How to Pick an Appropriate Story to Tell During a Speech

Modern Etiquette

Pop Quiz: which of the following stories would be appropriate to tell in a wedding speech?

The one about the newlywed going on a Tinder date every day the first month they lived in New York.

The one about the bride going on a transformative solo trip to Indonesia after a bad break up.

The one about the groom whispering in your ear at a party that he just met the love of his life.

The answer? All of them — and also none of them, necessarily.

The truth is that selecting an appropriate story as a centerpiece of your wedding speech depends entirely on circumstances: the couple, the tone of the wedding ceremony / reception, and the social dynamics of the invited guests.

Perhaps, that’s precisely why so many people miss the mark when it comes to the stories they include in their wedding toasts and speeches — it’s difficult to tell, even if you know the couple well, what might read as inappropriate at an event they’ve likely been planning for months and at which their closest friends, family, family friends and even colleagues might be present.

The Way-Back-Thens

This category refers to those lively tales about one or both members of the couple before their relationship began. Tonally, they may vary, just like the people they describe. Perhaps the groom was a total party boy in college, known for his bed hopping and bad behavior. Perhaps, he was reserved, quiet, focused — the scrawny nerd who decided, one summer at fifteen, to train for an ironman.

Regardless, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to approach these stories. A little light-hearted teasing is a cornerstone of the genre, but you should be mindful nonetheless — consider your usual rapport with your friend: how comfortable are they with jokes at their expense? Then, dial-it back a notch or two in observance of the fact that their wedding day is an emotionally heightened time, during which even one too many “harmless” jokes at their expense may sting.

More importantly, you should ask what function the “way-back-then” story is serving. Yes, these can be essential in providing context on a newlywed’s history, the kind of person they are at their core. But the true power of this genre is in providing a base from which to expound on how their relationship with their partner has helped them develop into a better version of themself. How have you witnessed them grow throughout the years, and through this partnership in particular? How does their partner help balance them out?

Hitting the right note on this point of change and growth is essential to make good on any embarrassing details you may share or jabs you make about their past or personality.

The Romantic History

Another common category of wedding speech anecdote is tracing the romantic arc of one of the nearlyweds. Siblings and old friends have all the juicy details: from the obsessive intensity of a middle school crush, to first love’s bitter wound, to the trail of awkward escapades that never made it past the first date. Sharing stories from a newlywed’s romantic history can be additive, helping to trace the invisible string (shoutout Taylor Swift) that led them to their partner.

Done incorrectly, however, they can be incredibly inappropriate and distracting. Like, why are we talking about her exes again?

Making these stories “work” depends again on framing: any ventures into the romantic past should be used to help create a sense of destiny, or to probe the experience and growth that was necessary for your friend or family member to endure to be ready for this partnership.

Given that these can be fraught, we recommend asking permission from both partners before evoking past relationships, as well as checking if any of the people in question will be attending the wedding. Regardless, be sure to omit any names and keep the story focused on the newlywed — not just what happened, but what they learned from past experience.

The Friend or Fam POV

This last common category are stories that add color and context on the newlywed’s actions and behavior since their current relationship began: from the call the bride made to her sister after her first date with her spouse to the love advice a mother gave her son a few months into the relationship.

These tend to be the most likely to be appropriate at a wedding, given they innately involve both parties of the marrying couple. That said, tone remains key. While you can never inhabit the emotions of your friend or family member, you can reflect on your own observations: how this relationship, in your view, helped them become more themself.

Ideally, this kind of story can remind your friend of their own emotional arc, the key moments that led to today, as well as convey your appreciation and blessings to their partner. You stand as a witness to their love.

Pop Quiz: which of the following stories would be appropriate to tell in a wedding speech? The one about the newlywed going on a Tinder date every day the first month they lived in New York. The one about the bride going on a transformative solo trip to Indonesia after a bad break up.
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