Best man speech – lost in translation

The world has always been a big place, and ever since time began we’ve wandered far and wide trying to find that special someone…or at the very least, someone who seems a lot more interesting and attractive than the girl in Boots. Maybe it’s the budget airline industry, maybe it’s the connectivity of this digital age, but more and more of us are finding partners from countries and cultures that are so different from our own. And long may that continue.

There is something so intoxicating about being immersed in a world that bears no resemblance to your own…world’s where the cultural reference points are weapons grade cheese and local moonshine that’s the same distillate as rocket fuel. Why, settle for a future of Sainsbury’s and casual pub violence on a Friday night, when you could stroll by the Adriatic in shorts in November, meet grown men for ice creams on a Sunday, and have your salami sliced by a supermodel? Yes, from Eastern Europe to New Zealand, the lives we can only dream about are really ours for the taking, but what happens when you do meet the girl of your dreams in somewhere like Kyrgyzstan?

Well, what usually happens if you’re British, is that you rely heavily on the girl being not only able to speak English, but also happy to see you not make the slightest effort to learn her language for the rest of your days together. I have many friends who have partners from Holland, Italy, Spain, France, India and Russia, and not one of them can speak a bean of their partner’s language after a couple of decades together.

So, if that works for her, then the next stage is meeting her parents who don’t speak English, so you then develop a long term relationship which usually revolves around a lot of pointing whilst doing a lot of drinking. If this all goes to plan, the next stage is to get married, which invariably takes place in your wife-to-be’s home town, and so that throws up the question of speeches. Every country around the world tackles this slightly differently – some don’t have them, others are more of an elongated toast, some are all about the funny, and others are really not. However, whatever happens, every other country seems to be only too aware of the British tradition of wedding speeches, and are only too happy to witness this first hand….up to a point.

In order to make this a success, you need to follow some fairly simple rules.

  1. Do not, whatever you do attempt a running translation of your best man speech into your wife’s mother tongue. It will bloat the speech to epic proportions, become increasingly tedious, and neither the British contingent, or your new Polish friends, will like you by the end of it.
  2. Always make the speech in English – you’ve got to cater for the people who get this kind of speech, otherwise you’ll be in danger of nobody getting it.
  3. Keep it short. If you’re making this in English, then there’s going to be a fairly sizeable number of guests that are going to be twiddling their thumbs whilst you rattle on. My advice would be to stick to the 5 minute mark, and make every word count. If it looks like baggage or filler, remove it.
  4. Always have a couple of lines aimed directly towards the host nationality at the very start, and a couple at the end. Try to deliver it in their language and let them know in a funny way that if they can bear with you for 5 minutes, then all this will be over, and hopefully the marriage will still be intact.

If you stick to those simple rules, then your best man speech in Madrid, Kiev, Warsaw or Split will be a resounding success, you’ll probably find yourself incredibly popular with local girls, start dating one, and this process can begin all over again…repeat to fade.

A man in a blue wedding suit chats to a groomsman

Best Man speech – not all advice is good advice

The internet is awash with tips, tricks, hints and secret formulas to make your best man speech the most amazingly drop dead all time success in the whole history of weddings. Which is great, the only thing is, the internet isn’t that great sometimes at deciding just who gets the appropriate advice. This really matters when it comes to best man speeches, because there is a huge difference between a best man speech made in America, and one made in the UK or Australia.

I have recently read what claimed to be the most amazing advice writing your best man speech, which is amazing if you live the other side of the Atlantic. Best man speeches in America are a very different beast. They have much less humour, much more sentiment, tend to be quite a bit shorter and focus on the couple rather than the groom. So, as a British or Aussie best man, you should be really wary of any article that informs you to keep it super short, forget comedy and focus on the bride as much as the groom. This is categorically not what a British best man speech is about.

