I’ve never given a best man speech, but, after watching a lot of them, I’ve identified a few of the qualities that make a wedding toast memorable. First of all, the best man often gets sandwiched between the father of the groom and the maid of honor. Amidst all the long-windedness, great speeches must showcase emotional density. The most successful groomsmen manage to pack gratitude, warmth, humor, good wishes, and personal stories into a concise package. Sure, the best friend has a unique obligation to poke fun at the groom on his big day, but, rather than nonstop one-liners, I would argue that brevity and sincerity can elevate the best man toast to an artform.
In this article, I’ll share a foolproof formula for keeping your speech short and sweet (and funny). I’ll also give some advice about public speaking, borrowed from a Jeopardy champion.
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Any wedding day speech should contain the following components:
An expression of gratitude | Thank the hosts for putting together a wonderful event. Thank the newlyweds for honoring you with the role of best man. Thank the bridesmaids for being so good-looking. Thank the caterer. Thank the band. You don’t have to thank everyone, but including a few sincere expressions of gratitude can go a long way.
A short anecdote about your relationship | Tell the wedding guests something about how you know the groom. Choose a funny story that will highlight either his good character or some sweet deficiency that he had prior to meeting his bride (or groom). For example, you might tell a hilarious story explaining that, when you met your friend, he hadn’t filed his taxes in three years. This story should set you up for an anecdote about the couple. For instance, you might commend the tax-evader for marrying such a brilliant accountant.
Compliment the couple | If you’ve told an embarrassing story about your friend, be sure to redeem him by explaining how his future-spouse makes him a better man. Remember, you want to leave the groom feeling supported and appreciated. This isn’t an all-out roast. If you don’t know much about the couple, ask questions and learn more.
Explain why the groom will make a great husband | If you’re not sure what to say here, you can include a quote or a song lyric. Feel free to ask the groom directly. You can even crowdsource the answer from his family and close friends.
End with a Toast | Raise a glass to celebrate your friend’s wedding. Don’t forget to look the bride and groom in the eyes as you wish them well.
Getting drunk | Even if you hate public speaking, you should consider it a great honor to be included in the wedding party. Being the best man comes with a big responsibility. You absolutely cannot get drunk before giving your speech. If you want to have more than one or two drinks, bide your time until the second half of the reception.
Telling inside jokes | Everyone wants to give a funny best man speech, but inside jokes don’t usually get laughs. Be sure to add enough exposition to ensure that your stories make sense. Remember that half your audience consists of distant relatives and coworkers who don’t know the newlyweds as well as you do.
Insulting a bride | First of all, even if the newlyweds seem to enjoy off-color jokes in a private setting, remember that this particular audience contains bosses, young children, and elderly relatives. Try not to make jokes about the wedding night, your friend’s romantic past, or anything overtly sexual. Don’t criticize anything about the wedding, such as a late start or bad food. You should probably call the bride beautiful at some point even if you think she looks sweaty and nervous. Remember, a wedding day can be extremely stressful, so even the most easy-going person may react with sensitivity to insults.
Reading from notecards or rambling | You should memorize your speech. Since you only need to prepare about 3-4 minutes of content, it should be relatively easy to remember. You may ad lib parts of the speech—for instance, congratulate the newlyweds about a unique feature that stands out about their wedding decor—but don’t get carried away. Nothing’s worse than an overly long speech or a speech read entirely from notecards. Nervous public speakers should feel free to use notecards, but prompts need only contain bullet points.
Do a Practice Run
A best man may get recruited for last-minute errands during the wedding week, so don’t procrastinate. Before the bachelor party, complete your speech and practice it in front of the other groomsmen. Think of them as your secret speechwriters, and ask them to contribute any one-liners that occur to them. You don’t have to include these jokes in your speech, but a little extra inspiration never hurt anyone. If you complete your speech early, you’ll have more time to focus on body language and delivery. Plus, with practice, you’ll be much less likely to become distracted and forget your opening line.
When you practice, wear your wedding attire and toast with an actual glass. Jeopardy champion Buzzy Cohen explains the importance of dress rehearsals in his book, Get Ready: A Champion’s Guide to Preparing for the Moments That Matter. Many speeches have been ruined by an orator trying to juggle a piece of paper and a glass of champagne. Don’t let a high-pressure moment be your first time problem-solving. Whether you’re preparing for a wedding speech or a game show, Buzzy recommends getting comfortable moving around in your “game day” clothes. This technique helps you to feel at ease when the pressure mounts.
Think of your practice speeches as a chance to work on the choreography of your performance. Decide when to point to the happy couple and when to pick up your glass. Before the wedding reception, if possible, learn the sequence of speakers. If you’re the first speaker in the lineup, be sure to ask questions about where you should stand and which microphone you should use. Since the groom will be busy on his special day, your best resource will likely be the wedding planner or the mother of the bride. If you’re not the first speaker, take your cues from the father of the bride or the maid of honor. Pay attention to small details. Ask yourself, is the microphone cordless? Do I need to climb stairs to get to the stage?
If you don’t ask these questions ahead of time, they may occur to you as you’re stumbling around, looking for a microphone. Worst case scenario, such thoughts may cause you to forget your well-written intro.
It’s Not About You
As much as you want to show the room that you’re a charming gentleman and a great friend, you should focus your energy where it belongs. All your hard work and preparation serve an important purpose. Your speech needs to celebrate a great guy and his new wife (or husband). Think about what you would want from a best man on your own wedding day, and try to treat your friend with that level of respect. Stand up, share a joke or two, make a few heartwarming observations, and sit down. If you’re able to give a short and emotionally dense speech, you’ll be receiving high-fives on the dance floor before you know it.
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.