Worried about making your best man's speech? You should be. You won't often have the opportunity to offend, embarrass or bore so many people with your public speaking all at the same time … unless, of course, you're a Tory peer.
The good news is that nobody's forcing you to make a fool of yourself; you're in control of your own destiny. A little common sense will keep you out of trouble. If you're lacking in that department, pay close attention to our list of the Top 10 Best Man's Speech Mistakes:
1) DON'T MILK IT
Yes, you've got a big part to play in the day's proceedings, but remember; you're not the main event. A good best man's speech should be limited to not more than 1000 words. That's about seven minutes. Any longer and you'll start to lose your audience.
If things are going well, don't be tempted to improvise and add to your speech. An ill-considered ad lib can turn the crowd against you and once their attention starts to drift, it's hard to get them back.
2) SHELVE THE SHAGGY DOG STORIES
Amusing incidents from the groom's past can be gold dust, but not if the punch line takes ten minutes to set-up. Consider whether you need to relate an entire story. If it can be potted down to two or three lines of hard-hitting humour, it will get a much better response. A 500 word summary of Steve's disastrous 1992 pot-holing holiday might be entertaining for your fellow spelunkers at the reception, but you'd be better off distilling it into a single gag …
"As anyone who remembers Steve's notorious caving accident in '92 will know, he's used to being trapped in a harsh, cold environment which no light can reach. So he should find marriage a breeze."
3) AND ANOTHER THING... LIMIT YOUR ANECDOTES
If you do decide that an anecdote is worth relating - and some definitely are - make it the centrepiece of your speech, not one of several stories that get lost in the mix. In fact, don't ever tell more than one or two extended stories. The wait between laughs is too long, and if a story falls flat, it'll suck the life out of the room quicker than you can say "…at which point, the Vicar walked in."
Remember also that the groom will be less well known to some members of your audience than others. A long story that relies on intimate knowledge of his character or experiences will delight some, but disappoint many.
4) HAVE A DIG, BUT DON'T BURY HIM
Everyone expects the groom to get a little ribbing on his big day, but you're not out to destroy him. Go easy. Balance friendly digs with praise and well-wishing and you'll be seen as a cheeky tease, instead of just a bastard. If you want to push things a little further, include an element of self-deprecating humour. Your audience will excuse more if you put yourself in the firing line alongside the groom:
"My friendship with Terry dates back to secondary school. I'm not sure why I was drawn to him. Maybe it was his My Little Pony back pack or his blue national health glasses. Best of all, his appearance earned him the reputation of the school weirdo, a title I would no longer have to carry alone."
5) DON'T MENTION THE EX
Hopefully, this one's obvious. If you can't see why talking about his exes on your mate's wedding day might upset some people (not least the bride), then you're probably already heading for a Best Man disaster of epic proportions. In fact, just for you, here are couple of extra do's and don'ts:
- Don't punch the bride's Dad.
- Do wear a tie … and trousers.
- Don't puke on the cake.
- Do bring a gift.
- Don't bring an escort.
6) BEWARE OF THE BRIDE
As an extension of the point above, the Bride should be considered off-limits as a subject for humour or ridicule. In the first place, this is her special day, not yours; the last thing she needs is for her husband's mate to ruin it for her. Plus, you do want to stay his mate, right? As of today, she has the power to scupper that plan with a wave of her hand.
7) NEVER MIND THE B*LL*CKS
Language is a fluid, ever-changing thing. Everyday words can become obsolete in a generation. New phrases and modes of speech rise and fall almost with the tides.
And nowhere is the linguistic generation gap more pronounced than when it comes to swearwords.
If you're under forty, there will be words that you may not even acknowledge as rude, but which still have the power to make Great Aunt Doris at the back of the room swallow her dentures in shock. To be on the safe side, avoid even mild expletives like crap and bloody. If you feel that toning your language down compromises your delivery, tough. You can console yourself with the fact that the old bitch Doris will be dead soon. And then who'll be f*ck*ng laughing, eh?
8) DON'T JUST READ, RECITE
When's the last time you needed to learn lines? Community panto? Cub Scout pledge? Infant School Nativity play? Learning great chunks of your speech by heart may be a tall order, especially if time is tight, but you'll be surprised how well you can come across if you are able to memorise certain key phrases and deliver them with confidence.
Start by committing your opening lines to memory. Keep your head up, address the crowd (not the microphone) and believe in yourself. The first impression you make will set the tone for the rest of your speech, and determine how attentive your audience is likely to be. As the speech progresses, feel free to refer to notes or prompt cards, and if you absolutely must read word for word, at least try to look up from the page as much as possible. Have your closing lines memorised too, so you can end with a flourish.
9) IT'S NOT A RACE
This is really more about delivery in general, though for the nervous speaker, whizzing through one's lines at breakneck speed is a common problem. However finely crafted and entertaining your best man's speech is, if you blow the delivery it'll sink faster than a Segway in a stream. Speak up. Don't rush or mumble. Don't talk into your chest. Do smile and share your good humour with the crowd. And when a joke hits the spot, give it room to breath; let the laughter subside before picking up where you left off.
10) DON'T FADE AWAY
First impressions count, but last impressions … well … last. It's your closing comments that people will remember clearest, so spend some time finding the right way to wrap things up. It may be that you want to save your best gag and end on a big laugh. Or perhaps you'd like to sit on the soppy stuff 'til last, so you can leave them with tears in their eyes. Whatever you decide, don't let your best man's speech simply peter out. There's nothing worse than waiting for a punch line that never …