Let me guess: if you’ve made it here, you’re a best man (or a best woman), and you’re nervous. First off, congrats on this special role of honor! You’re gonna do great. But if you’re freaking out about pulling off all of your groomsmen duties, especially having to write and deliver a best man speech at the wedding, we understand. There is an art to the best man speech. Too far in any direction, and a bad speech can negatively alter the mood of a wedding in a snap.
But before we make you even more nervous, take a cleansing breath and lower your heart rate: you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to guide through the process of writing and giving a stellar best man speech from start to finish, including a list of dos and don’ts, tips on subject matters, and a sample best man speech outline to focus your efforts. Follow our advice, and you’re sure to walk away with praise, admiration, and an awesome groomsmen gift.
Photo Credit || Rick Dean Photography
Best Man Speech Dos and Don’ts
Goes without saying, but this is an instance where “I’ll just wing it” doesn’t work in your favor. Although you don’t need to memorize your best man speech, don’t save this one until the night before. A few thoughts jotted down on a napkin will look like you didn’t put any care or thought into your words (because, uh, you didn’t). A month or two out, but no less than a week, take some dedicated time to compose your thoughts. This will also allow you time to seek input and feedback from others (more on this below).
DO Research and Crowdsource
The best best man speeches (with me?) are those that let the audience know a little bit more about the groom—in a good way—so try to include some funny and/or sweet stories from his childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. Ask the groom’s parents, siblings, or other close friends for any great tidbits that you could weave into your speech for greater authenticity and dimensionality.
DO Be a Storyteller
As mentioned above, good stories make for a good speech. Take your listeners on a little journey about your friend and how we arrived at this day: what kind of person he is (as demonstrated by X anecdote from his past), how you know each other, how he met his partner, how their relationship grew, why they are such a great match, and what you hope for their future. If you can weave in a little thematic joke or a narrative through-line, even better.
Photo Credit || Meredith Sledge Photography
Tell a short (short) story, not a novel. No one wants to hear you digress about something unrelated to your key message, or worse, about yourself. Remember, this isn’t your show—this moment is about the newly married couple, so resist the urge to go off on a tangent.
DO Combine Humor With Emotion
A fabulous best man speech includes a healthy mix of humor, sentimentality, good-natured ribbing, and sincerity. You want the groom, and the rest of the guests, to feel both amused and touched by your words. If you’re naturally funny, include some clean jokes that won’t hurt anyone’s feelings (jokes at your own expense are alway a safe bet). If you always botch the punch line, it’s perfectly fine to stick to a straightforward message of warmth and congratulations.
DON’T Be Too Mean, Crass, or Dirty
Making people laugh is good. Making people uncomfortable is not. I know I don’t have to remind you, but offensive, off-color, or any mean-spirited joke at the expense of an individual or group is a no-fly zone. If you stop and ask yourself, “Should I say this?,” that’s a good indication that you should just not. And if you normally swear like a sailor, watch your language and avoid profanity.
DON’T Tell Inside Jokes
If only you and the groom (or a small handful of other people) will understand what you’re talking about, then it’s probably not good material to include in a best man speech. You don’t want to alienate your audience by making them feel like they’re not in on the joke. Stick to universal topics and be inclusive in your story- and joke-telling.
Photo Credit || Alicia Lucia Photography
DO Keep It Clean(ish)
This one is obvious, right? The key here is to know your audience. Remember that you’re not just addressing the groom and groomsmen, but every single wedding guest—which might include ages 3-93. Joking about adult topics must be done subtly and in good taste. To keep things classy, be intentionally vague and keep the examples lighthearted. Don’t go into sordid detail, don’t share anything that could get anyone in trouble, don’t reveal anything truly humiliating, and avoid bathroom humor.
DO Address The Groom’s New Spouse
So that your speech doesn’t feel awkwardly lopsided, be sure to say some kind, sincere, and personal words to your best bud’s new partner for life. If you are also friends with him/her, even more reason to share an anecdote about why this person is great individually and doubly great for your friend. Remember that this whole affair celebrates a step they’ve taken together, so be sure to address them both.
