For some people it’s the first thing that comes into their mind, for others it slowly dawns on them, but one things for sure – after the elation and pride of being asked to be a Best Man, the realisation that you will have to stand up and make a speech in front of a room full of people soon hits home.
Before we start:
The advice below is for the organised Best Man, not the type who thinks he can blag it the night before. Research, Editing, Writing, Practice and Delivery – there’s a lot to do. At the very least it’s going to take you a month (two months would be better). There are no shortcuts. If your speech is badly prepared and under-rehearsed it will only be emphasised by the sound of tumbleweed.
However, it really is worth the effort. The feeling of delivering a great speech is amazing, especially the sound of laughter coming your way. Plus you get to spend the rest of the wedding being congratulated by the other guests. You might even get a few free beers if it goes really well. But you have to be committed in the first place.
If that sounds like you, then read on.
Do not get a speech from the Internet
Let’s start with the obvious: Do not get a speech off the Internet. Seriously, don’t bother. The average person at your wedding will have been to at least a handful weddings recently and heard all the jokes already.
There is however no harm in borrowing (or better still adapting) a couple of lines from other people. The best place of course is other weddings – note down any good lines from other speeches, the ones that really get the laughs.
There is one corner of the Internet to help
There is however, a fantastic resource that is accessible to all: YouTube. Surprising as it sounds, it will help enormously in two respects:
1. There are some really great speeches on there, naturally delivered with a good balance of funny and emotional content which will inspire you.
2. There are hundreds of generic, recycled speeches on there that should put you off using the same jokes as everyone else. By the time you watch a ‘Fornication’ intro or hear the gag about ‘the speech lasting as long as the groom makes love’ for the hundredth time you’ll realise why it’s important to write your own jokes.
The Big Piece of Paper
Get a big empty A4 notepad and scribble joke ideas all over it. Whether they be your own creations, from YouTube or other borrowed sources, write everything down that’s funny. Anything that makes you laugh. Whether it be a one-liner or brief description of a funny anecdote, get it on the paper in some form.
Keep this in your mind for the next couple of weeks everywhere you go. If a story pops into your head while you’re out, make a note on your phone and add it to your A4 page later. Pester your common friends for stories when you see them. Most will have nothing, but the odd gem you’ve forgotten is bound to crop up. Even better, go down the pub with the Groom and a few mates and start reminiscing after a couple of beers. You’ll be surprised what comes out. And don’t forget to write it down then and there, you might not remember in the morning.
So after much YouTube watching and reminiscing you should have a big piece or paper with at least 50 or so lines and jokes. Now it’s time to find the wheat amongst the chaff.
Grab a red pen, highlighter or something similar and highlight up to ten things you definitely want to include.
Now analyse all of the generic gags you’ve taken off YouTube or other sources. Go through these and pick a couple of the best to include. No more than two or three though, only the really good ones. Highlight these.
Next it’s time to remove a few. You need to avoid jokes about ex-girlfriends, parents of either Bride or Groom, the venue or any other aspect of the wedding that they’ve spent money on AND most definitely jokes about the Bride. It doesn’t matter how funny they are, they don’t want to hear it on their special day. Cross them out. Yep all of them, even if they are already highlighted.
Also try to stay away from in-jokes. They might be funny to ten of your friends but not to 100 family members. Put a line through them too.
The New Sheet Of Paper
On a clean sheet of paper write the ten things to definitely include plus the couple of borrowed jokes.
Below that make a list of whatever else is left after the editing process from the first sheet, neatly in bullet points. Now you have a list of things to base the speech around plus extras if you need them to bulk it out. It’s now time to start writing.
The hardest part comes in putting the speech together, but this is where your preparation and research should make it far easier. Some people are natural creative writers, but many people won’t necessarily have written anything this long since their school days.
The key to the whole process is structure. Simply put, like any story you need a beginning, middle and end, with a strong theme running throughout. Luckily this is already done for you when it comes to a Best Man’s speech as there is a fairly regular order to follow.
1. The Thank Yous, Regrets and Compliments
This part varies largely depending on what the Groom has just said before you but roughly:
– Thank the Groom for his speech
– Compliment and thank the Bridesmaids
– Mention any people who can’t be there
– Compliment the Bride (and raise a toast to her).
