Wedding season is nigh, and with that will come all the tulle, tuxedos and champagne you’re built to withstand. For some lucky dudes, that also means being your friend’s best man and doing all the expected best man duties: holding the ring, patting your friend on the back when he starts to get nervous and, of course, giving a short speech at the reception.
At The Manual we’ve seen best man speeches ranging from short and sweet to long and rambling to just plain uncomfortable. Making a killer speech is hard, but it’s not impossible, so don’t get freaked out just yet. We talked to Jim Kokocki, president of Toastmasters International, about how to make a great best man speech.
Kokocki says there are a few must-have elements in a successful best man speech, which should be about 3-5 minutes long. You need to identify yourself, acknowledge the marriage, tell a personal story–preferably about the couple, but if not, at least a nice story about one of them–and end by raising your glass to the couple.
Whoa, whoa, slow down, you might be saying. Don’t worry. We break it down for you below.
Who the heck are you, and how do you know the couple? When you start your speech, make sure you tell the room. If you don’t know the bride, just focus on the groom. But no matter what, make sure people know who is talking. For example, say something like, “Hi, everyone. I’m Mike, the best man. I’ve known the groom for 14 years.”
Heck, you can even tell a quick story–no longer than one or two sentences–about how you met. For example: “John and I met in grade school when I refused to run the mile for the presidential fitness test, and he tripped over me while I was lying in the middle of the track.”
Tell a personal story
You know people love a good story. Just look at kindergarteners everywhere, captivated by narrative about lost puppies and hungry crocodiles. Adults are no different, so give them what they want.
But if you’re going to tell a story, make sure it’s relevant. How did you and the couple meet? Perhaps the groom told you late one night what he was looking for in a partner, or maybe you can pinpoint the exact moment you realized they would get married.
Celebrate the bride and groom (and be respectful)
When you’re telling stories, remember what you’re there for: to celebrate the couple. You can be funny, but keep it appropriate.
Kokocki suggests checking the embarrassing stories at the door. There’s no need to recall, as you raise your glass, the time that your buddy got so drunk in college that he woke up the next morning to take a final still drunk. And no matter what: leave the tacky divorce jokes at home. No one wants to hear that. This day is all about the bride and groom, after all.
“You want to celebrate the bride and groom above all else,” Kokocki says. “That’s what you’re there for.”
Another reason to check the embarrassing stories at the door? “Telling stories like that can be disrespectful the attendees, too,” Kokocki says. We don’t think that the mother of the bride wants to hear about her son-in-law’s sordid past, so keep it at the bachelor party.
Wish them luck
Always end by raising your glass, Kokocki says.
There’s an old tradition that you congratulate the groom and give best wishes to the bride, but that’s stodgy and a little creepy. Keep it simple and instead say, “To the bride and groom” and wish them luck in their future together.
Practice, practice, practice
Kokocki has been involved with Toastmasters since 1987, where he learned to perfect public speaking and how to command a room–but even he practices before getting up in front of an audience. Though a best man speech is going to differ from, say, giving a talk at a conference, Kokocki says it comes down to two key elements.
“Beyond everything else,” Kokocki says, “it’s important to practice. And you have to have confidence in what you’re going to speak about.”
You don’t need to memorize precisely what you’re going to say, and, in fact, if you memorize your speech, it might sound canned. Instead, just know what stories you want to tell, how you’re going to introduce yourself, and what you want for the couple in the future, and practice. Confidence is key, Kokocki says.
With these pointers, we think you’ll be able to give the greatest best man speech ever heard. Just make sure someone is there to record it and put it on Youtube.
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