As a rule, wedding speeches are either painfully awkward or hopelessly generic. It’s not easy to stand uncomfortably in front of the banquet table, doing your best to consolidate a lifetime’s worth of memories while editing out all the PG-13 bits.
Have you ever tried, and failed, to translate an arcane inside joke in front of all the in-laws you don’t know? Have you ever clenched your teeth as a maid of honor got a little too real? Have you ever watched a clueless father of the bride putz around with an endless Powerpoint presentation? Wedding speeches are easily the worst 10 minutes of what’s supposed to be the best night of a couple’s life, but thankfully, 52-year-old Den Pope has stepped in to disrupt the process.
Pope is sole proprietor of NailYourSpeech.com, a website he started in 2015 after decades in the marketing and corporate speechwriting industry. For a $429 fee, he will compose and deliver a wedding speech that’s perfectly tuned to your audience. Pope services all comers — maid of honors, fathers of the bride, best men — and he prides himself on personal service.
After making an order, Pope will spend an hour on the phone with his client, investigating the specifics of their relationship to the soon-to-be happy wife or happy husband. Afterward, he uses that conversation to ghostwrite the beats of an impressive, heartfelt, and above all else, professional-sounding speech. (For a few added fees, he’ll also coach you on delivery, enunciation, and stagefright strategy.)
Pope expects each speech to be a hit, with distant aunts and uncles telling you what a great job you did. If you aren’t surrounded by well-wishers, Pope considers that a failure. His website is built around a singular premise: Convincing everyone involved that wedding speeches don’t have to be bad.
Pope tells me that the wedding speech business now constitutes as much as 50 percent of his total income — especially during the summer months, when it can often feel like there’s a ceremony every weekend. He calls it the most fulfilling venture of his career; something he believes adds real value to the world. We talked about that, as well as what it’s like to spend so much creative energy on someone else’s matrimony, writing from a variety of different perspectives and cultures, and the clichés that anyone with a live mic ought to avoid.
How did the wedding speech business start?
Well, I have a master’s in journalism and my background is in marketing, and I spent many years doing the marketing thing.
I did corporate speeches, but I fell into the social speechwriting gig from clients here and there who would say, “Hey, I’ve got a father of the bride speech coming up, I’ve got a eulogy speech coming up.’
It was the first time I felt like I was adding some real value to the world. The world doesn’t need another ad campaign for an insurance product. So about four years ago, on a whim, I started a website to explore that a little bit more. And it took off, much to my surprise and delight.
How much is the wedding speech business a part of your overall portfolio?
Say May through September — I don’t know the percentages, but it’s a hustle. It’s probably half of my portfolio. But through the wedding speech business, I’m able to do other speeches and other things. I did a letter for a father of the bride that I worked with, where we wrote a letter to the donor family of a heart he received in a transplant.
I still do some marketing stuff as well, but I haven’t found anything as satisfying as the wedding speeches. I did the wedding speeches for a guy for each of his four daughters, and I developed a really strong relationship with these people over time. They come back again and again, and you feel like you’re part of the family in a way.
Do you have any insight for why it took off? Was it purely word-of-mouth?
A lot of people tell me, “Oh, I didn’t know people like you existed, and I’m so happy to have found you.” Because the problem with these speeches is that people have had years of fun and memories banging around their head about the bride or groom, but it’s all just a blur. They have everything inside of them to write a kickass speech, but it’s impossible for them to do it because they’re too close to it. A cardinal value of speechwriting is perspective; I’m just their guide, I help them make sense of it all and pull out the essentials.
Most of the people I work with are on a confidential basis. When they knock a speech I wrote for them out of the park, and they get a ton of compliments, I don’t want them to say that they didn’t write it. I want them to get full credit. I had a father of the bride tell me he got so many compliments that he felt guilty, and it’s like, it’s your words! I didn’t make any of it up. It’s all you.
How does that process work? What’s the information gathering process like before writing a wedding speech for someone?
I first send them a discussion guide that will have about 10 to 15 thought-provoking questions. Just to begin the process of narrowing down their thinking. I always stress to them not to overthink it, not to stress out, this is just the way to get to step two. Step two is where I spend about an hour on the phone with them, to go deeper. I want to get to know them a little better. Their values, their character. That’s all I need from them.
I’ll write the speech, and the secret to good writing is rewriting. I’ll write it, I’ll sleep on it, and it’ll go through six or seven rewrites before sending it off to them. I can hit the speech 90 to 95 percent out of the box, but what I’m really looking for is the little words and changes here and there. There are, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen” people, and, “Hi, everyone” people. So if there’s one word that’s hard for them to say, or is out of their vernacular, it can bring the whole speech down.
