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19/05/2015

9 Secrets to Delivering a Kick-Ass Wedding Speech

To date, I've been a bridesmaid four times. My fifth trip down the aisle is coming up. I've worn the hideous dresses (sorry besties), suffered the sore feet and heard the awkward, unrehearsed and sometimes painful speeches. Considering we are now into wedding season, I have put together my list of tips to ensure that when it's your turn to step up to the mic, you don't have cringe-worthy moments like Steve Buscemi did in the wedding singer.

 

1. Oh No You Don't! Do. Not. Wing. This!

 

The magical speech you want to deliver is not going to materialize when the pressure starts to build and nerves overwhelm you. Use bullet-points to get you started. Ask for help if you need it. Do your homework and know something of interest about each person you want to mention -- and don't miss anyone of importance! You want your speech to have a beginning, a middle and an end. In other words, a journey (like the storyline of a movie). By preparing in advance, you can avoid the majority of pitfalls, such as rambling, that befall the unprepared speaker.

 

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LAUREN'S RULE: Never just go out there and wing it! Take this seriously and do your prep.

 

2. Know Your Audience & Proceed With Caution

 

Audience analysis 101 may seem too business-like for a wedding speech, but understanding who you are speaking to will help you shape and construct your speech so that no one is offended. If you are not sure about something, leave it out. No inside jokes and no distasteful humour! Leave out the controversial bits! Even though we see this all the time in movies, if something caused tension in the past, or deeply embarrassed someone, whatever you do, don't include this in your speech!

 

LAUREN'S RULE: When in doubt, leave it out.

 

3. Disclaimers & Shooting Yourself In The Foot.

 

My clients know my pet peeve is hearing disclaimers at the start of a speech. That means no apologies for being a "bad speaker" or "not good at this." Don't set yourself up like that. The words "I've never done this before" should never come out of your mouth. You will automatically undermine your speech and what you have to share with the room. Remember, you are surrounded with family and friends who really want to hear everything you have to say, sans the self-sabotaging disclaimers.

 

LAUREN'S RULE: Never begin with a disclaimer! You've got this.

 

4. Embrace Being Off-Book

 

For some, the anxiety that comes with delivering a speech can be overwhelming, or even paralyzing. The tendency to want to stick to a script is normal, but when you go "off-book" or look up from the page to speak naturally from your heart, you really connect with your audience and your personality shines through. The trouble is improvising can be daunting. But, no worries. Practice beforehand and you will soon find it's not as hard as you think to go off-book. Try this: Put your finger on the spot in your speech where you plan to leave off (so you can find it again when you recommence reading), then look up and speak as if you are talking to a friend. There are three places to "go off book":

 

1. Your introduction -- Everyone knows how to say "hi" and be welcoming without referring to notes.

 

2. A short personal story about how you know the bride or groom is another perfect place to improvise -- it's your story after all, so this one's in the can.

 

3. Closing: Cheers. A Toast! Thanks a lot! See ya on the dance floor!

 

LAUREN'S RULE: Know your three areas to go off-book and trust yourself to speak candidly.

 

5. Arrive In The Space & Do A Little Dry Run

 

I highly recommend you make time to get behind the podium or up on the stage before it's time to deliver your speech. If you can't get to the space in advance, go online and look at pictures of the venue so you can begin to understand the space you will occupy. This way, you will be in familiar territory when it comes time to formally speak.

 

Here's how to Arrive In the Space:

 

1. Look around the room and take five deep breaths. This will help focus your energy.

 

2. Notice things around the room and acknowledge them: "I see linen covered chairs;" " I see a dance floor;" " I see flowers." Say all of this out loud. By recognizing the elements of a room, you create a familiar space for yourself so that it doesn't throw you off when you finally get up there.

 

3. Notice if you're a little nervous and acknowledge your nerves.

 

4. If you can, do a little dry run of your speech. Speak to all three points of the room: There are people to your left, to your centre and to your right who all want to feel included. Speak to them all.

 

6. Don't just look down at your paper or speak straight ahead.

 

LAUREN'S RULE: Arrive in the space. Get comfortable there. The arriving techniques breed confidence.

 

6. Slooooow Dooown

 

I have to admit it: I really don't like telling someone to slow down without first teaching them how. The majority of us talk super fast and this gets even faster when we're nervous or under pressure. When we practice a speech at a very slow pace, by the time we are actually ready to deliver it, our speaking cadence will be at just the right pace for an audience to understand. This really does work!

 

LAUREN'S RULE: By slowing down, you can deliver your speech in a calm, collected manner.

