Whether your wedding reception is held in a church hall, hotel, or a backyard, whether you toss the bouquet and cut the cake or not, whether you’re in formalwear or bathing suits, one tradition is bound to be followed: the best man’s speech.
Of course, not every best man is used to public speaking. Or best woman. We’re not fussy about the gender of the bridal party around here. But no matter who’s filling the role, there are a few tips that will make making that speech easier for the speaker and nicer for the listeners, too.
Speak from the heart. I don’t care whether you memorize your speech or read it off. That’s between you and the butterflies in your stomach. Find the approach that will get you through the speech and don’t apologize to anyone for it. What I’m talking about here is finding something to say that really matters to you, and saying it. Even if your speech is mostly light-hearted and funny, let your friends know how happy you are for them, and don’t be afraid to express your love for them sincerely.
Know your audience. There are two wedding speeches I heard many years ago that still make me cringe. At one wedding, the bridesmaids were gently roasting the bride about her tendency to speak in malaprops when they mentioned the time she meant to talk about an Italian bread, but inadvertently used a technical term for a popular sex act. Yeah, that went over like nobody’s business with the bride’s very, very, VERY staid and proper grandmother. The other was the best man whose speech consisted of a fifteen-minute version of the moose turd pie joke. Not. Funny.
Look, some audiences are good with bawdy – or even completely tasteless – jokes, and some are not. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Make the most tasteless jokes and references at the bachelor’s party or at your next guy’s night out.
Practice, practice, practice. Unless you are the king of the off-the-cuff tear-jerker speech, chances are you’ll want to give your speech several dry runs before you take the microphone at the banquet table. You’ll want your speech to sound as natural as possible, and that’s easier if you know exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. If an audience makes you nervous, ask a few friends to help you work up your nerve.
If you’re using a microphone, be sure you know how to speak into it. Most of us don’t use microphones on a daily basis. There’s a technique to it. Don’t panic, because it’s not that hard. Mostly, you have to make certain you’re speaking into it. Hold it several inches from your mouth, direct it toward your lips, and speak normally. If your mouth changes direction, you need to move the mic in the same direction. Otherwise, it won’t pick up what you’re saying. Also, make sure you know where the off switch is.
Oh, and remember the most important thing: treat every microphone as a live microphone. Don’t say anything into or around it that you don’t want others to hear.
Make sure you talk about both the bride and the groom. Even if you’ve decided to go ahead and be best man despite thinking the groom is making a mistake, the wedding reception is not the time to make a big deal of it. Even if you dislike your friend’s choice of life partner, find something nice to say about her or him. If you’re happy about who he chose, obviously that makes it much, much easier.
Think about how long you’re going to talk. Time is a balancing act with wedding speeches. Make it too short and there’s no point. Make it too long and most of your audience will resent their inability to get at the bubbly while you’re babbling. While the moose turd pie joke was utterly tasteless, the fact that it took the guy fifteen minutes to tell it was at least as bad as the joke itself. Aim for somewhere between thirty seconds and two minutes. Less and people wonder why you got up at all. More makes people itchy. This is, after all, a toast, not a Victorian political speech.
Speak clearly. I know that nerves can make it very difficult to do this, but if nobody can hear what you’re saying… there’s not much point in a speech. Enunciate to the best of your ability, make certain you know the correct pronunciation of all the words in your speech, and don’t speak too quickly. You want everyone to hear the thoughtful and moving things you’re saying to your friends.
Keep it in perspective. Look, even if you miss the mic, make an unfortunate reference, go over or under time, inadvertently insult the bride, or drop your notes and lose your place… it’s not the end of the world. While I remember those two wedding speeches with shudders, most of what I remember from both weddings is happy couples surrounded by loving friends and families, plenty of good food, great music, dancing, and two terrific parties. No matter how badly you flub, it’s only one tiny aspect of the day, and chances are most people will forget it pretty quickly. Besides, if you give yourself permission to screw up, chances are you’ll do better than you would if you build it into a matter of life or death.
Chances are you were chosen because of the friendship you share with the groom, not your reputation as a public speaker. Everyone in the room will probably be in a good mood and willing to cut you slack if you need it. Do the same for yourself.
Most of all, take a deep breath right before you go on. It helps.