A British best man speech seeks to celebrate the groom in a really funny, inclusive and entertaining way. It is absolutely NOT an exercise in public humiliation, but the comedy is there for a really good reason: to balance the sentiment. I read an article recently written by an acclaimed speechwriter that recommends keeping the speech to around 3 minutes, highlights the need to share your feelings, and suggests going easy on the comedy. Any British best man that stands up and attempts to be emotional about the happy couple for 2 minutes solid, and then sit down without humour, is going to get wheeled off to a secure unit as soon as the tumbleweed clears.

Yes, we are two nations divided by a common language, and as it turns out, our approach to wedding speeches. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and long may those differences continue, however, you just don’t want to get caught taking the wrong advice for your speech. Just as a British best man shouldn’t follow the US protocol, our American cousins would find themselves at odds with the guests making a speech that lasted 8 minutes and was written with a comedy bent.

So, when trawling through the internet in search of sage advice, keep in mind that not everyone knows what they’re talking about, and even if they do, it just might not be the right advice for you.

A groom in a smart grey suit and colourful button hole, stands alone.

The groom speech pitfalls

Although I have extensively documented the fact that there’s nothing we fear more than public speaking, I’ve given little time to the other notable factoid that there’s nothing most grown love more than talking about themselves. Yes, we may not like the idea of standing up and talking in front of others, but given half the chance in private, we can rattle on for hours about ourselves. Of course, social media has fed off this trait, and it’s little surprise that the most profitable companies in the world are the ones which provide a world stage for self aggrandisement. At this point you might be thinking ‘well, what does that have to do with the groom speech?’ …and the answer is: quite a lot actually.

The biggest trap most grooms fall into is talking about themselves in the speech and it can become awkward very quickly. I’ve lost count of the number of times jobs, house moves, exotic holidays and even cars can make it into the speech, and all for one reason only: to make you look good. There’s nothing uglier than someone telling you how great they are, and that becomes even lumpier when executed on a public stage. If you start writing your groom speech with the idea that it’s about family, friends, and of course, your bride, then that’s the best strategy for success. If you find yourself penning something about the time you were in exclusive Maldive resort, it’s probably time to delete. I once had to discourage a groom from putting in the website address of his bride’s firm. He, as it turns out, was beyond help.

Another pitfall is making your groom speech too earnest. The groom speech should be a powerful and meaningful speech, but without humour it can be a clanging bell rather than a symphonic orchestra. You can’t be meaningful and emotional for 10 minutes…well, you can but most guests will have become so bored that they suddenly find the menu interesting, and will be surreptitiously checking final scores. Humour is a hugely important part of any communication, and plays a massive role in the groom speech. So, make sure you have plenty of funny ideas and observations to sprinkle throughout.

Lastly, of all the pitfalls, it’s the one where you come to talking about your new parents in law that is the most common. Most grooms will wax lyrical about their brand new family, and completely neglect or skimp on their own. This is a howler that will last long in the memory – many speeches are remembered for they omitted just as much as what they said. Yep, you might love your father in law’s comedy, you might love your mother in law’s roast dinners, but chances are your own parents aren’t that bad either, so let’s hear it for them too.

A groom speech with a bit of thought works so much better.

A groom in a grey three piece suit buttons up his jacket

Best man speech – ultimate lapses of judgement

I write for pretty much every type of bloke in the world. Some are shy, some are super confident, others are creative, many are very business minded, a lot work with their hands, and some are even writers. Yes, best men come in all shapes and sizes and there’s no effective way if predicting what kind of best man speech they’re going to deliver based purely in what their job or upbringing is. I’ve had very burly builders insist they they don’t want any humour in their speech, they just want to make everyone cry, and I’ve had the most retiring of guys want to do the whole thing as a song.

And that’s wherein lies the rub: best men are an unpredictable bunch when left up to their own devices, and all too often that unpredictability can end in semi disaster. One of the great things about my job is that I get to hear about all the unqualified disasters, and it’s a topic that never loses its appeal.

