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One of the most common questions I’m asked by Best Men is what proportion of their speech should be sincere and what proportion funny. The answer obviously depends very much on the individual but I generally advise a 75/25 balance in favour of something light-hearted (if not full of punch lines). Although you have an obligation to ‘big up’ the Groom, it’s more important your speech entertains.
This means there’s plenty of room for you to be witty, creative and clever. Ok, don’t panic. Here are some tips to help get you started:
Remember your audience: Don’t write your speech for the boys on the stag do. Whilst some of your mates may be in stitches by you recounting the story of the Groom’s eyebrow being shaved off as he slept in a Majorcan golf buggy dressed in his Spider Man outfit, the rest of the guests are unlikely to be amused and you won’t get the laughs you’re hoping for. When you’re thinking about what to put in your speech, it’s best to keep your material as universal as possible.
Avoid stand-alone jokes: This may sound odd; after all, this is the one speech where people expect jokes. But punch lines that fall flat can be a nightmare for any speaker, and there are plenty of ways to make people laugh without one.
Work with contradictions and opposites: If the Groom is a renowned drinker, then highlight his sober moments. If he loves Man United then point out your worries that he was a City fan. If he’s particularly camp, send him up as being macho. Similarly compare and contrast his passions and achievements as a boy to the present day. This can create a lovely balance between humour and sincerity.
Play with the audience’s expectations: Ask them a question about the Groom, suggest three potential answers, then surprise them with an entirely unexpected fourth.
Keep it clean (ish): Avoid crude jokes, mentions of ex-girlfriends, anything that might insult guests and in particular the Bride! Best Man’s speeches have a reputation for being a bit saucy, but it’s easy to go too far. Don’t judge a potential story or joke on whether you find it funny, but on whether your audience will be offended by it.
Use language accessible to everyone: If people don’t understand your joke, they won’t find it funny. So don’t use a long word when a short one will do. Don’t use a clever pun if many of the guess have travelled from overseas. And don’t use slang that only a small group of your friends will understand. If something complicated really is necessary, then look confused and explain it with tongue firmly in cheek rather than trying to patronise.
Pick a theme: Anecdotes and observations are key elements of many speeches, but they don’t always link together naturally. Choosing a theme that ties everything together can help it flow and an original and amusing theme is often the difference between a decent speech and a great one.
Keep yourself separate: It’s tempting to focus your speech on your own relationship with the Groom. But if you labour the point too heavily, it can start to sound like narcissism and be very boring for everyone else.
Avoid long stories: I strongly recommend you limit specific anecdotes to a maximum of two or three sentences each. Keeping it snappy will hold people’s attention, and if a story isn’t working, you can move swiftly on.
I hope that helps. Remember the best way to judge whether your speech is amusing or not is to try it out on others. Whether that’s asking a mutual friend or contacting someone like me. I’m always happy to give free advice and act as a sounding board, or of course help edit or write the speech for you.