Speech advice
June 2, 2011 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm the best man at a wedding this weekend, and I have to give a toast.

Although it's an honor that my friend chose me as his number one, he keeps chiding me that he expects some grand 10 minute oration. I think he's only half-kidding. But I know from experience that I'm not good at public speaking. I can't speak extemporaneously, and reciting speeches off of paper is flat and awkward. I don't think I'm going to be able to deliver effective jokes, etc, even though that seems important. I don't even have anecdotes to tell that older people would understand.

Is there a way to do this that doesn't seem like I'm just blowing off the toast with a glib 30 second "cheers" because I'm lazy or don't care?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't have to be long, but it should be emotional and heartfelt. Begin with a slightly embarrassing anecdote about the groom (keyword SLIGHTLY. Nothing off-color or immoral). Then explain some way in which the groom has been bettered as a person by his relationship with the bride, and (ideally) how that improvement makes him a better, more fun friend to be around.

Write it in advance and practice it several dozen times in front of a mirror and then several more times in front of actual people. Speak more loudly and more slowly than seems natural to you and it will sound good to the audience.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:21 AM on June 2, 2011

I delivered the 'best man' speech at my buddy's wedding, and while I think everyone expected some version of a "roast", mine lasted only about 3 minutes (I did make a few notes though). I think if you can throw in a chuckle, preferably at the grooms expense, and make sure you compliment the bride and/or marriage ("I'm sure it will last forever etc etc"), you'll be fine. Unless you're a professional stand-up comic or speechwriter, no-one wants a 10 minute plus speech. They want to start drinking and make embarrassing overtures to the bridesmaids.

Or what Rock Steady said.
posted by elendil71 at 10:23 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I struggled with this too, albeit as a maid of honor for a girlfriend's wedding. I wrote out what I wanted to touch on, and then practiced like crazy. Seriously. Practice, practice, practice. I think in general, you can get away with five paragraphs:

-the first describes (briefly!) how you met the groom. Here you can insert a (brief!) funny story about your friendship, although make sure it's a story that still paints him in a good light.
-the second describes their early courtship, how much positivity she has brought to his life, etc. Anecdotes are good. "I knew things were different with Annie when..."
-the third describes what a good team they make.
-the fourth describes how happy you are that they are getting married, how you're happy to welcome her into the 'family' of friends, etc.
-the fifth is a closure paragraph, mentioning again that you're honored to stand up for their wedding, and wishing everyone 'cheers'!

Dont's: don't make it about you and the groom (it's supposed to be about the bride & groom), don't make off-colour jokes or tell embarassing stories about either, don't get too drunk before-hand.

There's nothing wrong with writing out jokes, or reading from a piece of paper. If you practice enough, you'll be able to do this with appropriate emphasis and winks to the crowd at the humorous bits. And no matter what your friend says, don't worry about speaking for ten minutes--no one wants to listen to that. I think three or four minutes is plenty.
posted by stellaluna at 10:25 AM on June 2, 2011 [9 favorites]

Also, if you're more of a visual learner, there are PLENTY of "what not to do" best man speeches on the YouTubes.
posted by stellaluna at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2011

Write a speech and practice it. Practice again and again and some life will come into it. Get off of this "can't" business, this "I'm not good", "I can't", "I don't". At the moment you're not even allowing yourself the possibility that you can do this.

You don't need jokes or anecdotes; these are the icing. What you need is a cake. The best man speech is (usually, in my experience) a heartwarming personal story about why the groom is a great guy, why the bride is a great match for him, and how happy they will be together. You're endorsing the match, on behalf of the groom's social circle. The bride's friends and family enjoy this endorsement because it adds to the positive energy you like to have at a wedding, namely the feeling that the couple is about to embark on a life of shared happiness together. Remember, a lot of these people don't know the groom very well, if at all, and all they know likely comes through the bride and the family, both of which will present a particularly filtered viewpoint. The groom's friends are the ones most able to tell it like it is and give a window into the groom as a real person. Good speeches humanize him.

You can be systematic about this. Come up with three things that make the groom a great guy; a story about how you met and became friends and what you've been to together (so people get a sense that you know this guy better than anyone); three things about the bride that he really loves; describe his emotions and reactions when the couple met, were dating, fell in love, got engaged (specific things he told you, if you can; the details are what make it compelling). Tell the story of the groom and his relationship to the bride, in other words, but tell it from your point of view. This is all you have to do.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:27 AM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Dont's: don't make it about you and the groom (it's supposed to be about the bride & groom), don't make off-colour jokes or tell embarassing stories about either, don't get too drunk before-hand.

