Speaking at a Peerage Ceremony

Congratulations, you’ve been asked to speak on behalf of a peerage candidate! If you’re like many peers, you’re already planning a 3- to 5-minute soliloquy to the Crown and the candidate, wherein you recount your first memories of your friend and how you’ve watched them grow over the years. Or you may not know the candidate all that well, so you may repeat some of the bullet points shared in Council when they were brought up for discussion. You may even decide not to prepare anything at all, and allow your muse to speak through you on the day.

And each of these approaches has its place. But that place is not during a peerage ceremony.

On behalf of the Crown, the candidate, the peers kneeling on bad knees, and the populace as a whole, I invite you to take a step back and consider your role and purpose in this ceremony, and how you might best approach the task set before you.

The Role of the Speaker

In many peerage ceremonies throughout the Known World, there is a section before the Crown formally offers the accolade to the candidate where selected individuals will stand and offer words to publicly support the candidate’s elevation into the order. The speakers in this tradition are usually (but not always) peers, representing each of the bestowed peerage orders and either the royal peerage generally or the Order of the Rose specifically.

Some kingdoms’ traditions expect specific topics to be covered by each order, while others allow more flexibility in their approach. However, the ultimate purpose of the speaker is the same: to testify before the populace that the candidate is worthy of the accolade they are about to receive.

The speaker isn’t there to convince the Crown, who has clearly already made Their decision. Nor are they there to convince the candidate to take the offer; they’ve shown up in court in all their finery to accept it. Instead, the speaker’s goal is to convince the populace that the Crown has made the right decision in elevating the candidate to their Order.

So. What should that testimony look like?

Thirty Seconds is a Long, Long Time

First off, let’s set some expectations on length. A typical peerage ceremony is around 20 minutes. With five speakers, time is at a premium and brevity is everyone’s friend. If each speaker gives a 3-minute speech, this will eat up three quarters of the ceremony length. So how long do I think it should be?

Thirty seconds, maximum.

This may seem like a very short window of time. However, consider television commercials. Prior to the internet and ad blocking, commercials on TV were typically thirty seconds in length. And a well-structured commercial could tell a person’s life story in that short span.

As in advertising, so too it is in the SCA. A typical award given in a well-paced court, from summoning the awardee to cheering them back to their seat, takes about thirty seconds.

If there are five speakers who keep to the thirty second mark, the testimony portion of the ceremony will be two and a half minutes long. Trust me, between the five of you, you will say all that needs to be said about the candidate in 150 seconds.

Speak to the Audience

Have you ever heard someone verbally remind themself, “Don’t look at the candidate,” in court? This is very good advice, though not for the reasons typically given. Rather than avoiding eye contact to prevent breaking down in the middle of your speech, you shouldn’t look at the candidate because they are not your audience. And neither is the Crown. Your audience is the populace.

When writing your speech, remember the populace and what they need to know about the candidate. They have not sat in on the council meetings, and many of them may struggle to place the candidate in a proper context. Depending on the candidate in question, this can be fairly easy (“This is the guy who wakes you up every morning shouting ‘Gooooood morning, Caid!’”) or more difficult (“You may not recognize her if you don’t travel south, but her research and enthusiasm about Minoan culture are the source of this new summer fashion trend”). In either case, it’s important to give the populace a reason to care about the candidate, so that they remain invested in the ceremony.

In this same vein, it’s very important to avoid inside jokes without reference or explanation. An inside joke, by design, alienates those who are not in on the joke for the benefit of those who are. Especially avoid derogatory nicknames and their explanation, no matter how well-earned.

Stay On Topic

Beyond merely introducing the peer-to-be, the speaker’s role is to deliver testimony about the candidate’s value. While each candidate is unique, there are some common topics to cover, and some to avoid.

A typical approach to this task is to focus on those qualities of the candidate that are particular to your Order. For the Laurel and the Pelican, this is fairly straightforward regardless of the peerage at hand. The candidate is either an artist or is appreciative of the arts. The candidate volunteers. However, not every candidate is authorized to fight in either armored or rapier combat, so this approach might not be well suited for Chivalry or Defense speakers. However, it’s easy enough to pivot from armored combat to the Chivalric Code, or from rapier combat to the Code Duello (or similar philosophical approaches to late period behavior among the martial noble class, e.g. Castiglione’s The Courtier).

If you come from a kingdom tradition where each peerage order is expected to address a particular virtue or behavior, that should be the core of your testimony. For example, if your topic is courtesy, testify (if true) that the candidate is an exemplar of this virtue. You might provide examples of especially courteous behavior, or perhaps a sentiment they shared with you about the importance of courtesy in their life.

If your kingdom doesn’t have set topics to discuss, consider talking with the other speakers about their intentions. In this way you can coordinate to provide a cohesive description of the candidate without overlap.

Write it Down and Practice It

Once you have a general idea what you’re going to say, you may be tempted to speak extemporaneously from a few bullet points. This is a mistake that will cause you to go over time and potentially lose the audience’s attention. Even if you are a seasoned public speaker, script exactly what you intend to say for this speech.

When you have your script in hand, read it out loud. Check to make sure your sentence lengths pass the breath test (can you say the full sentence without pausing to take in more air midway through?), and that your speech takes thirty seconds or less. Then read it again, at full volume. If you have someone to practice with, have them sit 1000 feet away and let you know if they can understand you. Have them time your speech to verify that it sticks to thirty seconds or less. If you go well over time, prune the text and try again.

On the Day

When you arrive on-site, be sure to check in with the elevation coordinator to see whether your place in court has been pre-planned. If it hasn’t, be sure to sit or stand near the front of court before the ceremony, or (if you are expected to take part in the procession) situate yourself so that you are very close to the front when you sit or kneel for the ceremony. Ideally, when called upon you should only have to stand and begin your speech, rather than take time to wade through an aisle full of entourage or a front pathway blocked by kneeling peers.

If you’re very good at public speaking, you might consider memorizing your speech to deliver without notes. If you’re not as confident as all that, you could try putting your speech into a bulleted list that you can check as you go along. And if you’d rather have the full speech in hand, reading from a script is better than allowing your performance to wander off course.

When it’s your turn, stand and deliver your speech. You needn’t ask for the Crown’s permission to speak, as you have already been prompted to. Remember to keep your head high, speak to the back of the hall, and don’t turn your head to look or speak at the Crown or candidate. In fact, if you focus on speaking directly to the person sitting in the center aisle in the back row, everyone in the room should be able to hear you clearly.

If you’ve done it right, your speech will be a brief, memorable, and impactful statement about the quality of the candidate, one which will resonate with the audience and cement the new peer in their minds as wise and worthy.