Only last year we were contacted by a last minute best man who decided that getting some professional help wasn’t worth it, and so made the decision to wing it. It says much about how badly it went that he went out of his way the next week to contact us – he managed to stand up and start speaking but it was such a mess that half way through his ‘speech’ he made the life changing decision to simply run off. Yes, a grown man ran away mid speech. To this day he still hasn’t got over the embarrassment and shame, for all we know he’s still running. This isn’t nerves, it’s just lack of preparation and completely preventable.

However, when it comes to the best man speech, it seems that even the most intelligent guys save the biggest lapses of judgment for the very biggest stage. Let’s think about the best man who decided that it would be really funny to ask all the guests to guess the weight of the bride in profiteroles. Yep, not funny, and it becomes even less funny when you discover she wasn’t the world’s lightest bride, and with no dad or brother to tell him to shut up, it became an unchecked exercise in public humiliation.

Most best men’s biggest problem is that they just don’t stop to really understand what is funny and what’s really not. The profiterole skit might make you laugh down the pub, but even the most feral of best men would easily admit that it wasn’t for public consumption. They get carried away, buoyed by a sense that they have to do the number on the groom and fulfil a role of edgy, roguish friend on a mission. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A best man is there to celebrate the groom in a really funny, inclusive way – you’re there to make people laugh, and that includes the bride and groom.

So, we end in the best man who thought it would be great fun to end on the bridesmaids – quite literally. Best men should never mention the bridesmaids as they’ve just been toasted by the groom, but you especially shouldn’t mention them in a sexually graphic way. Friends of mine are still talking about the best man speech they heard where the best man ended his speech by inviting the bridesmaids to perform a sex act on him…that was 20 years ago. The best man speech is with you for life. Get it wrong and that’s a sentence. Get it right and it’s something you can dine out on for the rest of your days.

Groom speech – stand and deliver

There is a statistic somewhere from a research project in America that confirms more people are scared of the thought of public speaking than they are the thought of death. I see this week in week out – very confident, successful and accomplished people who are terrified at the thought of standing up and talking out loud to people. If anything, that situation is only going to get worse. In America only 3% of smart phone use involves verbal communication, we have already raised a generation that does all of its communicating through text, emails and messages. So, if you think people aren’t that jazzed about making a groom speech today, then they are going to need sedating in the future.

In order to rationalise that fear,. we need to look at exactly what people are so scared of, and it’s pretty basic: nobody wants to stand up and say something that nobody finds funny/interesting/moving. I completely understand that, so what’s the best policy? Start early, invest time and effort into what you’re going to say, and leave nothing to chance. You wouldn’t go to a job interview without putting in some ground work, so why would you leave the speech to the last minute? If you’re that worried about what you’re going to say then do something about it, rather than think it’s an insurmountable task.

Secondly, you have to appreciate the sensibilities of the people you’re talking to. These are all great friends and family, and they want you to do well, they are primed and ready to laugh and enjoy anything you’re going to say – this isn’t your first night at the comedy club, it’s a wedding. So, if you’ve got a great speech, then only really shonky delivery can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How do you mitigate that?

Well, the first thing to do is read the speech as often as you can – do not try to learnt it parrot fashion, you will send yourself bonkers. Instead read it frequently and it will soon cement itself in your brain. You will instinctively know what comes next, the pattern of the speech, word combinations etc, and so there will be no surprises on the day. Once you are super familiar with the speech, then on the day it’s your choice as to how best execute it. A lot of grooms like prompt card, but I think they’re fiddly and you can lose a lot of information on them if you’re working from bullet points. If you’re attempting to write the entire speech on them, you’re going to set new world records in squinting.

My advice would be to print the speech out in full on A4 sheets using a much larger font than normal. You can then use this as a prompt, as you’ll already know the speech inside out, and no chunks of content will be lost in translation. You are making a hugely important statement in your life by getting married, and there’s only one chance to mark that occasion by saying what it means to you. Forget the pressure and think of it as a privilege and an amazing opportunity – because it is.

