There’s a pattern when it comes to being appointed a best man and it’s very similar to the experience of making a parachute jump: fear, relief, panic. Usually your friend will give you the good news about a year in advance and for at least 5 minutes you’ll be struck with the mind bending fear that this time next year you’ll be attempting to make people laugh whilst shaking like a leaf. This very soon gives way to the comforting relief that there are 12 months to go before your ritual humiliation and then subsequently gut wrenching panic as you realize a year has slipped past, it’s next week and you’ve nothing written. And so you find yourself getting to grips with the last minute speech.
Leaving it until the last minute is not exceptional – there are hundreds of guys out there who have done exactly the same thing, so let that be your first thought: you are not alone. Secondly, there is always time. My record so far this summer for a last minute speech is a call on a Thursday for a groom’s speech on the Saturday. That was tight and a little strange as it’s usually never the groom leaving late, but we managed it no problem. So no matter how last minute you think it is, there is always enough time to come up with something, it’s just the way you’re going to deliver it that will need some thinking about.
Most of the best men I’m writing for throughout the summer tend to be from the last minute speech brigade and that usually means a week to go. The familiar story is that they thought it would be easier to write and having only tried to pen something two weeks out, they’re now running out of time to get something down. The key is not to panic, as nothing will destroy a speech more than the person giving it wracked with nerves. If you’ve got less than 10 days to go keep everything really simple; don’t try to over engineer a clever speech, don’t throw in jokes that really need more thought to make them work and don’t be tempted to write more than necessary in order to somehow make up for your lack of effort to date. The only two things that really make a speech work are content and delivery. So for a last minute speech do not be tempted to execute anything other than a good 1200 words of fun and sentiment. Forget powerpoint, forget slides and films or any of that nonsensical gubbins that turn a speech into an ordeal. In my opinion no speeches need them and least of all a last minute one.
And then we come to a delivery. If you’re getting a speech writer to prepare it, or you’re doing it yourself, by the time it’s ready you’ve probably got about 4 days to go through it. Do not attempt to memorise it. You should keep reading it through until the speech separates itself into blocks in your mind, and then use prompt cards to recall those blocks. You should at least be aiming to know the speech well enough that you’ll have the confidence to look up an deliver at least every third sentence whilst looking at the guests. Nothing makes the heart beat faster than knowing you’ve left it really late to pull off the performance of a lifetime and nothing will make you feel more euphoric than doing precisely that.