Let's face it, standing in front of a crowd doesn't always come naturally for most people. Even if you use a few mental tricks to lessen your nerves—like picturing everyone in their underwear—public speaking is generally an unnerving task and takes practice to perfect. So, if you're a bit fearful about delivering your upcoming best man speech, we're here to say that you're not alone.
What's more, even if you have spoken to a large crowd countless times, there's something about a best man speech that pulls at the heartstrings and, ultimately, has the ability to stir up your nonchalant vibe. But regardless of where you fall on the public speaking spectrum, there are a few steps everyone should take when preparing to address friends and family at a wedding celebration.
Ahead, we tapped Heidi Ellert-McDermott, a wedding speech expert, to help break down the most important things to know when giving a level-headed and stress-free wedding day toast. From watching your pace to practicing your jokes, here are the top six tips for delivering a flawless, entertaining, and appropriate best man speech everyone will love.
Meet the Expert
Heidi Ellert-McDermott is a wedding speech expert and former TV director and writer with over 15 years of experience. She is also the founder of Speechy and author of "The Modern Couple’s Guide to Wedding Speeches."
Practice the Speech
While this first step may seem simple, it's one that often gets overlooked. As with any important task, practice makes perfect, and this is especially true when preparing to give your best man speech. "While I encourage clients to have notes on the day, I also stress the importance of memorizing the speech or, at least, ensuring the words are deep-rooted. You need to be familiar with the flow of it," advises Ellert-McDermott. "Rehearse your speech until it bores you. Record yourself reading it, and listen to it repeatedly. On your commute, going to bed, whenever you can."
Ellert-McDermott also recommends writing your speech by hand as a way to help memorize and retain the words you'd like to say—though she does note that speech memorization is ultimately a cycle of "speech, sleep, repeat." "Studies have suggested writing out the speech by hand (typing doesn’t count) and reciting it just before you go to bed aids retention but really, there’s no big secret to memorization," she adds.
No matter how well you practice and know your speech, as mentioned above, you should never forgo having written notes. According to Ellert-McDermott, "Notes are not a sign of weakness, it’s simply evidence that you’ve prepared. And why, if you’ve spent weeks perfecting your speech, would you just aim to deliver a sloppy version of it? It’s certainly good to have a few funny lines that seem like they were spontaneously ad-libbed on the day, but you can even include them on your notes. No one will be checking!"
It's also important to be mindful of where you choose to reference your notes. Though we live in a world where technology is king, consider taking things back to the basics when delivering your speech on the big day. "When it comes to presenting your notes, more people are turning to tech—iPads and phones. Personally, I find tech rather jarring and prefer old school, quality A4 paper," says Ellert-McDermott. "And, although many people assume a device is easier to handle than pieces of paper, in my experience it’s clumsier. You end up scrolling too far or accidentally flicking onto another page. So, personally, I wouldn’t risk it."
Make Eye Contact With Your "Audience"
Have you ever seen someone speak to a crowd and never attempt to make eye contact? If you have, we're sure you can agree that their speech was a bit uncomfortable for those watching. Therefore, don't make that mistake when delivering your best man speech! Eye contact is an important method used to connect with an audience, so as the best man, you want to ensure that you're engaging with the couple and all guests in attendance.
"Eye contact breeds a sense of connection and trust. If you look nervous, your audience will feel nervous too, so look at your audience and fake confidence even if you don’t immediately feel it," notes Ellert-McDermott. "Stand up and smile at all the guests before you utter a word. A cheeky smile, laugh, or an eyebrow raise can add as much laughter as any witty lines you’ve written, so rehearse your non-verbal communication and eye contact before the big day too."
Watch Your Pace
"Talking too fast is a big problem, and I’ve heard too many speeches where it’s obvious that the speaker just wants to get through it and sit down again," shares Ellert-McDermott. "Rushing your delivery makes guests feel uncomfortable and creates a nervous atmosphere for everyone." And yes, while nerves can sometimes get the best of you on the day of, if you practice your speech and have notes to reference, your nerves should subside, as will the pace of your delivery.
Ellert-McDermott also shares that best men should aim for a conversational tone, one that includes pauses and short breaks in order to allow guests to process what they're saying. "A pause is essential when you expect laughter, and you should never talk over it once it lands. Speakers often move on from the joke too quickly and don’t give their audience a chance to react," she says.
Crack a Few Jokes
We can't deny that one of the most anticipated moments of the best man's speech is the jokes. Often cheesy, but usually funny, jokes set the stage for a lively reception, allowing guests to loosen up and get ready for an evening of good music and dancing. So simply put, don't forget to crack a few jokes that honor the couple and your best friend.
"An audience expects plenty of humor from the best man and I suggest you need your first laugh within your first couple of sentences," says Ellert-McDermott. "Obviously, avoid the cheesy, googled-gags, or anything sexist, crude, or overly rude. Instead, look at the friend you’re paying tribute to and pinpoint the things that make him unique. Best men are expected to add laughter and fun to the day but let’s not forget that, traditionally at least, the best man speech is the only tribute the groom gets. As well as a fair share of affectionate teasing, it should also be a heartfelt tribute to a true friend."
Read the Room
Last, but not least, the final tip to delivering the perfect best man speech is to read the room and understand the crowd. Did your friend invite any colleagues? Are there any grandparents or older family members in attendance? Children? Non-English speakers? Know who you're speaking to and ensure your speech and delivery are inclusive for all who are listening. "Get a sense of who the newlyweds are inviting to the wedding in advance of the day so you can tailor your content accordingly," says Ellert-McDermot.