Guests at a wedding raise their glasses

Groom speech gift dilemma

Everyone loves a present. As a grown up, you’re supposed to sign up to the mantra that giving is so much more pleasurable than receiving, which is of course, nonsense. Nothing beats the feeling of unwrapping something truly wonderful, that you would have never bought for yourself. Kids absolutely love Christmas, and that has nothing to do with giving, it’s all about receiving, and they are right. Giving gifts as a bride and groom has been part and parcel of the wedding machinery for quite some time, and as a best man who’s had to remortgage their trousers for the umpteeth wedding that summer, it’s quite nice to get something back.

Sure, an engraved glass bottom tankard isn’t going to appease your local bank manager, but it’s nice to feel appreciated and recognised on the day. However, that’s where the problems start. When you’re making a groom speech, you have a very limited shelf life before guests start to lose interest. Keep it genuinely entertaining, funny and pacey, and you’ve got 10 minutes maximum, unfortunately many grooms just don’t see it like this until it’s way too late. If you start gassing endlessly about your brand new parents in law, your own parents, siblings, bridesmaids, best man, ushers and wife…it’s going to make Apocalypse Now, look like a TV advert.

But there is one thing that will really send it over the edge; the one drawn out act that will have everyone reaching for their phones, talk amongst themselves, and probably see a few older guests eventually pass away: gift giving. If there was ever one mechanism perfectly designed to destroy a speech, it’s gift giving.

So, just as you’re getting into the speech, people are still interested and everything seems to be going swimmingly, you bring the whole thing to a grinding halt, so that everyone from the best man to the flower girls can traipse up to the top table, stand around embarrassingly waiting for their goody, and then wander back to their seat again. Not only is it unbelievably awkward to witness, but it’s the most pregnant of pregnant pauses…in fact, it’s triplets all by breach birth.

If you add in the fact that now the best man has to wander round for the rest of the evening clutching personalized golf tees, which will almost certainly be found under a chair several days later, then it becomes more pontles by the second. Of course gifts should play a part in the day, but definitely not in the speech. Hand out your gifts in a private, quiet moment on the morning of the wedding…you won’t corrupt your groom speech, and there’s a much better chance of them ending up in the cocktail cabinet of the intended recipient.

The groom speech – a balancing act

We’ve all lived with Coronavirus for nearly a year now, and have spent the last 12 months rearranging what normal means to us, and will spend the next 10 years trying to get our old normal back again. Just like those war time enthusiasts who like to wear heavy knitted tank tops and listen to bakelite radios whilst jiving with pretend GI’s, we’ll form retro clubs that will get together to practice the art of hugging. Societies will form to celebrate the days when you could quite comfortably sneeze on a bus, and and there will be Facebook groups reminiscing about the days of cheek by jowl queuing.

Yes, our lives have been turned upside down, and if you don’t count school children, and the people who used to reside in Old People’s homes, then none more so than couples about to tie the knot. I have spoken to so many people that rearranged their wedding multiple times in the wake of ever changing Government policy and advice. The record was 7 times…7 times! Normally organising one wedding is traumatic and expensive enough, doing it 7 times either means you’re some sort of super human life force, or you’ve got bits missing.

The end result is that when all those grooms who have ridden that awful roller coaster in the year, stand up to make their groom speech, there’s even more to say than normal. Will anyone have any idea of the journey they’ve been on? Will anyone appreciate the sleepless night, the desperate wrangles over money, lost deposits, family members dying, businesses going bust and juggling the arrangements with the arrival of an unexpected lockdown baby? And quite simply, no they won’t.

However tempting it may be, you need to resist the urge to educate them on just how difficult the last year has been, You can definitely allude to it, but going into granular detail about the list of changes and challenges you’ve faced would be as boring as it is futile. You’ve only got a certain time limit for your speech, and I wouldn’t go much past 10 minutes, so why waste a chunk of it talking about something nobody else cares about? This is supposed to be a celebratory, uplifting speech however, embracing the trials and tribulations thanks to Covid, is going to make it sound like somebody talking about their day at work.

