9 Rules on Writing a Best Man’s Speech
How to get over the nerves and smash it on the big day
Here are 9 tips on how to write a best man's speech that you never thought was in you. I know you want to hear them. How do I know? Because I've been there, nervous, looking for answers, searching the web for emancipation from this hell.
There's a big chance Google has dragged you here as your shaking fingers typed “best man speech tips” or “how to write a funny best man speech” or “how to not make a fool out of myself giving a speech for 200 people when the last time I spoke in public was school assembly and I was seven, and I pissed my pants.”
Well fear not my brother, here is a clear guide on smashing that speech, what is expected of you and how to avoid the pitfalls you’ll encounter.
The steps are as follows:
1. Read this article
2. Ace your speech
3. Bathe in the glory of your success forevermore (or at least, for that evening)
What are my Credentials?
A fair question. I’m just an ordinary guy who’s done four best man speeches.
That’s Right son. Four.
The first was mediocre, the fourth was a barnstorming success (even though the wedding wasn’t in a barn). I’ve learned the lessons and earned my stripes.
I’ve been at the burning coal face of the silent, expectant marquee full of guests, I’ve had the restless sleep, I’ve had amazing wedding desserts ruined by pre-speech nerves.
The advice I’m about to dispense comes from hard-earned experience.
Also, if you think it’s relevant, I’ve performed stand up comedy in and around London for 2 years. I’m no master, just an open-mic chancer, but it’s hardened me in the ways of public speaking. I know what people want to hear. Mostly.
So, with my qualifications out the way, let’s get into it.
The Good News
Before anything else, focus on the good news. You’re a best man. Congratulations!
Your best friend asked you to do him the honour of being his best man, as you both nursed a pint or two in the local pub, and for a couple of weeks, you felt triumphant.
Best man. All those other suckers can bow down before you because you’re the best. That’s science. You can’t argue with science.
Then, reality sets in.
The first imposition is organising the stag do (aka the ‘bachelor party’ or ‘buck night’). Three hundred and forty eight emails later and there’s eleven of you crammed on a budget flight going somewhere vaguely cultural where all you will see is the inside of pubs, strip joints and perhaps a go-karting hanger. Job done.
The Bad News
Well, there's no real bad news, more a reality check. Once the dust settles on the pre-wedding shenanigans, shit gets real. Nothing more stands between you and the big day. It’s one straight stretch to speech time.
At this point, you begin to envy other guests for their lack of responsibility. You even envy the other speechmakers. The groom just says, “I do” and thanks everyone for coming. The father of the bride will talk about how much he loves his daughter, the spawny cop-out.
But you… You have to pull it out the bag.
I don’t want to heap the pressure on, but you’re the headline act, the “…and finally”. No one expects anything but heartwarming rhetoric from everyone else, but you have to make people laugh.
You are the entertainment.
Wedding guests look forward to three things;
1. Free booze
2. The late-night party and
3. The best man’s speech
Make no mistake, the vows, the wedding dress, the flowers are all a sideshow for everyone but the happy couple. For the rest, how great the centrepieces look comes way down the list compared to your moment in the limelight.
For better or worse, what you say is going to be remembered.
Nervous? Don’t be. I got you.
I just want you to understand people will be looking forward to your speech, and they’ll readily tell you. A lot. If you understand this and don’t downplay it, you won’t feel undue pressure on the day.
Go into this with eyes wide open, and you can’t be tripped up.
Ok, with all this understood, let's talk rules, tips, mindset. That’s what you came here for, so let’s get on with it.
Here’s my list of five things to consider as you write and deliver your best man’s speech.
1. You have control over your nerves
There is no get out of jail free card here, you're in this situation and you have to face up to it. You’re going to come to this conclusion sooner or later. Stop bargaining or living in denial as sooner is preferable.
There is no quick fix, no formula to be automatically triumphant. You’re going to have to put in the work of writing a real speech. Find your voice, speak from the heart and use whatever comes out. Don't try to second guess anyone, or be someone you're not. This is the only route to success.
As terrifying as this may sound, the power is in your hands. Yes, those very same trembling hands that googled your cry for help.
Don’t worry, those hands are capable. You’re capable.
You might not feel it now, but humans do amazing feats every day. Luckily enough, you’ll find you’re a human too. All you’ve got to do is a quick speech, so this will be a doddle. You'll do it, then think "What was all that fuss about?"
Start facing the music now because a giant part of this speech is the mental game of realising you can do it.
You can choose to be nervous or you can choose to believe in yourself. Worrying won't help.
Serious question: Who says you have to be nervous talking to a room full of people? We just tell ourselves we will be. I remind myself of this all the time before getting on stage to tell jokes to unsmiling faces in dank comedy backrooms on Tuesday nights.
What if you decided to enjoy your moment?
If you’re struggling to believe in your abilities, then believe in me believing in you. I don’t need to know you, all I need to know is if I can do it, you can do it. I did my four best man speeches way before I ever attempted stand up.
Pro-tip: An actor friend told me to reframe nerves as excitement. They’re physiologically the same emotion anyway, it’s just now we treat them.
You’re not nervous, you’re excited.
2. Keep the day of love going
It's your duty to be confident, pour good energy into the room and deliver a speech from love. Sorry to ramp up the pressure, it's another inconvenient truth, but let’s get them all out the way now.
Your speech should be a goodwill generator.
How you make the guests feel will be the thing they take away. Not clever jokes or embarrassing facts about the groom, just the vibe of the speech.
This, by the way, is great news. There’s less emphasis on what is said and more emphasis on how you say it.
If you’ve watched best man speeches on YouTube (I know you have), you’ll notice how tense the guests become if the best man becomes nervous.
