“The two most common problems with wedding speeches are 1. you can’t hear them, or 2. you can.”
Disputably one of the most famous in the English language, Sherlock Holmes’ Best Man speech at Dr Watson’s wedding epitomises all that is good, bad and ugly in an occasional speech. Here’s an ideal showcase to demonstrate how I might help anyone who needs coaching for their upcoming wedding speech or reading.
As I take Sherlock through his speech, you will see that there are two inextricable aspects to speech making:
So many people can focus on one at the expense of the other but they are equally important. We tend to switch off within 90 seconds of listening to a boring voice, even delivering wonderful content. On the other hand, stunning delivery of poor content is what we commonly refer to as bullshit.
Appearance is important and Sherlock is well presented with good posture. Posture is not only good for appearance but vital for vocal strength and projection. However, he does compromise this posture later when he bends over to shuffle through his notes. In doing so, he cuts off his audience and presents a disorganised image. He clearly needs some advice on the effective use of notes!
Sherlock’s vocal quality is strong. He is projecting and using appropriate volume. There is also very good use of pause as he greets everyone. Then he lets himself down when he adds a group of people he doesn’t know how to describe and descends into ‘umms’ before stating ‘others’. Practice would eliminate this as he would either commit to his final word, or leave it out. Clearing his throat and muttering to himself in front of everyone is not good; I would share a few recommendations to counter these easily avoidable issues.
I like his use of humour regarding the telegrams but this does spill over into sarcasm and genuine disregard for the feelings of others. Rattling off the telegrams revealed his disinterest and will not engage an audience. There are several occasions where he could have benefitted from some guidance on the content of his speech to avoid the audience’s evident discomfort as Sherlock demonstrates his intellectual superiority but also his inability to share the truth wisely. Intelligent people can struggle in knowing the difference between wit and being insulting. It’s got more to do with sensitivity than common sense, something Sherlock the sociopath clearly lacks!
Benedict Cumberbatch is a master of pace in all his roles but this speech exemplifies it beautifully. His ability to vary his pace from almost high speed to funereal is highly effective in engaging his audience and appropriately matches the content of his speech. However, few people can master this contrast effectively without wonderful articulation and clarity. As gifted as he is, he wasn’t born with this ability and has invested years of learning and practice in his speaking craft. Exercises on articulation and learning how to vary pace are a vital part of any speech coaching.
Have you noticed the one homage to a smile during Sherlock’s speech? Smiling naturally not only helps a speaker make a connection with their audience but is far more genial in both appearance and tone. It will even help a speaker get away with some of the inappropriate remarks they may wish to make! There is much else I would share about the benefits of smiling, which are featured in my training videos which can be found here.
The next part of the speech is a wonderful recovery as he speaks sincerely about friendship. Sincerity in public speaking is vital and relaxation and breathing exercises aid a speaker connect with the centre of emotions so that the spoken word is true. It’s clear that he’s touched the hearts of his audience by their reaction and the day is almost saved. But he does focus on drawing attention to himself too much and this is not what good public speaking is about. That is why there is no reason for fear or nerves in a speech: it’s not about you, it’s about your message and the audience. You are simply the privileged messenger!
If this wedding were for real, we could bin the first half of Sherlock’s speech during lessons so that what we’re left with, except the aforementioned mumbling and shuffling of notes, is the potential for a fine and true Best Man’s speech. It would be better to have a three-minute sincere, well-delivered speech than to subject an audience to 10 minutes of discomfort – and know when to end it, which Sherlock clearly doesn’t!
Let’s also acknowledge that those who deliver readings or wedding speeches are chosen, not because of their ability, but because of their relationship with the bride and groom. For this reason, there is a liberal amount of compassion available. However, it’s a kindness not to stretch this too far. So do yourself and your guests a favour – invest in some coaching as well as that outfit! The benefits will last a lifetime.