This is sterling advice of the highest quality. I have seen weddings ruined because a smart-ass best-man thought it would be funny to tell an embarrassing story that upset the bride.

The five-paragraph approach is awesome. Be sincere, express love, speak briefly, and get the party back to what it's about; the couple. :)

Good luck!
posted by DWRoelands at 10:30 AM on June 2, 2011

practice practice practice
write it down on a small card
if it doesn't fit on a card i'ts too long!
make it nice

"I always knew they were perfect for each other when he said..."

never talk about any other women unless its his mom!

everyone is pulling for you.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2011

Do not upset the bride. You may not know this but typically the whole entire audience is on the bride's side. You mess with her, you lose your audience.

Also, there is nothing wrong with writing it up beforehand. Write out the whole thing. Practice it a few times. Bring either the whole thing or an outline that you can draw from.

Do not be drunk. Typically, the toasts come fairly early in the evening -- at the start of dinner and just after the ceremony -- you can hold off with excessive drinking until then.

I think a funny joke for you since the groom is ribbing you about the long speech is to pull out a folded piece of paper and unfold it and unfold it and unfold it.... as though you have a very, very long speech planned indeed. The audience will laugh and be nervous about your speech... you could even say "There's a lot you don't know about [groom] (unfolding massive sheet of paper) ... but I promised [bride] I wouldn't get into that (crumple and toss over shoulder)." Then pull a few small index cards from your other pocket and just be genuine and fairly brief.

Good luck! It's fun -- don't freak out. They'll love you.
posted by amanda at 10:55 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The entirety of my best man's speech to my older brother and his wife:

"Since our Dad died years ago, Chris has been both a brother and a father figure to me, so I know he's going to be the most amazing family man I know. I've known Susan longer than my brother has, and I've never seen her so in-love, so I know she's going to take good care of my older brother. To Chris and Susan. [raises glass"

The entirety of my best man's speech to my younger brother and his wife:

"They say that your wedding day should be the happiest day of your life, but I sincerely hope that isn't true. I can only wish that every day from here on out brings more happiness, prosperity and love to Sean and Heather. I know they have a good head start, because they are so obviously made for one another. To Sean and Heather. [raises glass]"

Both times, everyone who spoke to me during the reception said they really appreciated how short and sweet the toasts were. I've sat through longer, more involved speeches, but it always seems like it's more about the best man than the couple.
posted by xingcat at 11:26 AM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

No one at the reception wants to hear a 10-minute speech.

The one time I was in this position, it was at a traditional Chinese wedding, which meant the guests had been there for over two hours, drinking the whole time except during the 5-minute actual ceremony. Drinks before the ceremony, drinks during the looooong period afterwards while everyone had individual portraits taken with the wedding couple, drinks, drinks, drinks. Notice that I didn't mention food, which, at the time of my speech, had been laid on the guests' tables, but could not be touched until I finished my speech. Those folks really, really wanted a glib 30 second "cheers," and I gave it to them, pretty much, handing my prepared speech to the groom to read on his own.

The only other best man speeches I remember are the bad ones, the ones detailing dating history and drunken escapades in college and what not.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:27 AM on June 2, 2011

posted by litnerd at 11:27 AM on June 2, 2011

Ten minutes is INSANE. IN-SANE. You do not want a ten-minute speech. The whole wedding ceremony out of the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer only lasts about 10 minutes. You want something along the lines of 2-3 minutes.

If you have to choose between funny and heartfelt, go with heartfelt. Here's a rough outline that you can modify or outright ignore, but which might be helpful:

"When I first met $Groom, he was {amusing but charming anecdote about $Groom's past}. He even {story that relates to $Groom's early expectations of his relationship future.}

But when I met $Bride, I realized {lots and lots and lots of things about how excellent $Bride is.} And when I saw them together, I knew that {specific discussions about why they are such a great couple.}

$Groom, I hope that {starry-eyed and romantic predictions of the couple's future.} And I know that wherever your lives lead you, $Bride will be there, making every day better. {Blah blah blah schmoopy.} Everyone, please raise your glasses to $HappyCouple!"
posted by KathrynT at 11:37 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing practice.