Although this is a serious section – and you must deliver it seriously – it’s often good to open with a joke or two (if you feel confident) when you first start speaking. A decent one-liner will really set the tone for the rest of the speech. If not, there’s plenty of opportunity shortly. Aside from that, be polite, to the point and be sincere.
2. Introduce yourself
You don’t need to relay your life story, but don’t forget although you may know the boys from the Stag and a few family and friends, there will probably be a large number of people at the wedding who haven’t met you before. Introduce yourself, explain how you know the Groom and, if possible, any connections to the Bride.
This part is a great opportunity to get the jokes going, especially if you have known the Groom since childhood. If not, a mention of the Stag always gets a good reception. Beware the adage above though – stay away from in-jokes and don’t cross the line into crudeness. Although you boys might find the memories of a drunken night out hilarious, Grandma probably won’t. A few fleeting innuendos should go down nicely though.
Similarly embarrassing stories from your youth will get a laugh if short and genuinely funny, but stay away lengthy tales this early on. Of course, check your list and see if anything fits nicely into this section.
3. Stories About The Groom
This part is where your list comes into its own, pretty much having written it for you. Before we get onto the main bulk though, it’s worth noting that if you have already unleashed a barrage of jokes by this point, it might be worth just slipping in a couple more sincere lines to even things up and balance the speech.
So on with the funny stories. Look at the list of things to definitely include and start with the second funniest. Why the second? You want to save the best for last, naturally.
This section you have to write yourself, and although you can follow this guide, this one really has to come from the heart. The stories need to laugh-out-loud funny, but also have an emotive side – at least to some of them – nobody likes a smart Alec.
The advice is simple: keep the stories as short as possible while still retaining the humour, and keep a theme running throughout (which will almost certainly be how inept the Groom is). Try to mix up the longer tales with a couple of one-liners, anything to make the Groom squirm. Build to a crescendo, culminating in your funniest story in which you can indulge yourself a bit more.
This penultimate section will be up to your judgement. Tradition states the way to end a Best Man’s Speech is by offering marital advice to the happy couple. There are two ways of approaching this: either turning it into another joke-fest, or delivering serious heartfelt tips to get the audience gushing. Most people will probably find a mix of the two works best. Keep it short though, there will probably be some twitchy bums by this point.
5. The Toast
Lastly, and the point where you can take a big internal sigh of relief, finish your speech by inviting the crowd to stand and offer one last toast to the Bride and Groom. Wish them luck in their married life (sincerely) and make a really big spectacle of the occasion.
Once you have a first draft fully written out, leave it for a couple of days (or at least overnight) without looking at it. With fresh eyes read through it again; there will almost certainly be parts you want to edit. Repeat this until you have something you are happy with. This is also the time to fit in any last jokes or lines you want to include from your trusty piece of A4.
Also at this stage time yourself reading it slowly out loud (including pauses for laughs). There’s no hard and fast laws about length of speeches but as a rule of thumb under five minutes is too short whereas anything over ten minutes would have to be very good to sustain the crowd’s attention.
The Final Tweak
This is important: Read the ‘final’ draft of your speech to someone else. Somebody you trust and is sensible, intelligent and knows the Groom. Not your mates down the pub or the woman from Accounts; a loved one or really good friend. If you aren’t happy to read it out loud, get them to read it written down.
Either way, ask for their honest feedback. There will almost certainly be jokes that aren’t as funny as you think or pieces that don’t quite work. Don’t be offended, with any creative work it’s always paramount to get constructive criticism and take it on board. Now is the time to make changes, before you start learning the whole speech.
With this feedback type out a full, final version of the speech. That’s it, no going back now. You will make it ten times harder to memorise if you make changes after this point. Try to keep the speech to a double-sided A4, use a clear legible font and – importantly – increase the line spacing to at least double to make it as easy to read as possible. Also put clear breaks between the sections, this will make it far easier for you to learn.
Learn by Heart
This is key: Learn your speech off by heart. You may think this isn’t possible, but it definitely is and boy is it worth the effort.
Your speech may sound great written down, but if you simply read it out from the page it won’t come to life. Knowing it off by heart allows you to add your personality when delivering it, by ad-libbing and adding natural pauses and laughter of your own.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Start by breaking your speech into chunks – this is essentially already done if you have followed the guidance above. Read it out loud as many times as possible, one chunk at a time until you start to remember parts without looking. This might take days or it might take hours, depending on your memory. You don’t need to learn it exactly off by heart at this stage, just get to know it well.
