

Lynzie Kent, Love by Lynzie

When it comes to the ideal length for a speech, I was surprised at the variation in responses offered.

The average, and what I personally typically suggest, is three to five minutes.  “Short, sweet and from the heart,” adds Jodi (JG).  Lynzie (LK) has the most tolerance for length, and is willing to go five to ten minutes, but Karen Garscadden (KG) decrees two to three minutes for parents and other toasts, and five minutes max for the bride and groom.

What about the perfect number of speeches?

A wide variation again.  Rebecca Chan (RC) wants to let the guests enjoy their dinner…so no more than three to four.  But JG feels you’re safe with up to five, and LK likes to pepper speeches between courses, with two per course.

How about the top tip for organizing speeches that the guests will appreciate?

It seems big picture planning and avoiding repetition are the order of the day. KG suggests all speakers coordinate to determine who will deal with thanks, honorable mentions, and who talks about the bride and groom and/or guest of honor, while MB warns against speakers repeating the same memory, and about keeping personal stories to a minimum, and relatable to all audience members. To ensure guests are entertained rather than drained from too many speeches in a row, JG suggests spacing them out to ensure a natural flow.

Is there a trend toward creative speeches?

Well…..no.  MB feels most people lean toward the traditional, but KG admits one unique presentation can be fun, provided you have talented family and friends. The event should not, however, be used as a showcase to stage a talent show! JG finds slideshows are still popular, but notices that though they are fun for the bride and groom to watch, the guests seem much less entertained, so beware before you spend countless precious pre-event hours on a task that may not be appreciated!

What trends should be avoided?

KG is no fan of video presentations, and JG admits that clients this year have tried an open mic concept a few times, but since this idea cedes total control to the guests, it can be very risky in terms of the timing and content.

Careful consideration should be given to choosing the M.C. for your event.  You are relying on that person’s judgement throughout your celebration!  So what qualities should you look for?

KG’s ideal M.C. can keep things moving, provide introductions that are short yet meaningful, is able to command attention for the right reasons, be brief, organized and ready to step in and wrap things up.  A good sense of humor is important to JG and MB, but not if it comes to relying on inside jokes, which are a definite no-no.  Oh yes, a loud voice helps, and for JG, it’s all about that hard-to-define charisma.  We all know it when we see it, though!

How about two or more people speaking together?

Mixed responses here.  LK and JG are not much in favor of this idea, feeling there is too much overlap, making the presentation too lengthy.  LK suggests one person speak on behalf of the group, having polled them in advance for their ideas and memories.  JG feels one speaker at a time is the way to go, unless the chemistry between the two is spot on…but cautions she’s only seen it work well once in fifteen years!

But KG thinks a team speech can be effective if it’s well-organized and delivered.  And she has lots of instructions on how to pull it off: “Each speaker should have their own set of notes.  Don’t shuffle back and forth.  Follow the script, so you’re not looking for your place when it’s your turn to speak. And practice, so the timing and banter flows smoothly!”

There was a final question I couldn’t resist asking: is there a single speech that stands out in your mind, and if so, what made it special?

 HG remembers those that have humor with universal appeal, and JG also cites just the right amount of humor, as well as a gift for storytelling.  However, she also mentions one that stood out for the wrong reason:  the father of the bride roasted his own daughter, relating jokes that were simply inappropriate.

So there you have it:  Three to four speeches, each three to five minutes, coordinate to avoid repetition, don’t wrack your brain trying to come up with a creative format if you’re not the creative type, choose a charismatic, organized M.C., avoid group efforts unless you’re sure they will be well-presented and received, and avoid roasting by anyone of anyone!

If humor isn’t your thing, just replace it with sincerity, and your entire agenda will be a piece of (wedding!) cake!