A best man speech is hardly ever simply fine. The endings are typically met with smiles and tears, or me leaning over to my date and commenting, “Woof. Read the room, my guy.” One time at a beautiful fall wedding, the best man, who recently had been called back to serve our country, submitted his speech via a letter addressed to the bride and read by the groom. I’m fairly certain an eagle was released into the reception, but I’m also fairly certain I made that detail up. Either way, everyone was a disaster when it finished, because letters from soldiers never go out of style.
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The point is that not every speech can be a slam dunk best friend love letter from the Middle East, but every speech can be good. To ascend into the upper echelon of manufactured-but-sincere emotion, all you have to do is pull back, think about the man you’re about to send off into husbandhood, and read the room. Remember that this is not your day. You are the Robert DuVall of the wedding: Make your scene count, but don’t be fooled into believing you are the star. Here are your guidelines (and some pop culture examples of what you absolutely should not to do).
DON’T: Tell inappropriate stories.
If you’re a best man, you and the groom have likely gone through the trenches together. That’s all well and good, but the story about how you and John smoked weed and streaked across campus is best saved for the bachelor party. Or a catch-up night at the bar. Or a telegram. This audience is literally full of old family members whose last toke was ages ago. They probably won’t find your story so amusing.
INSTEAD: Use your crazy story as a reference point.
People like the illusion of a scandalous story without hearing the details. (That smoke and streak speech is real, by the way.) Allude to your story and use it as a coming back point. A quick reference to the night with a “We’ve been through it all—I hope you’re ready for this guy” suffices perfectly. Then pivot to the couple.
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DON’T: Fall back on inside jokes.
Again, the speech isn’t so much for you guys as it is for the reception attendees. The room knows you’re close; it’s why you’re giving the speech. But a toast full of inside jokes quickly becomes white noise. At one wedding I attended, the toast included five minutes of incomprehensible references that all seemed to dial back to a car show? The whole thing was bizarre.
INSTEAD: Bring everyone in on the joke.
Make a reference most of the room will know—perhaps a childhood memory or a quirk about the groom that is worthy of bringing up in good fun. People like to feel included, and when you bring up a general fact about the groom, people feel like they’re in on the joke. Then move on to the sincere stuff.
DON’T: Bring up anyone’s ex.
This never works. Your ex. His ex. A shared ex. Worst of all, I once saw a best man reference the groom’s first wife and say, “I kind of felt like that was never going to work out. This one feels a lot better.” I am not kidding. For bonus points, the groom’s son from his first marriage was at the wedding. Again, don’t bring up anyone’s ex. If they were worthy of attention, they wouldn’t be an ex.
INSTEAD: No, seriously.
DON’T: Freestyle it.
This blanket piece of advice is the most important of the whole lot. Plan for a four-minute speech—do not exceed five. Absolutely do not have more than a couple drinks pre-speech, because alcohol slows time down. Ten minutes later when you’re mumbling, “Ah, where was I?” you run the risk of someone throwing another drink to remind you. In one case, I saw a particularly ruthless DJ start reaching for the microphone from a speech giver. Unfortunately, he persisted.
INSTEAD: Write it out.
Don’t literally read it, but by writing it, you know where you’re starting and where you’re ending. You may add a little improv or skip some bits in the actual execution, but the point is that you will know where your tracks are, and when to wrap up and get to the finish line.
You were chosen as the best man for a reason. It’s not a job interview or a date. You’re this guy’s guy, which means that he trusts you on one of the biggest days of his life. Take a minute to be sincere and reflect on the relationship the two of you have. If you stick to the good stuff, it’s tricky to fuck up a thoughtful moment.