Weddings are, if nothing else, predictable. There are certain things that are just going to happen – half the guests will be drunk before the canapés come out, kids will slide across their knees on the dancefloor and, at the end of the night, the bride’s less attractive sister will be sobbing in the corner.
And so, whilst every best man speech is unique, it’s always a smart move to learn from the experience of others. Broadly-speaking, best man speeches are governed by a set of trusty rules which, if followed, ought to stop you from making a complete and utter tit of yourself.
If you’re unsure about the content and delivery of your speech, try giving these ten pointers a spin:
Best man speech rule 1: Keep it short
Once you get going, it’s surprisingly difficult to keep a speech below the generally accepted ‘ideal’ length of 7 minutes. One useful tip is to remember that the point of the best man’s speech is not to tell every last detail about the groom’s life, but simply to entertain with a small handful of carefully chosen anecdotes. By the time your big moment comes around, most people will be pretty tipsy, and they may well have consumed a large meal as well. This means that – unless you happen to be Michael McIntyre – you’ll find your listeners will start to drift off if you go past the fifteen- or even ten-minute mark, and once that happens you’ll be fighting a losing battle. Be brutal and edit out anything that’s not entirely necessary. Also, don’t forget that since your speech is (hopefully) going to be funny, it’ll inevitably be elongated on the day by laughter gaps. If it takes ten minutes to read in front of the mirror, it might take twelve or thirteen at the wedding itself, and as a result you might want to cut it down to account for that.
Best man speech rule 2: Be cheeky, but respectful
There’s no doubt that the best man’s principle role during his speech is to poke fun at the groom. So much of a wedding is about ceremony and solemnity that everyone relishes the prospect of a little tongue-in-cheek levity at the end of it all, but be warned. There is a fine line between cheeky and offensive, and it’s vital that you pitch camp on the right side. Cousin Agatha doesn’t want to hear about the time you waxed the groom’s arse-crack when he was asleep, and his new mother-in-law definitely won’t be impressed by a comprehensive list of his one night stands. There’s nothing more awkward than a best man who’s taken it too far, so keep it clean. Remember, you can be hilarious without being smutty (save that for the Stag Do!).
Best man speech rule 3: Trust your gut
When it comes to the precise content of your speech, books and websites will overload you with helpful tips (this one is particularly reliable ;-)) but at the end of the day your best bet is to trust your gut. During the writing process, close your eyes and imagine you’re delivering your speech to a room full of people, at least half of whom you’ve probably never met. Remember that it’s not just an audience of your mates (if it were, you‘d be writing a very different speech) and so it’s really important that what you deliver is accessible to a wide range of age groups and personalities. Be honest with yourself – if you’re prone to edgy humour, run the final draft by a more moderate friend first. They’ll soon tell you if that joke about Auschwitz is a bit rich for the bride’s great-grandmother.
Best man speech rule 4: Trust your audience
This is probably the single greatest weapon in the best man’s arsenal – your audience want you to succeed. They actively want you to be funny. This isn’t Jongleurs comedy club, and you’re very unlikely to experience any heckling (unless pissed-up Uncle Walter makes it over from Australia). Your audience have been waiting for this moment all day, so provided you don’t insult the bridesmaids, moon the bride or sit on the wedding cake, they will hang on your every word, guffawing enthusiastically even if all that’s warranted is a mild titter. They’re on your side, and to be frank that’s half the battle.
Best man speech rule 5: Be honest (but not too honest)
Bromance is in these days, and your best man speech may be one of the best opportunities you’ll get to tell the groom how important he is to you. If he’s your hero, say so. Avoid actually blubbing into your champagne, obviously, but don’t shy away from sprinkling a little tenderness in amongst the ribbing. People remember moments like that, and a wedding is the perfect opportunity to wear your heart on your sleeve. Be careful of barefaced honesty, mind you. If you didn’t like his wife for the first six months you knew her, keep it to yourself.
Best man speech rule 6: Coordinate with the other speakers
If the wedding follows tradition, your speech will most likely be the third of three – father of the bride, groom and then you. The territory typically covered by each speech is fairly well established, but it could still be worth coordinating with the other speakers in advance just in case you’re unwittingly overlapping on anecdotes (freestyling on the night to edit out duplicate stories can be absolutely terrifying, and is best avoided). At the very least, it might be handy to get an idea of the length of the other speeches – if the father of the bride is going to drone on for twenty-five minutes, you might want to make a couple of last-minute adjustments…
Best man speech rule 7: Save the serious boozing until afterwards
You can’t make yourself less drunk. Normally this isn’t an issue, but when you’re standing in front of two-hundred expectant wedding guests wishing you hadn’t smashed that fifth pint of cider at the Ushers’ Lunch, it suddenly becomes painfully clear. A pint, maybe two, can definitely take the edge off your nerves, but as hard as it is you’ll be doing yourself a favour if you take it reasonably easy on the free booze during the afternoon. You know your own limits, so stick to them… otherwise watching back the wedding video could prove an intensely painful experience.
Best man speech rule 8: Avoid templates and clichés
While there are certain traditions that it’s nice to nod towards, be very wary of stuffing your speech with copycat platitudes. There are a million-and-one websites out there tempting you with the opportunity to pretty much assemble your speech from spare parts, but it’s definitely a route best avoided. Not everyone is cut out for speech-writing, of course, but if the prospect has you running for the hills, you’re much better off asking a friend with experience to help you out than you are copy-and-pasting tired clichés from the internet. It’s normally pretty obvious to the audience, and can come across as quite insincere if you’re not careful. Honesty and simplicity work far better than plagiarised bar jokes.
Best man speech rule 9: Think about amplification in advance
This is something that often gets overlooked. Will you be speaking into a microphone, or performing unamplified? This probably won’t be your department, but make sure you find out who’s in charge on the sound front (often the band or the DJ) and quiz them about it. If there’s no microphone and the room is too big, you’ll struggle to even be heard, let alone entertain. You could end up wasting all the effort you’ve put in to your speech, struggling to shout above the sound of people noshing on their cheesecake instead of slaying the congregation with your razor-sharp wit.
Best man speech rule 10: Keep it short
I’m putting this one in again because I’m not convinced you listened the first time. Always leave them wanting more. I know people who have had to sit through – quite literally – hours of speeches, and it can put a serious dampener on the day. Edit, edit and edit again.