But one other shortcut, which I saw used to great effect: the best man read from some of the grooms first e-mails to him about the bride (then the bride-to-be). Obviously they were complimentary and it was a beautiful window into earliest stages of their romance...and didn't require any memorization!
posted by vecchio at 11:37 AM on June 2, 2011

There are very few moments in a standard male-male friendship where it is socially appropriate to express heartfelt affection. This is one of them; take the opportunity.

(And, yes, roll it into an avowal of how lucky they both are, or some similar sentiment that keeps both spouses at least somewhat in the spotlight.)

Bonus: if you have said something earnest and heartwarming, nobody is going to remember it as a bad speech (unless you also do something disastrous, I suppose).
posted by foursentences at 11:40 AM on June 2, 2011

I've done the job three times so here's the advice of an old hand. Tell your friend that the best man will do whatever he feels right, and if your friend wants to control and dictate what the best man should do, he needs to pick someone other than you. The whole point of the best man's speech - certainly in the UK - is that you make the bridegroom sweat and squirm a bit without being nasty or upsetting. He absolutely should not be telling you what to do.

That said - and again, this is UK-centric - the best man's speech is supposed to be the highlight of the reception. But it should be no more than five minutes. It's a reception. People want to drink the champagne and settle down to eat. So do not feel worried that you may be too short. Come to think of it, the fact that the groom expressed worries about not being long enough could give you an excellent opportunity... :-)

Seriously: tell your mate that if he chooses you, he gets what you feel comfortable with. If he wants a puppet he needs to pick someone else.
posted by Decani at 11:52 AM on June 2, 2011

I was in the same boat. In the total "I have NO idea what to do!!!!" boat. And then a friend gave me a good idea- use an anology of something the groom liked. For instance, he's into video and board games, so I compared his relationship to leveling up. Gave the embarrassing story of their first aggro and then how they leveled up through various interactions and experiences. And then they finally got to some awesome level now that they're getting married.
posted by jmd82 at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2011

I always liked Dean's speech from Serendipity. But while the content and tone there would have been perfect for my wedding, it's certainly not for everyone.

Depending on how large the event will be, you may be speaking to a very large group of people, in which case you may be expected to be using a microphone. If you have not used a microphone before, talk to someone who has (at your church, or if you have a musician friend) and get some tips on mic technique. You don't want to be the guy WHO IS EATING THE MIC ONE SECOND and then is barely audible when he turns his head away.
posted by xedrik at 1:05 PM on June 2, 2011

Best Man Speeches Guide via the Art of Manliness.
posted by lizbunny at 1:38 PM on June 2, 2011

I just did this. I didn't have a clue (and the groom didn't either) and used this to help me out: link
It lists some expectations that I wouldn't have thought of like "you're supposed to thank the parents and toast the bridesmaids".
You should practice by reading it out loud at least a few times. If you're not used to speaking you want to just get used to your own voice.
Time it a few times. (mine came out to 6 minutes in practice)
I had the speech with me and read a lot(most?) of it. No one will care. Just focus on making sure your voice is loud enough all the way to the end of sentences.
What the other people said is true. Everyone wants you to do well and they'll support you.
posted by Spumante at 2:45 PM on June 2, 2011

I gave a toast at my brother's wedding, and I'm terrible at public speaking, and I made my brother cry by being honest and heartfelt in my own understated way. You can do a great job. All the formulas above are great starting points: cute story about the groom, your friendship, the awesomeness of his wife and their relationship, wishes for the future, etc. I'm going to diverge from the above advice in one respect: you don't have to write out every single word. Sometimes I speak best from bullet points, because the key phrases are in front of me but I have to do enough spontaneous filler that I still sound casual and improvisatory. Definitely practice, still, but feel free to leave the script a tiny bit open.
posted by bassjump at 4:19 PM on June 2, 2011

so, at a few weddings I've been to, the best man has a funny speech about the groom, the dad has a funny story about the groom, and I'm like- who is that chick in white next to the hilariously cool guy?

So yeah, if you can, make it about the groom AND the bride. As a couple. Because- the wedding is about them as a couple, not them both as individuals.

short, and no "hilarious" (embarrassing) stories that will have the conservative aunties and uncles squirming, and you'll do fine.

