Wedding season is upon us, which means nervous men across the globe are waking in cold sweats over the thought of giving a best man speech. It’s not all in your head, either.
Debrett’s, the etiquette experts, go as far as to call it the highlight of proceedings: “It should be a witty and funny account of the groom and a sincere reflection on your friendship.”
So how do you condense a friendship into less than 10 minutes? How do you tell jokes without accidentally insulting everyone? And how do you keep your cool? We’re getting a sweat on now; we’ll let the experts finish off.
Short And Sweet
Every speech is different, but some things are universal whether you’re going for serious and heartfelt or debut stand-up routine (more on that later).
“Your speech should last for no longer than seven minutes, or roughly 1,000 words,” says Dominic Bliss, author of Being the Best Man for Dummies. “That’s plenty of time to deliver some killer jokes, but not too long that people get restless.”
Speak Your Mind
There’s no point writing a killer speech for nobody to be able to hear it. Speak loudly and clearly, and if nervous ask for a microphone.
“People will engage with your speech much more if they can actually hear what you’re saying, meaning you’re more likely to get those laughs and tears you want,” says Eric Handelsmen, editor at married life website The Spruce.
Keep It Clean
The aim is to get a few giggles, not make great aunt Doris at the back of the room swallow her dentures in shock, say the experts at Sussex-based professionals The Best Man Speech.
“To be on the safe side, avoid all expletives, even mild ones like crap and bloody. If you feel that toning your language down compromises your delivery or makes it less funny, work harder on your delivery.”
Learn Your Lines
Even if wracked with nerves, one of the easiest ways to at least appear confident is to maintain eye contact with the room, so learn your lines.
“As the speech progresses, of course, you can look at prompt cards,” says Kye Harman of speechwriting experts Simply The Best Man. “But at least make sure the openers and closing lines are fully committed to memory, so you can address the audience while doing it.”
Speaking to a room filled with hundreds of strangers is enough to make any man want some Dutch Courage, but being drunk when giving your speech is a fundamental no-no.
“You don’t want to be completely uninhibited or say something you’ll regret later on,” says male etiquette expert Brett McKay. “You’re nervous for a reason – channel it into energy. Postpone your pints (and champagne) until after the speech – the toast will be much sweeter.”
Don’t Force It
Radio and TV presenter Matthew Stadlen knows a thing or two about speaking to audiences, but even he found the best man speech a step too far for his nerves. “Unless you’re a comedian, this will possibly be the only time in your life when there is an intestine-shrinking pressure to be laugh-out-loud amusing.”
Stadlen advises against trying too hard to be funny (which can just come off as cringe). “Anecdotes are good. But not ones about the stag do, former girlfriends or anything to do with sex. If you’re not naturally funny, a sentimental speech will probably mean more anyway.”
Finish On Form
Rounding off your speech with a neat flourish guarantees it’ll stick in people’s minds as a success. “Spend more of your time finding the ideal closing remarks,” says McKay.
“This is what people will remember, so either save the punchline of a big gag for then or go sentimental and leave them with teary eyes. Round it off with a swift toast, and you’re home and dry.”