Writing wedding speeches: a sample chapter for you

Welcome to this sample chapter from Wedding Speeches For Everyone!

Wedding rehearsal dinner speeches

Increasingly the (originally US) custom of a formal dinner following a wedding rehearsal is coming over to Europe and beyond. The rehearsal dinner usually happens after the rehearsal itself the day before the wedding, and includes all members of the wedding party plus a few close friends and family.


Some people really let rip and have a totally informal wedding rehearsal party … but don’t push it unless you’re sure the majority of the guests will appreciate it!

In the UK and Europe families often do get together for dinner the night before the wedding, but it tends to be on a more informal basis. If people have travelled some distance or don’t finish work until late the thought of having to get dressed up and attend a formal occasion the night before an even bigger formal occasion isn’t always popular among some of the guests, at least.

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However this may well be changing and the rehearsal dinner, as an excuse for another somewhat more formal party, is becoming more popular in many Western countries. As this is a book about all wedding speeches everywhere, let’s take a look at those for rehearsal dinners and see how they work … for everyone.

Toasts, not speeches (in other words keep ’em short)

The first thing that’s apparent with rehearsal dinner speeches is that they should be a) less formal than those for the Big Day and b) shorter than those for the Big Day. Bear in mind that, as I suggested above, some if not all guests may well be tired and even jet-lagged. Also they will want to be reasonably fresh for the Big Day therefore free from hangovers or other effects from late night partying.

So for one reason or another driven by the points in the previous paragraph, speeches for the rehearsal dinner often tend to be short “toasts,” rather than the full-blown orations you might expect on the Big Day itself. And I don’t know about you, but for me such shorter toasts would be ideal. More about making toasts below.

The traditional rehearsal dinner etiquette

If you really want to follow the rules mainly established in the USA and Canada, we need to look at the whole works as performed (and rehearsal dinners at this level can be performances) by the entire bridal party and rehearsed almost as much as the wedding is rehearsed. Rehearsing the rehearsal…hmm.

With these highly sophisticated weddings the rehearsal dinner provides all players with the chance to exhibit their finery and other expensive trinkets. If your wedding is to be one of those, good luck: there are plenty of other books out there telling you how to dispose of many thousands of pounds, dollars, euros, etc. on the rehearsal dinner as well as the wedding itself.

When do the speeches/toasts happen?

The answer to this varies according to which experts you consult. Some say the speeches/toasts can be interwoven in between courses of the dinner; others say leave them until once everyone has finished their dessert.

It’s your choice of course, but in logistical terms maybe it’s better to intersperse the speech/toasts amongst the courses if there are a) lot of people there and b) a lot of people wanting to speak. But in a smaller, more intimate gathering, keep them until the end.

So what speeches/toasts are we looking at?

These tend to fall into categories similar to those of the wedding itself. Overall, these should be led by whoever is hosting (ergo paying for) the occasion, whether that be parents of the couple or the couple themselves, or a combination.

As long as you can sort out someone to represent the hosting element, s/he should stand up and propose a toast to the spouses/bridal couple.

And who goes next? How much time have you got?

Here we can look at either just one or two short speeches praising and honouring the wedding party, or a long line of participants that includes:

  • The father of the bride or whoever has paid for most of the wedding
  • The mother of the bride
  • The father of the groom
  • The mother of the groom
  • Sister/brother of the bride
  • Sister/brother of the groom
  • The maid/matron of honour
  • The best man/woman
  • Grandfather of the bride
  • Grandmother of the bride
  • Grandfather of the groom
  • Grandmother of the groom
  • Child/children of the bride
  • Child/children of the groom
  • Grandchildren of the bride or groom

As you will observe from this substantial list, for speeches to go on for longer than a few minutes each would have everyone going to bed at well past the witching hour, possibly a little inebriated, and so not in a good place for the morrow’s festivities.

So with no further ado, what should rehearsal speeches achieve?

This is where we ask ourselves how rehearsal speeches/toasts vary … why they do … and even IF they do.

I have read through a large number of US-based website content as well as books about rehearsal dinner speeches and have emerged, sweating slightly, from them wondering why it’s necessary to pre-empt the whole mutual back-slapping and even sycophantic elements of the “formal” wedding speeches with mini-versions the night before.

Of course that sounds cynical and it shouldn’t. The two occasions are separate and here are a few thoughts on how you can differentiate your speeches/toasts on both days…

Father of the bride: a quick resumé of his feelings for the bride and let’s not stay up too late so she gets some rest tonight! Toast to spouses

Mother of the bride: how proud she is of her daughter and how she can’t wait to see her in all her splendour tomorrow. Toast to spouses

Parents of the groom: how lucky we are on the eve of our families’ joining in this marriage … we are so grateful to (other spouse’s family) and our mutual friends to be here. Toast to spouses

Maid/matron of honour: it has been a long, tricky road to get ourselves together for tomorrow but hey, it’s sooo worth it! I know we’re all a little tired tonight but tomorrow I’ll share some of the outrageous things we got up to on (bride’s) hen/bachelorette night…in the meantime sleep well and wake ready for the most amazing day. Toast to spouses

Best Man/Woman: (as for Maid/Matron of honour above.) Toast to spouses

Grandparents/other older relatives of spouse: Really pleased to be here tonight and have loved every minute of it. So kind of you to include us old folks in your pre-wedding dinner. We have nothing to add to the superbly kind words others have spoken other than let’s raise a glass to my wonderful granddaughter / grandson (name) and their spouse-to-be tomorrow: to (Name) and (Name) – I love you both so much. Toast to spouses

Children (adult/older) of the spouses: Thanks (whoever) and all I can say is how thrilled I am / we are to be here tonight starting the celebrations early for (parent)’s and (name)’s wedding tomorrow. You guys rock, and I love that (name) will become my step-parent in less than the next 24 hours. (Make light joke here if you want…) Toast to spouses

Children under 12 or so: Ask them if they want to speak and encourage them if they do. See Chapter 1, page 15. May not be appropriate for them to propose a toast, so just finish on (e.g.) how excited they are about tomorrow and how hard it will be to get to sleep tonight thinking about it all…

And what more should everyone say in their speeches and toasts?