Seriously when he's asking for 10 minutes he probably has no idea how long 10 minutes actually is! (and he's probably joking, a little?)
posted by titanium_geek at 4:47 PM on June 2, 2011

Four time best man here (yet never married...) and the single piece of advice I would give is 'Write out every word and read it aloud several times prior'. You don't have to be uproariously funny, because people will be in a happy mood anyway and will chuckle appropriately regardless as long as you're not being a prat. Nor do you have to be Barack Obama's Oratory Coach if your affection for the bride and groom shows through. But if you want to glide smoothly through the process, know exactly what you are going to say by writing it out long-hand beforehand (which will help you memorise a lot of it anyway), and don't be afraid to have it written out, word-for-word, on paper, cards, or hotel stationary, to refer to as necessary. People will only have a problem is you read it with your nose buried in it like you're in English class with concussion.

(The other single piece of advice I would give is have a strong toast for the end - not just 'to the bride and groom' but an actual wish for them that the crowd can get behind. But that's just a personal thing.)
posted by Sparx at 5:35 PM on June 2, 2011

I went to a wedding last weekend. One of the groomsmen made a toast that was absolutely the highlight of the wedding. He didn't practice much, it was long, he read it off of his paper. He mentioned before hand that he wasn't confident about his public speaking abilities. There were a few stumbling moments. But it was absolutely the most heartfelt and genuine and generous thing I've ever heard anybody read. He didn't try to be a standup comic, nor did he get sappy. He just plainly described why the groom was a truly good human being, what his friendship with the groom had meant to him over the years, and how the groom's (and bride's) stellar qualities were evident in so many ways and how they were truly perfect for each other. This wasn't like "I've noticed that John and Sally have so much in common, and are both really friendly and nice, so they'll be so happy together", this was a deeply honest speech about how the groom has dropped everything to be there for him in times of need, how the bride had truly enriched his life as well since entering the picture, and how much he valued their friendship. Very moving.
posted by Cygnet at 6:14 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to weigh in on the side of not trying to embarrass the groom or bride. Somebody who is a really good public speaker can tell an embarrassing anecdote in a way that comes across as funny and endearing -- but if you get it even a little bit wrong, it comes off as awkward (at best) and mean-spirited (at worst.) Since you say you're not good at public speaking, I would not take the risk.

I have been at weddings where an attempt at good-natured embarrassment goes bad. By contrast, I have never heard people complain about a positive and heartfelt toast, even if it contained no humor whatsoever. You can never go wrong by saying nice things about the groom and the bride at a wedding.

You mention that you don't have any anecdotes older people would understand. Is it possible to tell one of those anecdotes, then sum it up at the end? As in, "For those of you who don't know what a hashtag is, the point is, [GROOM] was there when I needed him, and I know he'll be there for [BRIDE], too."

If the anecdotes are things you just can't sum up, you can simply allude to them in a way that the groom will understand, and then explain the emotional significance for everybody else. As in, "From Camp Blargyblarg to multiplayer Quake deathmatches, [GROOM] has always made me laugh and always been a true friend." Some people won't know what a Quake deathmatch is-- but everybody understands the idea of true friendship.

posted by yankeefog at 8:18 AM on June 3, 2011

Graah. That was not supposed to be entirely in italics. Sorry.
posted by yankeefog at 8:18 AM on June 3, 2011

Last year I was the best man at my friend's wedding, which was a slightly spontaneous occasion due to the bride and groom wanting to get married quickly for legal reasons. Foolishly, I thought the informal affair meant there wasn't going to be the usual round of speeches, and I thought that right up until he came over to me and said, "Oh, and [bride] wants to do the speeches in about ten minutes."


So here's what I did, and it seemed to go over pretty well:

1. Story of how I met the groom.
2. A brief aside on how he decided to strike out on his own after we lived together for a number of years.
3. Story of how I met the bride and saw their compatibility right away.
4. Compliment bride directly, praise friend directly, toast couple's future happiness.

Point 2 was just for me and him, really. 1, 3, 4, bang, you're done. Five minutes, tops; probably no more than 3. I have funny stories so I told them; if you don't, you will not lose anything by not trying to be a stand-up comic. Be sincere, be sweet, and remember that you're basically acting as a witness to their union, so talk about that. There's nothing wrong with using notecards and there's nothing wrong with keeping it simple. The maid of honor spoke before me, for maybe a minute, and just talked about how much she loved the bride and the two of them together and how happy she was for them, and that went just fine. Just remember that everyone's happy to be there and everyone's inclined to think you're awesome already, so you're going to be facing a receptive audience who will be perfectly satisfied with genuine sentiment. Good luck.
posted by Errant at 3:42 PM on June 3, 2011

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