What are some of the more unique circumstances that you’ve been approached with when someone has wanted you to write a wedding speech for them?
I’ve been lucky to work with Hollywood agents, casino owners, people on the Forbes wealthiest list, as well as firefighters and UPS drivers. It doesn’t matter who they are, or where they are in life, they all have the same issues. I work with CEOs who have no issue presenting to shareholders, but their father of the bride speech is driving them crazy. It takes people out of their element. I’ve written everything from haikus into speeches, to fake tweets from Trump.
And every family has their issues too. There are sensitivities, someone doesn’t like the son-in-law, so you have to tiptoe through that. Each one is unique. A father will spend $10,000 on flowers for the bride. But then they’ll go online and use some speech template full of empty platitudes. “I love you so much, to the moon and back.” All that stuff. They don’t recognize that the real power of a well-written speech is a gamechanger. Monday morning is always my favorite time of the week, because I hear back from everybody.
Do clients ever stump you? Is it ever a difficult process for you? Or do you have it down to a science?
I wish that I did. I wish I could automate it. But every speech I do is challenging to me, and it takes me about the same amount of time. [Six to seven hours in total.] I have to capture the nuances that everyone has in their personalities. Occasionally I’ll do a best man speech where the groom is loud, and boisterous, and doesn’t really have the caring side. Those are slightly easier. But as humans we have so many different sides to our personalities, and I think those nuances are what really make these speeches authentic.
That’s gotta be what keeps you honest a little bit. That you force yourself to feel how big of a moment this is for the parties involved. I’d imagine that your need to really sweat over a wedding speech is what helps make it feel authentic.
Absolutely. I want every speaker I work for to hear 10, 20, 30, 50 times during the reception, “That’s the best best-man speech I’ve ever heard.” I’ll listen to the speech over and over and over and over. I want it to be as tight as a coil.
I tell people, when you stand up, most of the people in the audience are thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” Because most wedding speeches are bad. But that’s right where you want them, because you’re about to deliver something that’s fun, warm, easy to follow, and real. No bullshit.
What’s the breakdown of clientele? Is it mostly fathers of the bride? Best men? What do you see the most?
It’s pretty even. It’s led by fathers of the bride, followed by best man, followed by maid of honor, followed by father or mother of the groom. I do a lot of sisters of the groom. I also do a wide variety of cultures; Indian weddings, Muslim weddings, Catholic weddings, Jewish weddings.
What do you find different, if you find anything different, about writing from a feminine voice versus a masculine voice?
I don’t write from a feminine or masculine voice. I write from the client’s voice. I’ve worked with best men who have, quote-unquote, more of a feminine voice. And recently, I worked with a maid of honor from New Jersey who was very boisterous and had what you’d traditionally think of as a lot of male characteristics. I just try to find the values of the client as close as I can, and draw that out to every word. I say, ‘Would they say this?” And then, “Would they say this in this manner?”
Do you have any sort of general tips for a good wedding speech? When it comes to length, or the right level of intimacy, what kind of overall strategies do you have for wedding speeches?
In terms of length, I try to hit around seven, eight, or nine minutes. A lot of times when I say that to someone, they say, “Oh my god!” But that’s because most of the wedding speeches we hear are awful and confusing, and two minutes feels like 20. But if you create something that’s tight, fun, and warm, the audience will follow you wherever you lead them.
Stay away from YouTube, stay away from anything you read online about templates — don’t put it in the speech. If it’s on the internet, it means everyone has heard it a million times. You’re not going to offend anyone, you’re not going to thrill anyone. It’s important to be honest with yourself, and then filter that through the story of your relationship with the person.
What is it like for you psychologically to be in such a matrimonial world all the time? It’s almost like you’re a wedding planner — like you’re surrounded by new love constantly. Does that environment get in your brain at all?
It does. Ironically, I probably know more about life and love because of this, but I also know less. I look at two 21-year-olds who are getting married. I think about how at 21, I was still looking for the bathroom. But these kids still had the wherewithal, and the love to get married. I was talking to this gentleman the other day, and his daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law, started dating their sophomore year of high school. Now they’re getting married at the age of 29. To come together as kids, especially in this era when everything is zip-bang-boom, I don’t quite understand how that happens, and yet I’m in awe of it.
So I do have a lot of thoughts, emotions, and feelings in my head every day from all these conversations. And often my wife will say that I’ll be writing a speech, and she’ll hear me laughing. Because often I’m as charmed by these stories between fathers and daughters as the audience is going to be. I think you have to be caught up in it to write a great speech.
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