Let's Talk: Wedding Speeches and Toasts

I get asked a lot of questions about speeches and toasts at wedding receptions. Who gives them? When are they given? Are they a 'must'? Can we break tradition? What the heck is the difference? 

The key to opening up the microphone to others at your wedding reception is proper planning and communication in advance of your wedding day. So today I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions about speeches, blessings and toasts with you and answer some big questions in the hopes that it will help you plan an easy breezy reception. Let's get into the toast basics first... 

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The Welcome Toast 

  • The welcome toast is traditionally given towards the start of the reception before the blessing. If the couple has chosen to dance at all (first dance and/or parent dances), this would take place immediately after the bride and groom have finished dancing and taken their seats. 
     
  • The welcome toast is traditionally given by the father of the bride or the host(s) of the wedding. In a welcome break from tradition, I've seen this speech given by both parents of the couple - separate or together. It's not often that my couples are deeply traditional and most pay for their own weddings so both sets of parents may give a toast to welcome family and congratulate their child - not necessarily acting as the event hosts. More than anything, this speech acts as a nice transition from the entrances and dancing into dinner. 
     
  • Alternatively, the newlyweds could give their own welcome toast. At my wedding, we chose to welcome our guests and give a toast to them in thanks of their support of us. A special family member like an aunt, uncle, grandparent or godparent could also easily give this welcome toast. 
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The Blessing 

  • The blessing is traditionally given before dinner is served by the wedding officiant if they are attending the reception or a parent, grandparent or special family member of the wedded couple. 
     
  • It is totally okay to skip the blessing if it's not your thing and you're having a more secular event. If you're skipping the blessing, I would recommend including a welcome toast just so the evening has more flow. If you dance and sit down for dinner without anyone saying anything, it can feel strange. 
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The Newlywed's Thank You

  • Most times the couple will share a short thank you to their guests. If the newly betrothed couple are not giving the welcome speech themselves then I would recommend that this is done towards the end of dinner once everyone has been given a chance to eat their entrees. 
     
  • This is totally optional! I've gone to and shot plenty of weddings where the bride and groom chose not to speak and that's more than acceptable! 
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The Speeches 

  • Ok, a lot of people call these toasts. We're going to refer to them as speeches. When the maid or matron of honor and the best man speak to the couple and the crowd, it does sometimes include a call to action of raising your glass at the end but more than anything, these are longer speeches. Prepared or off the cuff, this is where things usually go awry. 
     
  • Traditionally given by the best man and the maid or matron of honor, I've seen additional speeches included at weddings as well. Occasionally all of the couple's siblings will speak, each of the bridesmaids will share a fun memory, etc. but more on this below! 
     
  • There are two times that these speeches can be given - before dinner or during dinner. 
     
  • Speeches are totally optional and I think more people would skip them if they didn't feel pressured by tradition to have them. 
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Great, we made it through the basics! The welcome toast, the blessing and the bride and groom's thank you are very simple. They are very self explanatory as for their timing within your reception. Can you break tradition and skip them or move them around? Absolutely. Could anyone you choose give the welcome toast? Absolutely. Would it be weird to welcome guests and give a blessing late in the night after dinner? Yes. So for the most part, they plan themselves. 

It's when we start to consider speeches that things get sticky. 

I get the opportunity to witness many dozens of speeches each year and I have no personal connections to any of them - I'm not partial to the inside jokes and I've rarely known my couples since childhood so I'm taking them in just as most of the wedding guests are. I want to share my personal recommendations as a wedding photographer regarding speeches! 

Careful Preparation

  • A few months before your wedding, you should personally invite your speakers to say a few words. Early on, let your wedding party know that speeches are not assumed and then once you have made your choices, give those people notice that you'd like them to speak! This allows you to invite instead of uninvite. When you ask your maid of honor and best man to be a part of your wedding party and take on their roles, it's good to let them know that you don't need them to speak or that you'll let them know with a few months of advanced notice if they do need to speak. 
     
  • Give your speakers a time limit. A lot of wedding blogs suggest 3-5 minutes is a great time length for speeches and I would like to politely disagree. Five minutes is a long time. Be aware that the majority of your guests won't feel a personal connection to these speeches. They are incredibly specific and filled with inside jokes. While they can be extremely memorable, it's best if they are short and sweet. I personally recommend no more than 2 minutes per speaker. 
     
  • Ask your speakers to prepare their remarks. Whether they write out what they want to say and read word for word or they write down their bullet points, I always suggest that speakers are prepared! I've seen waaaaaaay too many unprepared groomsmen try to speak off the cuff, get nervous and end up rambling on for 10+ minutes with a total lack of direction while guests look around confused. 
     
  • Plan these thoughtfully! If you're front loading your reception activities, consider doing your speeches during dinner. Even if your guests enjoyed a cocktail hour, they're still waiting for dinner! Some have traveled quite far to celebrate with you. They've sat through your ceremony and made it to their dinner seats at your reception. Don't hold them hostage without food! Even if you have salads on the table, once you've done your dances, welcome toast and blessing, your guests are ready for that hot meal. I highly suggest doing the wedding party speeches once your plated entrees are served to each table or after every table has gone through the buffet line. Guests can easily listen and enjoy those speeches while they eat. Your guests will thank you and so will your caterer.
     
  • The only time that I would recommend placing speeches at the front of your reception timeline before dinner is if you're waiting until later to dance (first dance and parent dances) and you know that each speaker will take less than 2 minutes. 
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One additional note: I don't ever recommend an open mic at a wedding reception as it can drag on and keep the evening's activities from happening on time. This could delay dinner, shorten your dance floor time or affect your photography schedule (like sunset or night portraits). If you feel the need to allow many people to speak, the time to do it is your rehearsal dinner!