If you are struggling, challenge yourself to do a bit more each time, it will soon stick. Alternatively another method is to record yourself reading the whole speech slowly and clearly, then memorise it by playing it back over and over, the same way you’d learn a new song from the radio. You can learn a bit each day in the car on the way to work, or on your headphones before you go to sleep.
Once you have a rough memories different sections, condense the speech into simple bullet points on A6 notecards; one (and only one) for each section. This will help the flow on the actual day – you put down a card, then move onto the next part of the speech. Keep the bullet points very brief (no more than five words), they are just to jog your memory. It is worth starting each card with the first few words of that section, in case you have a complete blank. Practise the speech over and over using only the notecards as backup. You won’t get it perfect first time, but you will soon get there.
Now the scary bit. Depending on your situation you may have bounced ideas off other people during the writing process or you may have kept the whole thing to yourself. Either way, it’s now time to perform it in front of someone else. Give them a copy of the whole speech and have your notecards to hand. You’ll probably find with someone else in the room it’ll be a lot harder to concentrate and need some form of backup or prompting.
Finally – and this is crucial – get to the point where you don’t need the cards at all. You can have them on the day to remind you if you lose your place, but your speech will seem so much more natural without.
This step is crucial if you want to take your speech to another level and stand out from the usual affair. There’s a chance – quite a big one – that with all the practise and hours devoted to the speech that it becomes a bit robotic when you say it out loud. There is a simple way around this but you have to have the speech committed to your memory for it to work: Perform the speech as if it was a conversation between you, the Groom and the audience.
If this is hard to get your head around imagine you are out with friends (the audience) and everyone is taking the mickey out of the Groom. Now it’s your turn. When you joke, address it to the audience. When you tell an embarrassing story, look at the Groom to see his reaction. Use ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ where possible; “We all remember the time when…” etc. By involving everyone in this way your speech will sound far more natural and be much more inclusive for those watching.
On the Day
Top pieces of advice:
1. Do not drink during the meal. Have one drink to relax you, two if you can handle it. Nobody ever did a great speech whilst drunk. In fact quite the opposite, you will come across cocky and immature. However…
2. Have a drink on hand during the speech. It fits the occasion to have a quick pause and sip of your pint (or other beverage of choice) and makes everyone more relaxed. You’ll also be surprised how easy it is to dry up as you are speaking. It will also give you a moment to gather yourself if you need it, or a second to remember a forgotten line.
3. Speak slowly. Much slower than you think. And annunciate well. Lastly, check you are talking loud enough*. Rather than the usual “Can everyone hear me?” try picking out a friend or relative near the back and just asking them, it will add a personal touch and they are more likely to let you know if you are too quiet.
* Bonus tip: If you are using a microphone check it works before the guests arrive, has plenty of battery power and doesn’t feedback. A dodgy mic will kill the speech for sure.
As Best Man it may well help settle your nerves if you can pre-announce the other speeches (although there may well be a Master of Ceremonies to take this job). Once the meal is over, stand up and announce to the guests that speeches will be starting in around five minutes and they should charge their glasses ready. This gives time for everyone to have a final moment to gather themselves; remember the Father of the Bride and the Groom may be just as nervous as you. Use the time to take a final toilet break, and grab yourself a drink. Get some air too if it’s an indoor wedding.
Try to enjoy the Father of the Bride’s speech, it’s likely to be funny and will hopefully warm-up the crowd. During the more serious Groom’s speech use the time to take one last look over your notecards, and make sure you have your opening lines clear in your head. You don’t want to stumble from the off.
If you have followed the advice above and have a really strong opening joke, then once you get your first laugh you will be away. In fact the speech will be a blur. Make sure someone records it so you can watch it back later to enjoy it yourself.
It’s Time To Deliver
This is the easy bit, you’ve done all the hard work. Don’t forget to pause for a laugh and wait for the laughter to die down before starting your next line. This is even more important if you don’t have a microphone. Little filler lines to the crowd like “Settle down” or “Looks like we’ve found your level” can help wonders here.
And one last thing: HAVE FUN. You’ve worked really hard and only get one chance to ever perform this speech. Take your time and embrace the occasion. If you have a smile on your face, so will everyone listening. What could be better than ripping it out of your best mate for ten minutes without him being able to respond. Plus it’s not often your jokes will have hundreds of people laughing. Enjoy it.