I’ve written a lot of wedding speeches and often get asked for advice on how to bring the house down without coming across as a mumbling wreck or incurring the wrath of the bride and her unforgiving family. If you want to get big laughs and are bored of listening to cliche-ridden speeches packed full of awful jokes stolen from the internet, then read on. Although you might want to start by watching Stephen Merchant showing you how not to do it in I Give It A Year. You can’t be any worse than this.
Stage one: Pre-writing preparation
Start planning at least one month before the ceremony. The more time you give yourself to write and rehearse, the more confident you will be on the day. Remember, there’s only one thing scarier than speaking to a roomful of people: speaking to a roomful of people when you’ve not prepared what you’re going to say.
Email the groom’s friends and family and ask a few questions: What does the groom’s wife-to-be see in him? What was the groom like as a child? What are his good and bad points? They don’t need to provide fully-formed anecdotes, just anything they consider funny or interesting.
Also, start making some notes about your relationship with the groom. How did you become friends? What did you think of him when you first met? How has he changed over the years?
Within a week you’ll hopefully have a stack of emails and some decent tales of your own. Collate the best material into one document and be absolutely brutal in chopping anything you don’t think fits – even if an elderly relative has written 4,000 words about a the groom’s first caravan holiday in Bognor Regis.
Also, find out about the composition of your audience. Are the two families raucous hellraisers or ultra-conservative religious fanatics? Whoever they are, you need to get an idea of what you can and can’t say.
Stage two: Get writing
Getting the structure of the speech right is crucial, and like any good story it should have a beginning, middle and an end.
Firstly, introduce yourself and get the formalities – ‘It’s been a lovely day; doesn’t the bride look beautiful,’ – out the way. If you think you’re likely to be nervous, pre-plan an ad-lib or self-deprecating joke as audiences love vulnerability and initially it’s more important they warm to you than find you side-splittingly funny.
Your job is to give an insight into the groom’s personality, not tell his life story, but work in chronological order as it’s a structure the audience will feel comfortable with. Feel free to exaggerate for comic effect – it’s more important that your stories are entertaining than 100% accurate. Try not to use swear words, don’t steal clichéd lines from the internet, and avoid in-jokes – you need to entertain everyone, not make oblique references to something only ten people will understand.
If you’re feeling creative why not pretend to have stolen the groom’s diary or hacked his email account to use his own words against him? Or perhaps invent some quotes from his old bosses or teachers.
If you have any R-rated stories, make them as family-friendly as possible, and save them for towards the end. By this stage, there’ll be such a warm feeling in the room after those innocently amusing yarns from the groom’s childhood that you could probably commit an animal sacrifice at the top table and everyone would fall about laughing. NB: Don’t under any circumstances commit an animal sacrifice, and remember the aim should be to mildly embarrass the groom not humiliate him.
Avoid potentially divisive material like ex-girlfriends or the bride’s father’s GBH conviction and if there’s a story or joke you’re unsure about, drop the bride an email – you might be surprised how liberal she is. This is also a great way of absolving yourself of the blame if anyone complains.
Finish on a high, and don’t worry about sounding sentimental – a little sincerity goes a long way. If you think the groom’s a great bloke and you’re really happy for him, say so. If you hate his new wife, just say you think he’s a great bloke. End with the toast.
Stage three: Practise, practise, practise
You will get a natural feel for the words and if any parts are difficult to read or don’t flow, tweak them. Perform your speech to a friend and ask if there were any parts they were bored by, or try recording yourself and note any parts that sounded muddled. It’s better to deliver a short snappy speech than drone on for twenty minutes. If in doubt, cut lines out. If you feel your delivery lacks charm and sincerity, watch this clip of Nigel Havers on YouTube and copy how he talks.
Stage four: The Big Day
Pre-speech: Have a full copy of the speech with you. Note cards can be useful but unless you’re an experienced public speaker, you might forget how one part links to another. There are no prizes for memorizing it (although if you’ve practiced enough you will be able to recite parts from memory) so have the whole thing in front of you; this is your safety blanket. If you want a drink, have one, but definitely don’t get drunk.
The speech: Stand up straight and attempt to look confident. Speak slowly and clearly, leaving gaps for laughs and for you to breathe; there’s nothing worse than a best man who hammers through the speech like he’s reading it to himself in the bathroom mirror. Make sure you project your voice, it’s far better to be too loud than too quiet. Can the person in the furthest corner of the room hear you clearly? If not, speak up. You will never talk to a more receptive audience, everyone in the room wants you to be funny and you will get laughs in places you don’t expect. Try to enjoy it. You will. They’ll love you.
Post-speech: Once you’ve been carried shoulder-high around the wedding venue and congratulated by everyone there for delivering the most brilliant address since the Sermon on the Mount, retreat to the bar, find out which of the bridesmaids are single (don’t do this if you’re already married or have a girlfriend/boyfriend) and drink yourself into oblivion like the hero you are.
Still not confident? Hire me to write the thing for you via the Contact page.