In much the same way, it’s best to avoid listing those who should have been here but didn’t make it due to the virus, either through death or otherwise. All your doing is heaping on the negativity and misery, and throwing the spotlight on to something we’d all rather forget. So, have a crisp funny one liner right at the top, and then carry on as you were. Balance is key to a great speech, and if you are going to upset that equilibrium, then please don’t it let it be about the bloody virus.

Groom speech second time round

The Coronavirus has been responsible for many things, but when that guy from the Wuhan lab decided to make a few extra quid by selling a some sort of infected jellyfish at the local market, little did he know what affect that would have on the global divorce rates. In the UK a whopping 42% marriages end in divorce, although that statistic was falling before China thought it would be a great idea to live out the film ‘Contagion’. Covid-19 will see that spike again, and so in the next 10 years we’re going to be having more and more grooms making their groom speeches second time round.

I have plenty of conversations about groom speeches for guys who are doing it for the second time, and they are more aware than most about what it takes to get it right. A phrase I hear all the time is ‘this time I just want to get it right’. They understand the dangers of winging it, going in unprepared and misjudging the occasion. I’ve even heard stories from grooms who think the rot set in on their first marriage thanks to the poor speech they gave. Understanding the importance of the day and the speech is key, but if it’s second time around, there’s a whole minefield of issues you have to tip toe through.

Firstly, unless there are exceptional circumstances, never mention the first marriage or former wife…ever. I never fail to be amazed at just how many grown men think it would be funny to include a reference to the person they used to be married to. Even if your brand new wife has a very robust sense of humour, it just feels all wrong, and the wedding day should only be about one person: your bride. Don’t be tempted to mention things about being here before, or hoping it goes better this time…it’s all clumsy nonsense.

A lot of guys, especially those making this speech much later in life also think that the content of it changes slightly, and in some respects it does. Invariably many parents aren’t around, and it’s your call as to whether they should have some kind of mention. I always suggest they do, but it’s usually only brief, and if you can add a little humour to it, so much the better, what you don’t want to do is go down some mini eulogy route and bring the whole occasion down. Those no longer with us should always be included in a really positive and uplifting way. The welcome, thanks and acknowledgement still play a part, but it will feel different – age brings about a more measured approach to life that you just don’t have as 32 year old declaring your undying love for someone.

However, the importance of this speech is still the same – you’re saying why you want to share your life with this person and the gravity of that should not be lost. Many older couples want to treat it in a much more flippant way, maybe because they are more cynical about the unbridled enthusiasm of youth, but this is a mistake. As there are often no bridesmaids for couples marrying later in life, and frequently no best man, it provides more opportunity to talk about your wife in a way that younger grooms just don’t have. More youthful first timers are hamstrung by the fact they’ve got so many people to include, and so the amount of time they can spend talking about each one is limited. You have no such issues.

With more room to breathe, your groom speech can cover the friends and family that have led you to that point in glorious, entertaining detail, and of course family is the final tricky subject. Second marriages thanks to deceased partners tend to have happier family dynamics, those from natural separation do not. As mentioned in previous posts children need to be included in an even handed way from both families, and age is no barrier to acrimonious sentiment. Sons and daughters in their twenties can feel equally as someone much younger by omitting them from the speech, so make sure they’re all packed in there, and leave any overarching family issues well behind.

A newly married couple emerge from church and are showered with confetti

Groom speech for a step father

As I’ve mentioned in several blog posts, just about the rarest groom speech I write is for two sets of first time marrying couple with two intact sets of parents. Couples have been marrying later in life for the last 25 years, although that’s a trend that looks like in being reversed – which is great because if the parents aren’t intact you can be damn sure the grandparents aren’t either. In all the many many speeches I’ve written in the last 16 years, I think the ones where both sets of grandparents turned up, could be counted in single figures.

