A friend recently regaled me with details of her attendance, over the long holiday weekend, at The Wedding From Hell.
She had been invited to attend the nuptials of her good friend’s daughter, and had travelled from another city to spend the weekend with the celebrating family at one of the premier event venues in Toronto.
Sounds good, yes? So why was it The Wedding From Hell?
To start, there were apparently “hordes” of people in the bridal party. This fact in and of itself isn’t a big issue—so the ceremony takes another five or ten minutes, so what?—but it does have the potential to cause problems later on at the reception.
So let’s get to it…the reception.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that in this digital age, most of us seem to crave constant stimulation. Sad but true. We want to eat (and/or drink) immediately. We want to “have something to do.” We want to be entertained. Sure, we can enjoy drinks and canapes and schmoozing in a cocktail hour following the ceremony, if that’s the time the photos are being taken, but more than an hour is really pushing it. Then the natives start getting restless. And cranky.
So the doors open to the banquet hall…or wherever the reception is happening…guests find their assigned places at their tables, as my friend did, and then…uh-oh! We can’t eat yet? There’s a welcome, often from an M.C. a dad, or one of the hosts of the occasion. That’s okay. And then there’s another speech? And then there’s ANOTHER one, which repeats some of the not-so-hilarious-the first-time anecdotes about the bride, groom or both?
Okay. First course arrives. Tummies are a bit fuller, so –yikes! Another speech? Not a short speech, not a curated speech, but a rambling, off-the-cuff monologue from a member of that monstrously huge bridal party, who therefore felt “entitled” to speak to the gathered masses. Oh, and it seems he’s had a bit to drink during the two hours of cocktails preceding the start of the reception proper. So he is not really saying anything that anyone is interested in hearing.
When my friend looks around the table, eyes are starting to roll. People are shifting in their seats.
The next course arrives, but while guests are eating—and conversing, if the music isn’t too loud to prevent it—attention is required for three MORE speeches. They are not short speeches. They are not particularly gracious speeches. In fact, several of them are more about the speaker than the people whose day it is supposed to be.
To my mind, any bride, groom or person who finds themselves in some sort of hosting capacity, should be devoting at least fifty percent of their planning to their guests’ preferences, comfort and entertainment. Does anyone really want invitees to leave their meticulously-planned celebration muttering, “that was torture!” Or worse “that was six hours of my life I’ll never get back!”
At least at the reception, consideration for one’s guests would suggest the following:
- Think carefully about the number of speeches that will be delivered during the course of the celebration. If you were the guest, what would your tolerance level be?
- If you and/or your fiancé(e) come from blended families, with perhaps step-parents or step-siblings who you also feel deserve an opportunity in the spotlight, don’t discount that there are other opportunities to give them that honor. Perhaps siblings all speak at the rehearsal dinner, which is a bit more casual, or at other pre-wedding events—maybe even one specifically planned as a thank you to them?
- Give a lot of attention to whom will be asked to speak. Though certain people may be very dear to you, they may be unreliable, fearful or simply not up to the task. And though you may feel you are honoring them, it may be an honor they would be happy to forego! So have a forthright conversation with them and determine their comfort level.
- Be firm in limiting the LENGTH of the speeches. When you make the initial ask, you can politely conclude your response with: “I’m thrilled to have you speak on our special day. We’ve asked everyone to limit their remarks to three minutes so there will be lots of time to party.” And you can remind them of that limit several times leading up to the big day!
- Try to stage-manage the content of the various speeches a little if you can. (a speechwriter, if assisting, can do this for you). What you’re trying to do is avoid several speakers repeating the same anecdote or dwelling on the same family legend, which is endearing perhaps to those in the know and can become tedious to guests. For example, you could say to your brother something along the lines of: “Hey, you know the time I got stuck up in the tree and Mom had to call the fire department? Please don’t mention it! I have a feeling Dad’s going to reference it, and we sure don’t need to go there twice!”
- At all costs, avoid constructions in your speech which are a laundry list of thank-yous to everyone in your universe who has been kind or helpful. It may be even more meaningful if you take the time instead to write them a personal note and tell them how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate them and all that they have done for you over the years.
- I can’t tell you how delighted I’d be NEVER to hear these phrases again in a wedding speech: “You look beautiful tonight! I love you!” Repeating these phrases drains them of their sincerity; they remind me of a stereotypical lounge singer’s mantra: “Thank you guys! I love you! I’m here all week…try the veal!” If you really feel someone looks beautiful, take the time to tell them so in person, to their face. I guarantee they will appreciate the compliment even more.
- Make it your goal to be as inclusive as possible, so that every one of your guests feels part of the celebration. So, no “inside jokes” or references, no allusions to other pre-wedding celebrations from which many members of the audience were excluded.
In general, even though it may be YOUR wedding and YOUR day, demonstrating affection and respect for your guests will ensure that you are regarded as thoughtful and gracious. And you will have avoided that rudest of wedding guest behavior: friends and relatives with eyes averted and heads down during the speeches, avidly texting their co-conspirators across the table!