I was very honoured and proud when Stephen, one of my closest friends, asked me to be his Best Man a number of years ago. For me, the role of Best Man is perhaps the greatest honour one male friend can bestow upon another, so I was genuinely humbled and excited by the task ahead.
Obviously the Best Man has a number of roles, but the most important one is undoubtedly the speech. I had already attended a number of weddings but could remember very little of the Best Man speeches – i.e. many of them were instantly forgettable. For Stephen’s wedding, I wanted to deliver something that:
- Would make the newly married couple and their families proud, without embarrassing or offending anybody
- Would be original, entertaining and fondly recalled by the guests.
In the months leading up to the wedding, Stephen gave me a Best Man speech-writing book he owned. He and I both presumed it might be of use. Upon reading the book, however, my first thought was that it was rife with bland and clichéd examples, boring advice, and negligible humour. I knew there was virtually nothing in the book that I would use in my speech. Part of this probably stemmed from the fact that, for better or worse, I often tend to do things my way – by ignoring or tearing up the rulebook.
So that’s what I did. Right from the off, I envisaged doing something visual – perhaps telling a story via a PowerPoint presentation. This might seem like a brave move – one to be tackled only by somebody who is very at ease with public-speaking. But in fact the opposite was true. I had never spoken in front of 130 people before, and I dreaded the thought of standing in front of them – everybody staring at me as I draw a blank and forget my lines. If at all possible, I didn’t want to be relying on notes either – fumbling through them to find the next part of my speech (as I’d often seen at weddings).
A PowerPoint speech would help deflect the guests’ attention from me to a large screen. It would also act as a visual aid, helping me to remember my lines easier. Possible technical issues aside (with the laptop, projector and remote), the PowerPoint option seemed like the way to go.
So I began thinking of ideas for the speech – running them through in my head and then looking for images to bring the “story” to life. Despite my insistence of doing things my way, there were a number of “rules” that I tried to follow, and that I would advise others to follow when writing a Best Man’s speech.
1 Know your audience
There will be a broad range of people at any wedding: young children, elderly people, maybe a priest or two. With that in mind, make sure the speech is profanity-free and that you don’t talk about ex-girlfriends or how your friend was a big slut in a past life – this is neither clever nor funny.
2 Reach out to your audience
Your speech should appeal to a large demographic. Not everybody at the wedding will know the groom well, or the bride for that matter. Your job is to ensure that you talk about the groom in an entertaining way so that your stories paint him in a strong light and reveal something of his personal life. Even though the speech I wrote for Stephen’s wedding was a tongue-in-cheek sketch of sorts, I did manage to incorporate plenty of real-life facts such as Stephen’s school nickname, his achievements at school and college, his science background, the first date with his wife, etc.
3 Don’t forget about the bride and bridesmaids
Most Best Man speeches should begin with compliments, firstly to the bridesmaids and then to the bride (I edited this section out of my speech on YouTube in order to cut to the chase). Towards the end of the speech, you should try to introduce the bride into the proceedings – perhaps with a funny tale about how she and the groom met.
4 Rehearse – but wait until the day before the wedding so that the speech is fresh in your mind
I was fine-tuning the speech for Stephen’s wedding right up until the evening before the big day. Only then did I begin rehearsing it. First I rehearsed it using sheets of cardboard (containing the entire text for the speech) and then I began rehearsing it without the notes – only referring to them when I got stuck or drew a blank. After I had delivered the speech about three times without forgetting any bits or leaving anything out, I was reasonably confident that the work was done and I was (almost) ready for the real thing. To rehearse any speech, I would recommend that you are in a room on your own, free from distractions. I also used the TV remote as a practice microphone to help with the rehearsal process – you’d be surprised how awkward a microphone-shy speaker can appear if he hasn’t held a mic before.
5 Accept that not everything will go right on the day
No matter how much you rehearse a speech, it’s unlikely that you will remember everything you intended to say. I’ve been fortunate enough to be Best Man at three weddings (Stephen’s was the first) and, for all three speeches, I can recall inadvertently omitting small-medium chunks. Fortunately, all my speeches were in the 10-15 minute range so when I forgot something, I just moved on – and my audience was usually none the wiser. And sometimes I didn’t even realise I had left out bits until afterwards. If you’ve practiced your speech enough, then you won’t forget anything critical on the day. There will always be natural wastage, but chances are you will add a few ad-lib pieces on the day, so it will all balance out.
6 Nerves are Normal
I was very nervous on the day of Stephen’s wedding – sweating like a pig in fact. And because my speech was dependant on the seamless integration of a laptop and projector, I had to worry about potential technical difficulties as well as fluffing my lines. Apart from a nervous start and almost tourettes-like use of “Em” throughout the speech (which I also put down to nerves), I think I delivered the speech as well as I could. But practice makes perfect, and by the time I delivered my third Best Man speech in June 2010, I can honestly say that I wasn’t nervous at all. Nerves are normal though. Try to ensure you open your speech with a witty one-liner/introduction – this will help put both the audience and you at ease. Then you can relax and charge on with the rest of your speech.
7 Enjoy the Experience!
Speaking in front of a large audience at a wedding can be a very rewarding experience. You will never have a more receptive audience – and the free-flowing wine at most Irish weddings certainly helps in this regards. Have a few drinks yourself to relax, but don’t overdo it. Once the speech is behind you, you can enjoy the rest of the night and hopefully bask in the glory – plus handshakes and multiple congratulations – of a job well done. Remember, your friend could have asked anybody in the world to be his Best Man, but he chose you. So you owe it to him to do your best. As my mother used to say when I was a young lad, ‘As long as you do your best, then I’ll be happy.’ Touché.
So, here’s my speech from 2006. I hope you enjoy watching it as much I enjoyed doing it.
Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.