 

7. What To Do With The Inevitable Nerves

 

You have to accept it. You are going to have nerves. So acknowledge your nerves when they start to kick in. Don't wish them away. Nerves are a natural part of your presentation. If you are sitting and waiting to speak, take in the room just like you did when you practiced at the podium (rule 5). Notice the floor, notice the chairs, the people...this is not to distract you, it is going to keep you in the present, give you something tangible to focus on and will calm you.

 

One reason we get so nervous is because we are underprepared. By doing all this prep work, your nerves will be drastically reduced.

 

LAUREN'S RULE: Your nerves are your friends. They are natural. Welcome them.

 

8. All Joking Aside...Literally

 

Now for the common sense stuff: Be genuine. Be yourself. If you don't semi-regularly take the stage at Second City or feel comfortable being The Comedian, go for a heartfelt, genuine speech. What's better than heartfelt after all? Also don't forget to speak about the bride and the groom separately, as well as to address their fabulous relationship. Share words of wisdom, kind observations about their relationship, and don't forget to wish them well.

 

LAURENS RULE: Don't force humour -- it will come across as fake and inauthentic.

 

9. Lastly, ease up on the alcohol. Need I say more?

 

LAUREN'S RULE: Alcohol and public speaking don't mix.

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14/05/2015

Dunnie Okuribido: 5 Things I Learnt From Planning My Wedding

A typical Nigerian wedding takes several months to plan. It is such an anticipated event that the planning is almost like preparing for a new born baby. You are constantly shopping and having consultations with experts (vendors) just to get that one day right. The planning process practically consumes the bride; before you know it, you are dreaming about bits of the event every night.

 

Contrary to popular opinion I absolutely enjoyed planning my own wedding and have no regrets that we didn’t hire a wedding planner (it was simply stress free; thanks to my mum who was the actual master planner). However I learnt quite a lot from it. Here are a few of the lessons:

 

 

Pictures: budget wedding dresses

 

Never say ‘Never’

 

Having been a maid of honour at two of my closest friends’ weddings in which both ceremonies – traditional wedding (know as engagement ceremony in Yoruba land) and church wedding – were done on the same day, I had vowed that it was too stressful and would never do same. Well, you know what they say about how you can’t know the pain a man feels until you walk a mile in his shoes. Absolutely true. When you actually start planning your wedding, reality sets in and you begin to let go of certain fantasies you have nursed all your life. My wedding was in Abuja and lots of our family and friends were coming from Lagos, so I simply reasoned that it would save a whole lot of money if guests lodged in the hotels for 2 nights (Friday to Sunday) and still got to enjoy both ceremonies from beginning to end. Suffice to say I was the one who suggested having both ceremonies on the same day. I ate humble pie and each time people complained that I wouldn’t enjoy the day because I would be too exhausted I simply replied that I would rest throughout the day before, which by the way I actually did. So if you have been one to say a lot of “I’ll never do this” or “I’ll never use that” get ready to eat your words.

 

You Can’t Please Everyone

 

I probably knew this before, but planning my wedding consistently re-emphasized it. As much as it’s your wedding and probably you, your fiancé and your families sponsoring it, every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to think they have a say in what and how you do things. I got used to constantly hearing annoying questions, complaints and comments, such as:

 

Why is your wedding in Abuja? ….. (Me: Hello…. Where do my parents reside? How can you not have a bridal train?

 

How can you use black and white décor, black is for funerals?

 

Why did you choose yellow asoebi, it doesn’t suit my complexion.

 

Why is your aso-ebi so expensive? Why is your aso-ebi so cheap? Why didn’t you send me aso-ebi?

 

The list is endless but I sure learned to stick to my guts, ignore unproductive public opinion and not try to please anyone but myself and le fiancé.

 

Learn to Trust the Experts

 

I had a hard time deciding on a reception dress style. I seemed to find a new style I wanted to dub on Instagram or BellaNaija Weddings every week. Each time I found a style I would take a screenshot and send out to my friends asking for their opinion. Alheri got tired of my indecision and suggested I meet up with her designer, Karen. When I finally met up with Karen, she said ‘I don’t copy styles I can only recreate them’, so I told her my specifics: a long blue dress to match hubby’s suit, no off-shoulder, no backless, no over exposure of cleavage.

 

She sketched something and suggested fabrics which I insisted she source for herself. She eventually made something quite different from what she had sketched but the bottom line was I loved it at first sight and it was an absolute hit on the wedding day. Incidentally my wedding gown was also custom made and after the first fitting I had asked the vendor to adjust it to be a bit looser so I could be more comfortable, she agreed but to my surprise at the final fitting she hadn’t adjusted anything. When I complained, she insisted that it was perfect and that I would adjust to it, “besides it’s a wedding gown, you aren’t meant to be super comfortable in it” she said. I was very weary of this as I had recently witnessed the zip of a bride’s reception dress burst because it was too tight. Luckily, my gown fit perfectly on the wedding day and by some magic I could sit and walk comfortably in it. Maybe I just happened to have lost a little weight.