Photo Credit || J.Ferrara Photography Inc.
DO Borrow Language
Not all of us were born with the gift of gab. If Wordsworth you are not, there’s no shame in stealing some great lines from the masters. Look up some quotations on love, relationships, or marriage to either guide your speech’s theme or to pepper in at the beginning and end for greatest impact. Writers and essayists like MLK Jr., Pablo Neruda, Shakespeare, or any of the Romantic poets are good places to look for inspiring quotations.
DON’T Get Tipsy
While it might be tempting to throw back a few after the “I dos” to loosen up for your moment in the spotlight, use common sense. Has consuming a bunch of alcohol in a short amount of time ever helped you be more articulate, quick on your feet, or sensitive to the passage of time? My guess is no. Wait until after your speech to take advantage of the open bar, because it will be clear to the crowd (especially the groom) if you are not in your best frame of mind.
DO Practice Out Loud
Nowhere is the phrase “practice makes perfect” more true than in public speaking. Besides familiarizing yourself with the material, you’ll be able to hear any mistakes, awkward phrasing, or weird timing when experiencing the words out loud. Practice reading your speech to a partner or friend, get their feedback (and have them time you so you know if you need to add or cut), and practice again until you feel solid.
Photo Credit || Highlight Studios
DO Speak Clearly
If you have a bring-down-the-house kind of best man speech but no one can understand it, what good will it do? Make sure your one-liners zing and your heartfelt wishes bring tears by speaking loudly and clearly, enunciating your words, and appropriately using a microphone or any AV equipment that’s provided.
DON’T Dwell on Your Blunders
Every public speaker misses a line or trips up their words now and then. Rather than drawing attention to an error by apologizing profusely or joking about how bad a speech-giver you are, simply make a quick correction or skip over it and move on. Dwell any further, and your audience will get uncomfortable or lose confidence in you.
DON’T Just Read, Engage
While you certainly don’t need to memorize your speech, it’s public speaking 101 that just reading a piece of paper (or your phone) out loud without acknowledging the crowd is a no-no. Know your speech well enough so that you don’t have to look at it word-for-word. Take time to look around, make eye contact (especially when you’re addressing the happy couple), and pause for laughter or applause.
Photo Credit || Tricia McCormack Photography
Being nervous is totally normal—but if your nerves are too apparent, they can distract your audience or put them on edge. A clear sign of being nervous is racing through your speech like you’re competing for a NASCAR trophy. Take deep breaths, use the above tips about audience engagement, and speak nice and slowly. We promise, it’ll be over before you know it.
DON’T Go Long
That being said, don’t be longwinded or hog too much of the reception’s precious timeline, or your audience will start wondering when they can get on the dance floor rather than pay attention to your eloquence. Stick to whatever time frame the couple recommended, or if you’re on your own, aim for 2-5 minutes.
DO End On a Sweet Note
No matter what else you say or do, end your best man speech with positivity. Congratulations on the marriage, happy wishes for the couple’s future together, and a general toast in the groom and his partner’s direction are customary (for a reason) and always well-received.
Photo Credit || Allison Kuhn Photography
Best Man Speech Topics to Avoid
There are really never any circumstances under which the following topics are a good idea to bring up in a best man speech. Don’t touch these subject matters with a 10-foot pole:
- Exes or previous marriages.
- General negativity about marriage.
- Illegal activity.
- Pornography or strip clubs. Just don’t.
- X-rated stuff.
- Sex, drugs, drinking, gambling…use your judgment.
- Bathroom stuff.
- Your own drama.
Photo Credit || Luma Weddings
Template for a Killer Best Man Speech
Follow this general outline, and you’ll slay.
- Salutation/introduce yourself
- Thank the hosts for the great party
- Funny, attention-grabbing opening line
- Great anecdote(s) about the groom (best if it supports #3)
- Reasons why the groom is great (as exemplified in #4)
- Why the groom’s partner is great/a great match
- Great anecdote about them as a couple (best if it supports #6)
- Congratulations/beautiful quotation/sweet wishes
- Toast to the happy couple’s future
Photo Credit || Sera Petras Photography