Giving a great wedding toast is an occasion laden with heavy responsibility for the best man. As often as it goes well, it can sometimes go very, very bad. Yours truly has personally witnessed two of the worst wedding toasts in the history of wedding toasts. The first: the father of the groom, a little tipsy from too much to drink (so cliché), stepped up to the microphone and proceeded to hit on the bride. It started off with, “The first time I met Jane* I thought “Phwoooaar!” and proceeded rapidly downhill after that opening line. The second: the best man started his toast by asking the groom “Do you remember you were ___ing that bird not an hour before going on your first date with Susan?” He then proceeded to provide a list of all the girls that his best mate had slept with prior to the wedding until the father of the bride’s fist interrupted him. I believe alcohol was heavily involved in that one, too.
So for my very first tip, which is just common sense, don’t drink heavily before you give your speech! Bad things can happen. That one’s for free! In all seriousness, writing a great wedding speech is pretty easy to do – everyone at the reception is already primed to celebrate the couple.
So whether you’ve got the gift of the gab but don’t know where to start, or suffer from glossophobia, all you need to do to write and give a classic best man’s speech is follow these simple tips, mix in a little creativity and thoughtfulness on your part, and your toast will live long in the hearts of every celebrant in the room.
1. Bite the bullet and bare your heart Listen, we get it. You’re a bloke. He’s a bloke. There are lots of blokes in the room. And the one thing blokes don’t do is talk about their feelings – especially towards other blokes. But – and here it is – you’re really expected to do this during your wedding toast because what you have to present to the bride and groom and assembled family members isn’t just a speech filled with one-liners and traditional toasts. You’re trying to build a complete picture of the man, your best mate (let’s call the groom John), for John’s new family. Find those things that you admire and like most about John and say them out loud. Today is really the only day you get to be soppy without harming your manly self-image. And if you still can’t bring yourself to do this, mask your emotions with humor. For example, “Not many people can boast of a best mate who’s kind, honourable, ambitious, charismatic, generous, reliable, trustworthy, funny, supportive, wise and – yes – handsome, too. But John can.” Trust me, get in touch with your emotions: it’s good for the soul and for the wedding toast.
2. Keep it Quick Nobody likes long speeches. I’ve sat through a few too many toasts where the guests’ eyes had long glazed over before the end of the toast. A basic rule of thumb: try to keep your toast to 1000 words or 7 minutes long at most. You’re paying tribute to the occasion, not reciting an epic poem.
3. Topical, not Biographical You’re giving a speech to a group of people where half of the guests don’t know each other. The toast has to be entertaining for everyone. With that in mind, limit yourself to one anecdote about the groom. People love funny stories, but more than one reminiscence about your childhood years growing up together can and will induce boredom in the crowd.
4. Speak Clearly Remember that free piece of advice in the opening paragraph about not drinking too much before you speak? This is where it pays off. Speak loudly and slowly. Practice your speech beforehand so you don’t rush through your words and you feel confident when the time comes to toast the bride and groom. Practice pausing after the sections that contain your jokes to let the laughter die down before continuing your speech. Don’t mumble or speak into your chest. Do smile a lot at the crowd. Practice makes perfect, gents.
5. Leave the Past in the Past This tip is short and simple: don’t ever mention ex-girlfriends. You will not be forgiven if you forget this piece of advice.
6. Introduce Yourself Even in the smallest of weddings it’s unlikely that everyone will know who you are. Of course they’ll know you’re the best man – but why did he pick you and not one of his other mates? Keep the introduction simple. For example, “Let me introduce myself, I’m Matt and it’s an honour to be standing here as John’s best man. I suppose I should say it’s an honour and a pleasure, but I know the pleasure part won’t kick in for everyone until this speech is over.”
7. Make Fun of Yourself You can make all the jokes about the groom you like, just make sure you include a few about yourself as well. It gets the crowd on your side, keeps the atmosphere light, and earns you appreciation from your best mate.
8. Compliment the Bride This one seems like a no-brainer but best men frequently forget to mention the bride in their toasts. And yes, sometimes it seems that the entire room is suffering from mass delusion by going along with the charade that the bride is the most beautiful woman in the room – but that’s the deal. It’s her day. She IS the most beautiful woman in the room. Tell her she is and you better mean it. (This pays off later when your mate still gets to go out drinking with you because the bride remembers that you told a crowd of people that she’s beautiful. Everyone wins!)
9. Beware the Bridezilla As an extension of the above point…don’t score points on the bride. By which I mean…absolutely no jokes at her expense. The bride is off-limits as a subject for humour or ridicule. Ignore this tip at your peril or you will never see your best friend again.
10. No Swearing Of course you know not to utter any of the really heavy curses, but what might seem a harmless curse word to you may upset the older members of the crowd. So, no ‘bloody’, ‘crap’, or any mild expletives of any sort. Keep it clean, gents. It’s always a good idea to run your speech by another friend before the wedding to give you some feedback.
With these tips in mind you’re sure to give a great wedding toast. Just remember to raise your glass and offer a simple congratulation at the end of your speech. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy the wedding – and make up for time at the bar.
*All names have been changed to protect identities