This can be a tricky one, because as we’ve seen it’s so easy to duplicate content from the rehearsal speech to the wedding speech and back again.

Experts’ opinions vary a lot here, but in my view you could overcome that issue by looking upon some of what you say, anyway, as an “abstract” or short preview of what you will be talking about at the wedding.

Another element that’s usually unique to the rehearsal dinner is the fact that it’s smaller and more intimate than the main wedding reception, so you can involve other family members and close friends in what you talk about.

For example, one or other of the spouses can talk about a cousin who has flown all the way over from (place) just to be here, and rather than merely thank them as you would in the actual wedding speech, you can go into a bit more detail about your relationship and friendship. That’s because your smaller, more intimate rehearsal dinner guests are likely to know more about this cousin in the first place and, frankly, be more interested to hear about him/her!

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By the same token this rehearsal dinner might be the more appropriate place for you to talk in more detail about old friendships and funny stories about each other as a larger proportion of your audience will know the people concerned – which always makes these stories even funnier.

If you and your guests are sentimentally inclined, this may also be the best time for you and others to talk about the love you all have for each other and how that is reflected in the happiness being shared both “tonight,” and “tomorrow.”

What happens if there are uncomfortable rifts in one or both families?

Once again, it depends on the individual circumstances. Regrettably the rehearsal dinner, being smaller than the main wedding reception, will bring any warring factions physically closer together. Mutual dislikers can be lost in a large wedding reception crowd and seated some distance apart – but not here.

Needless to say this is not the time to try to mend fences by sitting two guests who hate each other side-by-side.

Try to keep distance between them even in these circumstances and if possible brief one or two close relatives or friends to watch out for any sparks beginning to fly, especially where alcohol is concerned. There’s more about this topic in Chapter 4.

This may be a good time to make it clear that you (as host or one of the spouses) expect everyone to behave themselves at this rehearsal dinner and that they should continue to do so until they have gone home after the wedding.

For example, this part of your speech might go like this…

“We can’t say how delighted we are that so many of our extended families are here with us tonight and tomorrow. It says a lot for the strength of family – you know, that ‘blood is thicker than water.’ We are such a wonderful kaleidoscope of people, and this goes to show that despite us being so individual, love can bring us close together when it really matters.”

What about a bit more entertainment?

A lot depends on who is at the rehearsal dinner, but some people really let rip and have a totally informal party. Often they replace the formal speeches with a bit of fun like games, songs, karaoke, impromptu comedy, magic tricks and more.

If you have someone in your circle who can pull this off, great, and if you can afford to hire some professional entertainers to do it, also great. If you want to DIY with humour and poetry, see Chapters 7 and 8 respectively.

However don’t push it unless you’re sure the majority of the guests will appreciate it. Once again, remember that vivacious partying probably isn’t appropriate given what’s on your to-do list for the next day! Children and older guests, especially, will appreciate getting to bed in reasonable time. 

Toasting words

We’ve looked at this in passing already, but here are a couple of pointers to remember about toasts.

If you expect guests to drink the toasts, make sure everyone has a full glass whether it’s alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. A small group can help themselves from bottles on the table, but for larger groups you probably should tip off the servers to fill up glasses a few minutes before the toasts begin.

Don’t drag the toasts out. At the end of your speech at the rehearsal dinner (and that speech should be short – 3 to 5 minutes max) stop talking and pause for no more than one second, then say something like:

Formal: Ladies and gentlemen: please be upstanding for a toast to the bride and groom / the brides / the grooms / (spouses’ first names)

Informal: OK, come on everyone! Raise your glasses and drink a toast to the gorgeous (spouses’ first names)

Then hand over to the next speaker quickly. If there is another pause here people’s attention may wander off, especially if they have been toasting with alcoholic beverages!

And don’t forget to include a bit of “housekeeping”

Before the speeches/toasts are concluded, be sure to include any practical information you want guests to remember for the next day. Things you may want to include are:

*Breakfast and lunch arrangements (if wedding is later in the day)
*Places of interest nearby (if wedding is later in the day)
*What time they should get to the venue
*Where to park
*Plans for reception and afterwards
*Plans for guests staying on the day after the wedding
*Phone numbers to call if they’re unsure of anything
*Where to find full written instructions on the above

You probably won’t need to include all of the above and it’s best that you keep it as short and simple as possible, as memories are likely to be shorter than usual especially if alcohol has been involved…

Good luck!

And what experiences have you had when giving speeches and toasts at wedding rehearsal dinners? Please share!

“Wedding Speeches For Everyone” out now on HTWB – £1.99 as an instant download. 91 pages packed full of ideas, tips, and more.


Main photo thanks to Greg Ortega on Unsplash