This situation is only ever amplified in the case of second marriages – either for both bride and groom, or just one of them. Time demands mean that you can only ever be doing this later in life, so what you’re going to say, and who you’re going to include will be directly affected. Mini eulogies have to be avoided and your frame of mind should be firmly fixed on celebration and positivity.

However, it also brings up a much more real and present dilemma: children. If this marriage involves children that are from former relationships, then super careful wording has to be deployed. The best case scenario is that you all get on like a house on fire, which is great, although care has to be taken when talking about your step children and your own children. You have to be really even handed, because any imbalance in how you talk about them will be glaringly obvious. Some grooms can tend to over compensate talking about their step children and that can leave your own kids feeling isolated.

However, you have to keep this real – there’s no point in saying how proud you are of your partner’s kids and how wonderful they are, if you can’t stand the sight of them. If relationships aren’t great, then use this as an opportunity to build for the future. Instead of saying how proud you are, say how much you’re looking forward to play a part in their lives and get to know them more. Any hint that you might be faking it, will be seen through straight away and only cause resentment.

Even if there is seething dislike between you and your newly acquired family, I wouldn’t omit them completely. Any omission speaks just as loudly as a dedicated paragraph, so if there’s nothing positive you can talk about, just say what a great mum your partner has been to her kids. There will be plenty of time in years to come, when the dust has settled, for them to realise you’re actually ok and they’ll be thanking you in their groom speeches…I’ve seen that time and time again.

The microphone awaits the best man's speech opening lines.

Best man speeches: funny, but not stand up comedian please

Undoubtedly the job of the best man speech is to make people laugh, entertain and celebrate the groom in a really funny way – if you’re in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. American best man speeches tend to have the humour/sentiment balance tipped much more in favour of the sentiment, but there is still comedy.

The humour part ot a best man speech isn’t there just for the sake of it. Without funny lines and observations it would be just sentiment and have no balance whatsoever, and listening to a grown man say how much he loves his friend without pausing for 5 minutes would be excruciating for all concerned. There needs to be contrast, there needs to space, and the comedy provides that.

Most best man are reluctant comedians. Many have it within them but the idea of standing up and making a room full of people laugh is understandably right up their with completing their tax return. This is actually a good thing, because it means you’re much more likely to exercise control, judgement and thought over what you’re going to say. You have empathy with the guests and understand that not everything you might find amusing will necessarily translate. This level of understanding will mean that your speech will hit the mark on all counts. You’re not left wondering why nobody laughed, because you thought about it, and worked out how to make it funny.

However, this leaves the considerable chunk of best men who believe that for one day only, they’ve actually turned into a semi professional stand up comedian. They are a dangerous breed, left unchecked and unregulated to inflict their questionable sense of humour on unsuspecting relatives. In this case what you get is either an embarrassing pastiche of Michael Mcintyre, or even worse, a fully paid up member of the Jimmy Carr fan club.

I have a well developed sense of humour, it’s just about one of the only things that I think I’ve got licked, and when it comes to smut, innuendo and graphic sexual content to get laughs, I find these about as funny as a punch in the face. However, my comedic preferences have nothing to do with it, it’s all about the bride’s, and this is a family occasion with many disparate groups with hugely varying backgrounds, so you have to play it safe. Forget verbal jousting with the crowd and your mic, you’re simply taking the spotlight off the couple and trying to out in in yourself, and it’s just not done. There’s a good reason why mums-to-be keep their good news to themselves until after the wedding, and fabulous looking women don’t wear white when they attend – nobody should be competing with the bride.

You don’t have to leave your comedy career aspirations at home, you just have to know when and how to deploy them, and for your edgier material this just isn’t the place. Don’t forget though Peter Kay discovered himself after giving a best man speech, so it could be the start of something beautiful.