A bit of nerves is fine, it is natural and expected, but the speech isn’t about you. It might be a huge moment for you personally, but you’re sacrificing yourself to a higher cause, the cause of love, joy and positive energy on behalf of someone two people and their families.
Even if you think your speech is terrible, if it is kind, humble and comes from a positive place, I guarantee you’ll storm it.
See yourself as a cog in a bigger machine that day. It takes the pressure off. All you have to do is keep the love machine going. Easy-peasy.
3. You’re funnier than you think
You might not feel funny when staring at a blank page trying to write jokes, but everyone's funny.
Look at the evidence; you make friends laugh, you regularly deliver well-timed banter with the best of them, people enjoy your company. Hey, you're someone's best man, after all!
So embrace that playful side of you. Don’t take yourself seriously. Talk into the mirror, into your phone, in the car. Let it flow. Keep talking, record it, write down the key points, let it evolve. You’re tapping into the funny within you. Get out of your own way and let it happen. Don’t try to be funny, try to strip away all the judgement you have about yourself and uncover the authentic voice under all that crap you've been carrying around.
This doesn’t mean your speech should be full of dick jokes (I’d say no dick jokes as a rule) but if the groom thinks you’re a suitable candidate then there’s something in you he can see, even if you can’t.
4. This isn't the Comedy Store so relax
The guests want you to succeed. Unlike with stand up comedy, the crowd (guests) want you to do well. The moment you make your first joke or mild-mannered ice breaker, your audience will laugh. Trust me.
In my first speech, I stood up and make a very crappy joke and I got a laugh. A wave of relief washed over me. This isn’t a comedy club, no one’s paid to see you. It’s a day full of happiness and people want you to do well. They’re not the enemy, they’re on your side. You’re not going to war, you’re talking to a room full of well-wishers and friends.
I cannot exaggerate this enough: Feel the love, breathe it in, and go from there.
5. Don’t steal jokes from the Internet
If you’ve come here for jokes, you’re out of luck. Don’t steal them from online sources. This is a golden rule, ignore it at your peril.
I’ve said it before, find your own voice.
I’ve sat through best man speeches where jokes have been stolen from the Internet. They stick out like a sore thumb.
A stolen joke feels crowbarred into a speech.
People can instinctively tell when something is written by you or if something has been ripped off; it doesn’t flow, it’s not your voice, it’s not your joke and most importantly of all, you’re conning people as it’s not your sentiment.
You’re there to deliver your sentiment, not a one-liner. Just give them the love vibe, the goodwill and be funny in your own voice.
With that in mind:
6. Gauge the tone and be nice
This might seem like tepid advice but it's crucial. I’ve witnessed more than one best man crash and burn by delivering a speech that would go down well on a boozy night out but is met with stony-faced disdain when read to an audience composed of grandmas and uncles.
Some fundamental rules apply here:
1. Keep the swearing to an absolute minimum
2. Do not mention the groom’s previous girlfriends even in the context of making the bride look good
3. Antics involving law-breaking, sex or drugs should be avoided as topics, no matter how cracking you think the story might be
4. Always, always be positive about the bride and respectful to all family members
If you’re desperate to talk about the time the groom got thrush from an Estonian hooker, either handle it with the delicate precision of a world-class raconteur dismantling a landmine or don’t do it at all.
One best man I knew had to apologise to the bride’s family for mentioning the groom had undergone a nose job when he was a teenager, another was in hot water for comparing the groom’s previous girlfriends to football teams.
Judge your audience.
It’s family entertainment that’s needed, not banter with your Sunday league football team.
Give the groom a ribbing, sure, but remember the guests are on his side.
Everyone wants to hear an embarrassing tale but no one wants to feel awkward.
Take heart; this restriction is a blessing. Writing something nice is a hundred times easier than writing something outrageous. If in doubt, go with the granny-pleaser and keep the dirty jokes to a minimum to avoid getting the cold shoulder on the dance floor later that night.
7. Keep it short and sweet
This one is simple. Seven minutes is the Goldilocks zone you want to hit. Shorter than this is less of a problem than longer. Long speeches cause attentions to wain, stories to ramble and restless guests to shuffle in their chairs and get restless-er.
As Bill Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
8. Enjoy yourself
It’s easy to take it too seriously but enjoy the limelight. You run the show. Rich uncles with important jobs, wayward cousins with attitude problems, your gobby mates on table 9, the attractive bridesmaid who would normally not even notice you, all of them have to shut up and listen to you. Even the bride has to be quiet and this is her magical day.
It’s your stage. It’s a great honour and there will be people jealous you’re getting to do it when they’re consigned to a table near the back.
So put something together, reframe those nerves as excitement and enjoy the day. It’s a wonderful experience.
Also, one thing I can guarantee is the near orgasmic relief you’ll feel afterwards. For that reason alone it’s worth it.
P.S. Final pro-tip:
9. Don’t drink beforehand
It (almost) goes without saying but do not get drunk before the speech. No exceptions.
One of two things will happen if you drink: You’ll still be nervous but no longer have the mental facilities to help yourself out, or you’ll not be nervous and simply embarrass yourself, which is the one thing you didn’t want to do in the first place.
Getting hammered when you have a duty to perform is also irresponsible. And that’s how people will view it. Most won’t think it’s funny you’re drunk, but rather see it as disrespectful.
Do, however, make up for all that sobriety after the speech (if you like a drink). That first beer after you're done will taste of glorious victory. It will be the best pint you’ve ever had.
Take this advice on board and it can’t go wrong. Good luck, trust yourself, embrace the love of the day and most of all, remember to have fun.