As someone who’s been the best man at weddings a handful of times, I can safely say that there’s only one serious drawback to the otherwise genuine honor: the Best Man Speech, in which you must sum up the life-to-that-point of your friend or relative in front of a large crowd, in a humorous but enlightening and, ideally, touching way while promoting his newly hitched reality — and, of course, the hitchee herself — as a dream come true. Even for professional story weavers and occasional public speakers like myself, it’s a tall order, enough to nervously taint the hours leading up to the delivery and frequently open the flood gates of free booze relief afterward.
Thankfully, my six or so wedding speeches have been well received, and they’ll probably go down as some of the more memorable instances of my life, and hopefully the lives of a few close friends and relatives, too. Which is to say: Do it right, and you are indeed the best man. So, with no foreseeable future best-man appointments on the horizon, I’m laying down my cards and helping the rest of you lucky-yet-terrified best bros–to-be speak with style and substance.
THINK EARLY AND OFTEN: From the moment you are tapped for the job, begin thinking about what to say. That gives you months, if not more than a year, to ponder your points and recall incidents from your shared past. That will make sure your main points are indeed well considered and give you all the experiential color needed to make them float.
WRITE IT DOWN NOW: Write down everything you think of when you think of it so you’ll have a record to draw from. It’s easiest to do it on your smartphone, either as a note or as a text or email to yourself.
WHAT’S THE POINT? Your talk is a mix of biography (who’s the groom?), autobiography (why’d he ask you to do this?), critical analysis (why’s this guy getting married? why to her?), pep talk (it’s gonna be great!), and sermon (what’s it all mean?). Ask yourself: What does the groom mean to me? (Hopefully he’s a good friend, but maybe he’s also been a mentor, or a shoulder to lean on, or a travel/business/study partner.) What kind of guy is he? (Focus on the positives.) How does it all relate to getting married? (Translate those qualities into being a good husband.)
WHAT’S YOUR EVIDENCE? Back up your claims of his awesomeness with evidence from your friendship, based on things that happened in the past. This is where humor comes in, but instances of kindness, intelligence, and bravery also work well.
PULL IT TOGETHER: Keeping in mind that the talk should be more than five but less than 10 minutes, organize your points and supporting experiences into a flow. Start funny and stay funny when applicable, build up to the point where the two lovebirds came together, reflect on how much the bride means to him and to you, and then wrap it up.
HAPPY ENDINGS: The ending is critical to make it memorable and feel complete. This sounds cheesy, but it’s pretty easy to write a simple, limerick-like poem that ties together the bride and groom with the places and things they love, with some well wishes along the way. Failing that, steal the line my brother used as the best man in my wedding, which still gets me a bit verklempt: “May you look back on this day and remember it as the day you loved each other the least.”
MEMORIZE IT: For whatever reason, ladies can read from notes when they give their wedding speeches, but men generally do not. Memorization can make for a smoother speech, delivered more like a conversation rather than a lecture, and if you forget something, it probably wasn’t important anyway. It’s okay to have the notes on you, in the event of total breakdown, and also okay to read the ending, if you’ve crafted a special poem or saying.
GRAB A DRINK: You deserve it