Delivering a great Best Man Speech
Writing, preparing for and delivering a ‘Best Man’ Speech (BMS) at a wedding is an incredibly fun and rewarding activity. It’s one you’ll (and others) will remember for a long time afterwards, and so the pay-off makes adequate preparation worthwhile.
This post shows many of the things I learnt in the process of delivering a BMS myself, and listening to many others before and afterwards. These are clearly not ‘hard and fast’ rules, but what worked for me. Feel free to disagree or add other suggestions in the comments below!
Start gathering ideas from the get go
Hopefully you’ll be appointed ‘best man’ a long way off the wedding. Start compiling ideas of things to include: stories you yourself have of the groom, friends and family of his that you might want to tap into for stories, tips & tricks from other weddings you go to, etc.
Consider what themes are ‘must-mentions’
Some consider BMSs should be (mild) character assassinations (or ‘roasts’) of the groom. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to such an extreme view, there will definitely be a few aspects of the groom’s character (both positive and potentially embarrassing) that the guests would be surprised if you didn’t mention.
Indeed, these themes could be how you organise the BMS into sections. The other way of organising a BMS is in chronological order. Both can work well. But don’t turn the latter method into a biography of the groom.
Your most important role is to be funny
The BMS is probably the most anticipated one in the evening. That’s why it’s normally saved to last. For good or for worse, the difference between a good BMS and a bad BMS is usually mostly to do with how funny it is. If you are not naturally funny, enlist others to help you write some jokes — even if it’s only a few.
And remember that the laughter ‘bar’ is set quite low. The guests are on your side and want to enjoy the BMS (especially after a few drinks).
Ensure the stories and jokes are accessible to a wide audience
Given your need to maximise amusement, ensure what you say is appropriate for the vast majority of the guests. Limit the in-jokes (or at least explain them). Don’t swear or be smutty. Don’t pick on specific guests for cheap laughs, unless they’ll get it too.
Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story
For maximum comedic effect, you may need to exaggerate some of your anecdotes. This is fine as long as it is good-natured and well-intentioned (and not entirely made-up!).
Keep it the right length
Pretty easy to get this one right. Minimum six minutes. Maximum twelve minutes. (You are obviously excused speeches at the longer side of this range if it is a good one!)
Practice and test with others (see below) to get this right. And build in time for appropriate pauses and (hopefully) audience laughs.
No ‘thank yous’ or excessive sentimentality
Your time is limited (see above). You shouldn’t waste it with thank yous, or administrative concerns. That is for the other speech-makers (the groom, the master of ceremonies, etc.)
Likewise, no long gushing tributes to the groom. If he’s worthy of praise (!), then of course it is fine to mention briefly (after all, most of the praise from other speeches will be directed at the bride). And remember, this is a wedding and a happy occasion!
Don’t share the role
Joint BMSs are hard to pull off. They require you to co-ordinate roles, what you say, jokes, timing and all the other aspects of a good BMS, and therefore significantly more preparation is required. Try to avoid strongly.
The wedding is not about you
Limit references to yourself. The guests might want to know a bit about you and your friendship with the groom, but don’t overdo it.
Don’t be afraid to read out the BMS from notes
Obviously it’s ideal if you can memorise your speech. But only do this if you can deliver it naturally this way (it’s not always so easy).
No one will mind if you read it all word for word — but again, try to deliver it as naturally as possible. One ‘half-way’ house is to memorise just the beginning and the end — these are the parts which guests will remember most.
Test with trusted mutual friends
You’ll be gathering ideas from others as you go, but the compilation into the end result will likely be a solo show. You need to test it with one or two others towards the end of the process (but not at the last minute) to get a fresh perspective on the speech. They’ll help you judge which bits are perhaps not as amusing or more inappropriate as you thought.
There is undoubtedly pressure on you to deliver, and so some nerves ahead of the delivery are entirely natural. But if you’re comfortable that you’ve done the right preparation, then all there is left for you to do it is enjoy putting it into action, and the memories of doing so forever after.