What's the most dangerous thing at a wedding?
It might not be what you think.
As a DJ for hire, I played around a hundred gigs a year for more than a decade. Most of these were weddings. All of these events involved someone speaking in some form or another. It was easy to know a lot about a family organization or group, not just by the music they liked dancing to but by how they approached their speeches.
Some tended to read. CEO’s at corporate events did this most of the time. These readings though thorough, accurate and steady tended to lack warmth, emotional range and connection to the audience. They were more fact broadcasts than connections with humans.
This cool, correct certainty wasn’t limited merely to the C-Suite people. At a gig the week after our daughter was born, an engineer speaking at his daughter’s wedding shocked me. I had just witnessed the miracle of birth. Everything about being a dad for me touched the softest parts of me. This dude? He was different.
His speech read like his daughter and new son in law’s CV’s. He listed their accomplishments before meeting. He listed the professional and material goals they had achieved together. He speculated about the cars, homes, cottages and grandchildren that they might be able to produce together.
I closed my eyes and imagined a project manager giving a report at a meeting. Yup. That’s where I was. That’s what he was doing. Totally devoid of emotion, not a joke in the speech, I had some questions about this man’s neurological makeup. He seemed a little ‘different.’
His son was the MC that evening. He began his speech in a very standard joke these days: “I didn’t know what to do or what advice to give, so I checked with Google.”
Laughter. That terrible joke always kills at weddings. Things got worse. Yup. He checked Google not just for ‘how to do a wedding speech’ but also, ‘what jokes can I tell at a wedding?’ His speech was littered with all of the classic wedding jokes. He sealed it with the ultimate wedding closer. This joke I have heard at more than 50% of the weddings I worked. You may be familiar with it.
Bobby, take your right hand and place it on top of Suzie’s left hand. Take a moment now to enjoy this feeling. Take this all in. Remember this moment. This is the last time in your marriage that you’ll have the upper hand.
Kill me now.
You’d think that in over a thousand events, I’d meet people with better jokes. Perhaps some sort of S+M twist to that wedding joke with handcuffs and gag ball. Anything but the same trite jokes.
Nope. Nadda chance.
Trite jokes are necessary for the movement of wedding speeches. They aren’t really funny. They set a tone for families coming together. They say “None of our people really know any your people so we’re going to agree to laugh about basic stuff so we don’t freak you out’
(or something like that)
Good speeches were different.
Good speakers had cue cards. They didn’t read. They hit key points and connected with people in the audience. They moved up from the cue cards and out to connect with other humans. They listened to and incorporated the calls out from the peanut gallery. Though spontaneous, these speeches always had a structure, a shape, an arc, and most importantly an ending.
Some even had a ‘little red dog’.
The greatest speakers? These brave motherfuckers walked up to the podium empty handed. Spontaneous speakers seem to have a similar pattern. They stew about what to say for quite a while. They practice quietly their main points. Have a drink. Take a heart felt leap and follow their guts.
These were either exceptional or, rambling on too long without an ending. With too much booze, they could become an utter disaster.
People are moved at weddings. Many people feel moved to speak. In some cultures, it’s very normal for a series of wedding guests to sing a selection of scholcky, saccharine, awful ballads karaoke style to the bride and groom. Thankfully this is a culture where the illusion of religious piousness is important.
At these wedding receptions, the priest eats first and the receptions don’t go late. The bride and groom are expected to want to leave early. They are expected to be excited to go home and fuck for the first time. Staying late for a wedding reception is seen as an indication that premarital sex took place and is therefore quite shameful.
This was dangerous. A mic in the hands of a wedding guest is the most dangerous thing at a wedding. Luckily, in these cases, people only sang. Sure, some of their song choices were worse than terrible. As bad as they were, they did no harm.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the most dangerous thing at a wedding before getting married myself. We had the most anarchistic wedding ever. There was a head table. No one sat there. I served much of the food. I cleared most of the plates and spent most of the meal visiting people and topping up wine glasses. Did I mention that I was the groom? I was also a waiter at the time so it only seemed natural.
This wasn’t the worst part. We had speeches. Well. We didn’t plan on having speeches. We planned on getting really drunk and dancing with our friends. The older people who were used to going to weddings? They expected speeches. They expected to laugh at me having the upper hand for the last time. They expected the regular kind. We had other ideas.
I think it may have been my sister in law who insisted the most. She loves to sing. She loves to teach. Though she would be loath to admit it, she loves being the centre of attention. She needed to speak.
At the very moment that the movement took hold of her to speak, another wedding guest who had traveled a great distance then smoked too much pot. She had passed out in the parking lot. She may have hit her head. I was dealing with cops. I was dealing with the ambulance. I was dealing with my friend. And I was expected to hear speeches.1
I came back in, listened then took the mic and said the fatal words: “If anyone else has something to say to us, feel free. Open mic.”
Top gear top tip: NEVER INVITE DRUNK PEOPLE TO GIVE OPEN MIC SPEECHES AT A WEDDING.
Can you imagine? Think about it. Think about how bad it could go? Make that worse, then leave out the alcohol fueled resentment of a scored lover and you’re vision of things is likely pretty accurate. There were a lot of drunk people. People told a lot of wandering stories that went no where.
I’ve watched it again recently with different eyes. The content of the speeches is still terrible. People were embarrassing, repetitive and sloppy. And? Under their speeches, the motive to talk seemed to be moving in the same direction. People were caught up in love. Sure they were messy, stoned and slurring. And the day was filled with love. Their words were also filled with love. The mess of speeches complemented the paper bag princess feel we were going for. Everything moved in a similar direction.
What the hell does this have to do with you?
At our wedding people wanted to join in the love. They were motivated to share in the experience and add to the love. This is super clear when I watch. There were people speaking who we wouldn’t have asked. And, when they spoke, I initially wondered, what prompted them to speak? I asked this without really asking this.
When you listen to people speak, there are many things going on. We hear their stories. We hear their words. We hear their tone. We hear their desire. We can also hear what’s motivating people to speak. It’s there in the dynamics of how they begin and the tone of how they speak.
Today, if you encounter someone spontaneously speaking with you, take a moment to imagine what’s moving them? What direction is their movement taking them? What is the goal?
Notice that ‘how’ they engage in speaking with you may hold clues as to what’s motivating them and may offer more clues about what want than what they are actually saying.
This has been driving me nuts. Speak vs speech. EA then EE? What in the name of all that leaves my body through my bum is wrong with the English language?