I have been writing wedding speeches for a long time now, and I can’t ever remember having a conversation with someone who informed me how excited and enthusiastic they were to be speaking in front of a room full of people. Public speaking is nerve wracking at the best of times, but best men have the added pressure of having to be funny, To what extent they put their foot on the humour pedal is up to them, but guests, especially in the UK, are expecting to be entertained, and so ignore that at your peril. Of course, this wouldn't; be nearly so stressful if it wasn’t for the fact that most best men kick their duties down the road until the last possible minute. Having a speech to make and a year to think about it, can cause some butterflies in the stomach, having a speech to make and a week to do something about it, can make you feel like you’re going to give birth to a fully grown Albatross. So, it’s all about planning and time management.
Getting the gig
Most best men are given the honour of that position with at least 6 months to go, but more often than not, a year or so. Very few couples decide to get married and then book it up for a few months down the line. Most venues and wedding suppliers are booked up several years in advance, which means your average best man will have a lot of time to get things sorted. However, men being men, they don’t.
I’ve never worked this one out, but the vast majority of guys spend at least 11 months and 2 weeks worrying about the speech, and then the last 2 weeks actually doing something about it. I’m often asked what is the best piece of advice I can give for making a wedding speech, and my answer is always the same: start now. That way you don’t lose a year to episodic anxiety, can enjoy life, and at the same time really get to know the speech. Whilst other best men are penning their masterpieces in the church, you can sit back, enjoy the day and just think about the standing ovation. As General MacArthur famously once said: have a good plan, execute it violently, do it today.
Kicking off the speech now, doesn’t mean sitting down every evening for lengthy writing sessions. The best way to start things off is to make notes whenever something pops into your mind. Just jot it down, stick it into your phone, and start amassing a treasure trove of ideas and information. Having to remember things with the clock ticking down and with just days to go until the wedding is a recipe for disaster. Whilst you’re making these notes, you can, in an idle moment, begin to work out how you’re going to weave everything together. Remember that you’re looking at all aspects of the groom’s life, not just stories, so if he had a real fear of melted cheese when he was a young boy, then make a note of it.
Piecing together the jigsaw
Once you’ve got all the information collated, then start putting it into different sections. You should have things like stories, how you first met, passions, disasters, anything at all that can describe his character in a funny way. So, now you need to think of a theme, a framework around which you can hang the whole speech. A NATO standard best man speech is an introduction, four stories and an ending, and I always think that it’s a really hard way to land a speech. If you can think of a theme for your speech, you can then bring those stories into a much funnier light, with something to play against. That theme could be related to hsi job, his hobbies, or even his character traits.
Now it’s time to start writing the speech, and as you can appreciate, all of these stages take a considerable amount of time. Writing should never be forced, because creativity and humour just doesn’t work like that. Give yourself a couple of months to write the speech, and in reality you’ve probably got about a total of 24 hours. People always overestimate the amount of free time they have, and I’ll often speak to clients who think that 2 weeks is plenty of time to get things done - 2 weeks equates to about 8 hours, because factor in a career, partner, social life and sleeping, and that’s what’s left. You’ll soon discover the moments when you hit the sweet spot and can;t stop writing, and in the same way the times when you sit at the keyboard and nothing happens. This is why it’s so important to start as early as possible.
Getting to know your speech
Having spent so much time writing it, you’ll be intimately familiar with the speech already, this is again another huge positive to getting organised and having a productive approach towards writing the speech. All you have to do now is keep reading the speech and really cement it in your brain. Best men on much more compressed timelines will have to force it into their memories and that’s never a pleasant experience. You’ll know the speech inside out and upside down, so all you’ll need is the odd prompt on the day, and you’ll look like a seasoned professional.
In the final days before the speech you can relax and ooze confidence instead of going into an emotional breakdown. Work out whether prompt cards or having the speech printed out in full is going to work for you best, and practice looking up and engaging with your audience as much as possible. Learn where the pauses are, which words deserve emphasis and what links one paragraph to another. Also practice reading as slowly as possible, which should be a lot easier to achieve given your knowledge of the speech and the confidence that it gives you.
The end game
So, you’ve devoted a few hours each month for the past 6-12 months to make your speech a great success. There’s stacks of content, there’s an original and funny theme, and the delivery is on point, but is it really worth all that effort? Well, firstly the groom has bestowed upon you a huge honour, and it’s your job to make it as successful and enjoyable as possible. The best man speech is a really important part of the day, so nothing less than a great speech works for that occasion. Secondly, whilst it’s not your wedding, it’s your speech, and you are going to remember that moment for the rest of your days, so you need to make sure the experience is a really joyous and successful one. I speak to a lot of clients who have made disastrous best man speeches in the past, and that sinking feeling every time it airs, never goes away. On the other hand, make a great job of it, and it’s an unbeatable feeling that’s with you for life!