How to give a killer maid of honor speech that’ll actually benefit your career


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Being a maid of honor comes with some major responsibilities: planning a bachelorette party, shopping for the dress, and, of course, making a meaningful speech at the reception.

Regarding that last line item on the to-do list of the bride’s right-hand lady, the and nerves and stakes are both undoubtedly high, but the payoff can be huge—in more ways than one. Turns out that special, tearjerking speech can actually be repackaged and repurposed in a way that’s totally useful. (And no, not in the same vein as a bridesmaid’s dress you can “totally shorten and re-wear!” Cue: eye roll.)

Not to be hyperbolic or anything, but a MoH speech can make or break a wedding—and a friendship, for that matter. But when you get the skills necessary for an epic oration down pat, you can also apply ’em to your job, thus propelling your career to new heights.

Upcycle your killer MoH speech for career gains

The key to a great MoH speech is zeroing in on the positives and not paying attention to bumps in the road, even if for comic relief, says lifestyle and etiquette expert Elaine Swann. “You should focus on the positive traits of the bride, the couple, and how much positivity and hope they bring to others.” Wendy Toth—career coach, Power Suiting founder, and two-time maid of honor—echoes that sentiment, adding that you should “never want to publicly embarrass” the bride. But sometimes it’s tough to decipher whether a certain anecdote is an innocuous-yet-hilarious childhood memory or a potential skeleton in the closet. To this point, Toth says to consider the entire guest list and use it as a litmus test of sorts. “Think about how the story will be processed by every single person the audience. If your BFF’s wild cousin will get a kick out of the story, but her nanna will be horrified, save it for the bachelorette party.”

Another thing Swann says to avoid? Low-hanging fruit at the guest of honor’s expense.  “You absolutely don’t want to share any stories of hardships, or exes who treated them terribly, or mention how many frogs they had to kiss. It’s important to remember this is a toast, and not a roast.

Just like you want to point out the things that make the bride so great, you’ll want to do the same at work.

This advice not only works in Ballroom C, but the boardroom as well. “Let’s say you’re giving a postmortem on a project that didn’t work out,” Toth says. “Even if you are expected to be brutally honest about the results, do not name names. Never call someone out on a mistake in front of a group.” Just like you want to point out the things that make the bride so great, you’ll want to do the same at work. “Focus on the positives the job—the wins, as opposed to the losses,” says Swann.

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Photo: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

The 3 S’s for success in wedding and work speeches

Now that you know what you should (and more importantly, shouldn’t) say during a wedding speech or an office presentation, just keep in mind Swann’s three S’s for success: short, sweet, and succinct. “The anxiety people often get comes from thinking they have to fill in a lot of time. The key is brevity,” she says. Don’t feel the need to fill in moments with unnecessary jokes or anecdotes—just get to the heart of the matter.

At a wedding, address the audience as a whole and then focus on the bride and groom. Similarly at work, you don’t want to just speak to your boss, but rather everyone in the meeting. And even if the three S’s don’t squelch your nerves, keep in mind that no one expects you to be a professional orator.

How to turn a speaking mistake into magic

Notecards for a MoH speech and notes for a work presentation are both totally acceptable tools to use to help you succeed and get back on track in the event that you lose your place or train of thought. And if you stumble, don’t sweat it.

“Admit you messed up, then use your mess-up to make a quick, simple conclusion,” Toth says. A go-to MoH speech save is to say, “Sorry! I’m so nervous, I lost my train of thought. I guess I’m so nervous because I love my best friend so much. I want this day to be perfect, and I only want the best for you. Clearly you’ve found it. Cheers!” And if you have more to say after a mistake, Swann says to put it behind you and keep going. “The best way to get back on track is to get back on track.”

And—no surprises here—very similar logic applies to slipups in work presentations “If you forget a figure or fact at work, own it right away,” Toth says. “Admit you forgot, but say you’ll be happy to email the details to the group after.”

Ultimately, Toth and Swann agree that the most important aspect to remember is that sincerity in what you want (and need) to say in a MoH speech is what makes for a truly great and memorable toast. Now, take a sip of the bubbly and relax—you did it. And for a work win, come time for happy hour after work, order yourself a well-earned cocktail to celebrate a well-delivered presentation that could’ve made a bride blush.

Really nervous about the speech? Well, it might not be recorded, thanks to the unplugged wedding trend. And here are great wedding registry suggestions for wellness-minded couples.

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