 

Lower Price doesn’t Necessarily Mean Lower Quality

 

Finding a makeup artist was one of the most challenging parts for me. Mostly because I live in Lagos and wanted an Abuja based makeup artist. I had figured that using a Lagos based makeup artist would mean additional cost, as transport and accommodation would obviously be included. The problem with the Abuja artist, however, was getting to do a trial. I wasn’t going to Abuja until a week before the wedding so all I had to rely on was pictures of past jobs.

 

I scrolled through Instagram daily in search of an affordable Abuja makeup artist, asked friends and past brides for referrals. After chatting with 7 different artists, I was still not convinced by any of their pictures and I knew I wouldn’t have time for 7 makeup trials in the space of 1 week.

 

In the last trimester of planning, I finally got referred to my final makeup artist by a friend’s sister who happened to model from time to time. I just sensed that she would know a good artist. Surprisingly, Makeup Artist 8 agreed on the lowest price of all the people I had chatted with. Her pictures were promising and she happened to live not too far from my Abuja residence, so I figured the trial would be very convenient which it was.

 

On the wedding day, her work turned out great and despite the fact that she didn’t do a single touch up after the church service, my face stayed perfect all the way till the photographers had retired for the day. Style secret: get the look for less. No one will know if you don’t tell them.

 

You Can’t Control Everything

 

If I had to plan my wedding all over again, I’d probably spend ALL my energy on making sure me and hubby looked our best (not that we didn’t o) but I just won’t waste energy or time on other insignificant details that most brides worry themselves with. In the end you really can’t control whether people stick to the order of photography, what jokes the MC cracks, how many people your parents invite, or the cake baker’s speech. Some things will go wrong and no one will notice. The best you can do is make sure you have fun and wear the perfect smile 99% of the time – because 2 weeks after, people will only be talking about what they see in your pictures.

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13/04/2015

Wedding singer at daughter’s ceremony was no ordinary entertainer

One day in 1973 our daughter, Nicole, announced that she would like a garden wedding on our backyard patio.

 

How do you plan a garden wedding, I wondered? I had never before been faced with this problem. What should I do about music, decorations and the reception?

 

A short while later, we were invited to the wedding dance of a distant cousin. My wife, Jokki, and I never missed the chance to go dancing and we accepted the invitation. There was a small orchestra and one of the entertainers, a saxophone player, so impressed me that at intermission I went up and talked to him.

 

“Do you suppose the orchestra would play for my daughter’s garden wedding?” I asked.

 

“I will come and play for your daughter’s wedding,” he said. “Do you have a piano?”

 

“A baby grand,” I said.

 

 

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We agreed to the terms and I gave him the location and date.

 

On the day of the event the patio was decorated, the food arranged for a reception, and a reverend called.

 

What if he doesn’t show? I was getting nervous and it was time for the musician, Eugene Jackson, to appear. Would someone have to improvise the music?

 

I waited out front with a space saved in our driveway. At the last minute, a big white Cadillac came down the street, past our driveway and wheeled into the middle of my neighbor’s driveway. Al, my good friend and neighbor, was invited so it was OK.

 

The wedding march was played and the ceremony completed with friend Al taking pictures. It was a gala afternoon with food, punch and music. Eugene played all afternoon.

 

The guests gathered around and nobody wanted to leave while Eugene played almost until sundown. He stood on the piano bench and rendered saxophone solos. He played the baby grand and sang and seemed to enjoy the audience as much as they enjoyed him.

 

Afterward, I was amazed to find that he was the kid who played Pineapple in some of Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” comedies of the 1920s, playing Farina’s older brother. At age 6 he was dancing for nickels and dimes on the streets of Los Angeles, where he was discovered by Roach. If you are wondering where the nickname came from, Roach looked at his Afro and called him Pineapple.

 

He went on to star in “Buster Brown” comedies, played Red Foxx’s friend in episodes of “Sanford and Son” and acted in Mary Pickford’s “Little Annie Rooney.” As a grown-up, he starred in many movies and in vaudeville.

 

At the time I hired him to play at my daughter’s wedding, I was not aware of any of this. Evidently, he was available wherever there was a request for entertainment and he was truly an all-around entertainer who could fit into any venue no matter where or for whom.

 

He certainly filled the bill at our little ceremony. He presented us with a signed glossy photograph depicting the various phases of his life.

 

We saw him one more time with our friends, Al and June, at a small club playing piano and singing for the patrons, proving once again that he was available wherever an entertainer was needed and truly one of a kind.

 

Eugene “Pineapple” Jackson was born in 1916 and died in 2001 at the age of 84.

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