Simply the best

A guide to writing a good best man’s speech

Aside from bungling the bachelor party or somehow swallowing the rings, botching the speech is the single easiest way to fumble your best man responsibilities on the big day. Whether you’re remembered as a gracious groomsman or edited out of the wedding video comes down to how you prepare.

That’s why I put together this guide—sourced from friends’ horror stories and some reputable online resources—to keep you off the bride’s bad side.

Stick to the script

It may feel like showtime when you get up to give your speech, but remember you’re just one of the acts. The whole night will probably follow a strict schedule, and if things go off the rails, you don’t want people pointing to your half-hour soliloquy as the reason. Write your speech down, and practice it aloud in the days before the ceremony

The old rule for public speaking is one-page written equals five minutes spoken. Ask any standup comic, however, and five minutes is probably plenty of time to say what you need. Anything over 10 minutes is asking a lot of your audience’s attention and gives you ample opportunity to start floundering.

My friend Afton Neufeld, a marketing director for a local nonprofit, has been to a lot of weddings and remembers a best man’s speech last summer that started on the wrong foot—and kept on going.

“All the speeches [were] short, sweet, to-the-point, sentimental—all that good stuff,” Neufeld said. “Then he gets up and he starts off like, ’Well I was going to write notes for this, but I just decided I’ll wing it tonight.’”

In the absence of a plan, this best man decided to talk about what he knew best—himself—and completely forgot the point of why he was asked to speak.

“I didn’t start timing it until about 10 minutes into the speech, but I would say about eight-ish minutes in he then finally mentions the couple,” Neufeld said.

After rambling for 15 minutes, he sat down and was promptly upstaged by the maid of honor’s brief, heartfelt endorsement of the couple—much to everyone’s relief.

If you need ideas on how to organize your thoughts, the wedding website The Knot has various tips and outlines to keep things concise, as well as sample speeches for consultation. No matter what you come up with, the couple and guests will almost never prefer to hear you freestyle, so keep a copy of your speech in your pocket for reference.

“Don’t wing it,” Neufeld said. “Unless you’re in some sort of improv comedy club or have professional experience winging it, never do that.”

Subject Matter

While your speech may feel like a personal moment you’re sharing with the groom, it’s far from a private one. Read the room. Understand that the lines between offensive and funny are especially distinct in front of extended family. Keep in mind that not everyone knows the groom the same way you might.

Taylor Riedeman, a friend and writer at a local branding agency, once witnessed a best man make that exact mistake.

“The best man gets up, and it starts off OK, but then he drunkenly starts to ramble to this somewhat traditional, conservative family about how he was the first one to introduce the groom to weed and started talking about the first time they smoked together,” Riedeman said.

The best man in question was attempting to illustrate an important moment they shared but failed to consider how something personal could also be inappropriate for the setting. What’s worse, however, was how his choice was received by the family.

“And then the groom’s real dad decides to get up before the stepdad … like he had something to prove,” Riedeman said. “So, what he decided to prove was that, in fact, he was the first one to teach his son to smoke weed—much younger than the best man had said. And then what that ended up inspiring further was, later in the night, a massive fight happening between the two dads.”

Even if you have the best intentions, causing undue stress for the groom is the opposite of why he asked you to speak—and nothing adds stress to an occasion more than family tensions.

“It’s not just the content, but also the context of what you choose to say and knowing where other family members are coming from and to be aware of that also—not just your relationship with the groom,” Riedeman said.

Your shortl ist of topics to avoid includes excessive drinking or drugs, swearing, previous relationships—yours or the groom’s—and jokes at the bride’s expense. More detailed dos and don’ts can be found on sites like The Knot or the popular lifestyle blog The Art of Manliness.

Play to Your Strengths

Here is where you can make an impression as best man and deliver a speech that reflects well on you and the couple. There are plenty of traditions dictating what a best man’s speech should include: start with a joke, tell a sincere story, read messages from absent friends and end with a quote. Perhaps more importantly, though, is to be honest about the type of speech you’re most comfortable giving.

At a family wedding a few years back, Tiffany Jones, a college friend and performer at Disneyland, witnessed the best man speak from the heart without much of a plan for what he wanted to say.

“It was about a 10-minute speech that was purely him throwing in simple sentences every now and then, of ’you guys are great,’ or ’you’ll be great together,’ and just a whole lot of, ’I love you, man,” Jones said. “They say the best speeches make people laugh or cry, so you could tell he was trying to evoke either of those two responses from the crowd a couple of times but failed miserably, so it was a lot of people forcing a laugh or an ’aww’ every now and then.”

If you’re not usually the joker, a wedding is not the night to try out your stand-up routine. Similarly, if “heartfelt” is outside your comfort zone, forcing it is bound to come across as insincere. At her own wedding two years ago, Tiffany’s husband found a happy medium with two best men—his brother and his high school best friend.

“His brother is a very logistical person, so his speech was very much the, like, telling stories—kind of what you would assume a best man speech to be—trying to evoke that ’aww’ emotion in the crowd,” Jones said.

Afterward, his friend serenaded the groom with a karaoke rendition of “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul—changing the title to “Mr. Jones”—and even treated him to a dance.

“It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my life,” Jones said.

In this case, the best men knew what they were each good at and tailored their speeches to fit. Ultimately, the groom knows what he expects from his best man, and you have to assume he chose you with your strengths and weaknesses in mind.

Once you’ve decided on the overall direction you want to go in, the aptly named has pages of resources to help you polish a joke, choose a childhood memory and craft a memorable conclusion.