Yesterday I had the privilege of being the best man at my brother’s wedding. Traditionally, the best man is expected to give a speech, and share with everyone some stories about the couple and hopefully get a few laughs out of the audience. The speech I gave was very well received, and while there’s always room for improvement, I myself was satisfied with my performance.
Now that I’ve crossed off being a best man at a wedding from my bucket list, I’m qualified to give advice on how to give a great best man speech. Here is what I did, and what I’d recommend others to do in the future:
Make An Outline
About a week before the wedding I still didn’t know what I was going to say. Realizing I was running out of time, I started a new Google Doc and outlined the broad sections of the speech. I ended up breaking up the speech into 4 parts: introductory remarks, words about the bride, words about the groom, and a conclusion. Once I had this general outline, I was easily able to structure my thoughts and start writing the speech.
Speak From The Heart
The most important goal of the speech was to convey how much I love my brother. Being chosen as the best man is a big deal, and it was the perfect opportunity to let everyone know how important my brother is to me. The only way to accomplish that was to speak from the heart, which is easy for me, but is something I know others struggle with. I ended up conveying my feelings in two ways. First, I included some anecdotes illustrating how I’ve had my brother’s back throughout his life. Second, I added in a few lines at the end saying directly how being a brother has been the best thing that’s happened to me.
Even though I wanted the speech to be sweet, that alone wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted to try and add in some humor to the speech, and lighten up the mood - after all life should be fun! There were three main targets for my jokes: the bride, the groom, and myself. I started thinking of and listing out funny stories or even just funny observations I had about each target. I included the bride because everyone is fair game. I also made sure to make fun of myself because it didn’t seem fair to take shot after shot at my brother without some self-effacing jokes thrown in to even it out. Once I had a good list of jokes about each person, I worked on the ordering and then added in some sentence symmetry to make it all flow nicely together. Beyond humor directed at individuals, I also threw in a few situational jokes, which worked well.
Do Not Offend The Bride
People have feelings, and these are heightened to extreme levels when weddings are involved. The night before the wedding I talked to my brother about the bride section of my speech, and he suggested that I do a complete rewrite. Sometimes it’s not clear where the line between funny and inappropriate is, but outsourcing the determination of this distinction seemed like a good idea. I rewrote the bride section the morning of the wedding, got final sign off from my brother, and at the end of the day I think the new speech was actually better. The best part about getting this kind of pre-approval is that there was zero chance that I would hurt any feelings or cause any drama - which is something I am always keen to avoid.
Involve The Audience
The wedding isn’t just for the couple, but for the family and friends attending it as well. People coming to weddings take time off work, travel great distances, and spend a lot of money on gifts, clothes, and their hotel. They made a great effort to come out, and the least I could do was to try to incorporate them into the speech somehow. In the writing process I ended up throwing in a 30 second bit listing off some great memories that I had with my brother, each of them involving some people from the audience. In retrospect this was probably one of the best parts of the speech. I went pretty fast, and probably ended up mentioning about half the audience - giving them a more personal connection to the speech, and making them feel more involved with the whole wedding itself.
I didn’t spend too much time writing the speech - maybe 3 hours total. The day of the wedding I said the whole speech out loud to myself about 10 times - which took about an hour. Each time I said it out loud I discovered a few edits to make, often where things that sounded good in writing didn’t work when speaking. I also discovered that I was adding in a lot of prepositional phrases, and hedging a lot of my jokes. I ended up eliminating these filler words, and it made for a shorter and more confident speech. Although I didn’t have the speech memorized, I had said the lines enough times to know them pretty well. I made sure to have the Google Doc of the speech on my iPhone throughout the speech - which I referenced often - and it all worked out just fine.