When your best friend asks you to be his best man, you think you have everything under control. You run errands like a boss, you plan the bachelor party of the century, and when it comes to keeping those wedding bands safe, you’re the lord of the rings. You even learn how to fluff and bustle the bride’s wedding dress just in case the maid of honor throws her back out on the big day.
Then you realize you have to give a speech. Just the thought makes your palms sweat and gives you flashbacks to your kindergarten Thanksgiving pageant when your performance as a singing gourd was cut short by stage-fright-induced vomiting. What’s scarier still is you have no idea what you’re supposed to say.
If you’re nervous about getting up in front of a crowd, you’re not alone. Some studies suggest the average person fears public speaking more than death. Fortunately, there are some practical strategies to overcome your anxiety and give the happy couple the send-off they deserve.
Any task becomes less intimidating when you break it down into manageable steps. Your speech will essentially consist of three parts. Part one is where you introduce yourself and thank everyone for attending. Part three is where you give your closing remarks and a brief toast. The only challenging piece is part two.
The Spruce recommends doing a bit of brainstorming to think back on how you met the groom. Write down the first words that come to mind when you picture the bride and groom together, then think about the anecdotes you could relate that illustrate those qualities best. You might describe what the groom was like before he met the bride, when he first fell in love, and after they became a couple.
In Brides, David Litt, a former speechwriter for President Obama, adds, “What you’re looking for is the theme that comes out of those anecdotes. So, what’s the one unifying idea that ties everything together? Generally speaking, the best way to think about your theme is: Afterward, if people only remember one thing, what’s that one thing? Once you have that, the rest of it flows a little better.”
Few people have ever complained about a speech being too short. On Groovy Groomsmen Gifts, Vow Muse, a company that provides custom speechwriting services, advises aiming for a five-minute speech that grabs the audience’s attention from the start and ends before anyone’s attention drifts. Make sure you time your speech ahead of time.
As your Scout Leader always said, it’s important to be prepared. The better you know your material and the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be at the reception. Write out your speech, say it out loud, practice in front of a mirror, and enlist the help of friends to serve as a practice audience. Make adjustments based on their feedback.
You don’t want to memorize every word and recite it like a robot, but you don’t want to try to ad lib the whole thing and end up rambling or worse, at a total loss for words. The best approach is to use note cards that list your main points, so you can refer to them but not read them word-for-word. The Wedding Secret recommends memorizing a few key lines, such as the first and last of each section, so you’ll always know what comes next.
All sources agree on one point: give your speech sober. You might think you need a little liquid courage, but being inebriated just increases your chances of saying something you’ll regret. The toast you make should be your first or second drink of the evening.
When it comes to the content of your speech, some topics are best avoided. In Esquire, professional speechwriter, Oliver Lucas, advises against mentioning sex, money, politics, or religion. Remember your audience will likely include children and elderly relatives, so keep it clean and minimally controversial. “If you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this appropriate?’ it’s not,” says Litt.
Tread especially carefully when speaking of the bride. Matthew Stadlen says in the Telegraph, “It’s a good idea to say something early on about how beautiful the bride looks and what a brilliant woman she is in general. This will set her, her parents and friends at ease and reassure everyone that you’re not the enemy. This is NOT a day to remind the bride that her husband has ever enjoyed amorous relations with anyone else.”
Finally, keep in mind that the day isn’t about you. “Remember, you’re not putting on a show,” says Litt. “You’re there because you know someone and care about them, and you’re sharing that with a bunch of other people. Even a great best man speech is not supposed to steal the show.”
Have you ever been a best man? Share your own wedding speech secrets in the comments.