Hello, best man (or woman)! First off—congrats, my friend. You've been declared "best man." That's literally the most superlative title ever conceived. Ready to earn it?
The Best (and Worst) Best Man Speech Ever
You, of course, have many important responsibilities—groomsmen shepherding, alcohol distributing—but there's really only one task that will secure your proud ascension into the ranks of the very best best men: speeeeeeeeeech. But if the thought of bromantic PDA has your knee caps sweating, relax. We found you a coach with years of experience delivering well-crafted and heartfelt words to millions of people. Barack Obama did not respond to my DM, but here's the actual next best thing: his former speechwriter David Litt.
Meet the Expert
David Litt was former president Barack Obama's speechwriter. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling book: "Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years."
"One thing that happens when you write speeches for a president is that you become a pro-bono speechwriter for a lot of your friends. So, if someone's getting married, you usually get a call," says Litt, who penned speeches for President Obama from 2011 to 2016. We also decided to take advantage of Litt's generosity and interrogated him with the gumption of a nosy aunt at an open bar reception.
We tapped Litt to help us create this guide on getting started, speechwriting tips, and even ideas for your best man speech. Below, his thoughts on (ugh) actually getting started, reading the room, and WWOD—What Would Obama Do?
Best Man Speech Template
Getting all your thoughts and feelings down on paper can be overwhelming, especially if you're not used to sharing those sentiments with the guys. Here is a guideline for helping you find your flow.
1. Find a theme. "You’re not going to just write a speech from scratch. Start by brainstorming stories. Most importantly, what you’re looking for is the theme that comes out of those anecdotes. So, what’s the one unifying idea that ties everything together? Generally speaking, the best way to think about your theme is: Afterward, if people only remember one thing, what’s that one thing? Once you have that, the rest of it flows a little better," says Litt.
2. Build a framework. The best way to organize your thoughts is to create a blueprint of the key points you want to hit first, sort of like a toast skeleton. After you've established the roadmap, you can fill it in with pertinent details and memories while still ensuring that you're staying on point. "Also, think about it in terms of ideas. You can get in one or two short anecdotes, maybe three, and one big idea. If those are good, you don’t need more." adds Litt.
Instead of thinking as the speaker, put yourself in the shoes of someone in the audience. Think about what they’re looking for rather than what you want to do.
3. Focus on the newlyweds. "Remember the relationship that you’re celebrating is the one between the two people getting married. You’re giving the speech because you can shine some unique light on that relationship. If the relationship that you’re really giving the speech about is the one between you and the groom, you’re there; things are awkward," advises Litt.
4. Share your feelings. "Generally speaking, men think of the best man speech as a funny speech to give because we’re very uncomfortable sharing how we actually feel. But, what makes a good best man speech is the part where somebody shares how they feel. Humor is just the icing on the cake," says Litt. Try to make sure that you're delivering something more meaningful than just joke after joke. The newlyweds chose you to speak because you have something notable to add to their big day, embrace your personal insight into their bond and don't try to dilute it by just being funny.
Best Man Speech Tips
Here are David Litt's best tips for creating, and delivering, the most epic best man toast of all time.
1. Consider your audience. You can't nail a speech if you have no idea who to tailor the content to. "Feel free to ask beforehand. When I was writing speeches for the president, we had a point of contact where the speech was happening to say who exactly is in the audience. You can do a smaller scale version of that. Your POC is probably your friend getting married. But the nice thing about giving a best man speech is that, ideally, it’s both specific to you and universal to the couple," says Litt.
They should feel like they know you a little bit, and they know the couple really well, after you’re done.
2. Relax. "I would say almost never start with talking about how nervous you are. I’d also say just relax. That’s a hard thing to tell someone to do, but to put it differently: Remember, you’re not putting on a show," says Litt. You're simply talking about your best friend and the love of their life, two people that you've probably spent a lot of time with. In the end, it should just flow and come out easily. Litt suggests that you try to "imagine you’re just telling a story to a group of friends, because really, you are."
3. Stay true to yourself. Stick with who you are and how you would normally act around your friends. Don't try to be funny if you're usually not the comedian in the bunch, or super sentimental if you're usually the more lighthearted friend. Your friends will definitely be able to tell and your toast won't seem genuine in the end. "You’re not performing. You’re there because you know someone and care about them, and you’re sharing that with a bunch of other people. Even a great best man speech is not supposed to steal the show. If somebody says, 'That speech was nice but almost forgettable because we were so focused on the bride and groom' that’s a win. You don’t need to be the star," advises Litt.
4. Don't rely solely on humor. While a few jokes sprinkled in can be a great tool for loosening up the crowd, don't make these the meat of your toast—especially if comedy doesn't come naturally to you. "Let me put it this way—there’s such a thing as too many bad jokes, and that number is about one. The more you treat it as an open mic night, the less happy everyone involved is going to be. You don’t need to go in thinking, 'How do I get invited back next week?'" explains Litt.
5. Keep things positive. "I’ve seen best man speeches where someone thinks, 'Oh, my job is to roast the groom.' Unless the groom and the bride specifically told you that’s your job, that’s not your job. The way to think about jokes is that you don’t want people to be laughing at the groom or at the couple. You want people to be laughing because they suddenly know the groom better than they did before." says Litt.
6. Don't upstage the newlyweds. Litt emphasizes that his previous boss (ahem, former President Obama) really enjoyed telling other people's stories at speaking engagements, and this ultimately strengthened his messages. He adds that, "His speeches are not really about him. They’re about other people. And even if you don’t have the oratorical gifts of Obama, you can still follow that example: Focus on telling someone else’s story and making someone else look good, and of course, you’re going to look good in the process."
7. Make sure it's appropriate. "My general rule for wedding speeches is: If you have to ask yourself, 'Is this appropriate?' it’s not. And if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t know, ask a friend. If they give you that slightly horrified look, listen to that look," explains Litt. Keep in mind that your audience will include guests of various generations and cultures and include people like your buddy's grandparents, boss, and colleagues. Refrain from mentioning anything that you wouldn't want your grandma or boss to know.
8. Get a second opinion. Remember: you'll be delivering this toast in front of an audience (as if you could forget, right?). So it doesn't hurt to get some feedback on what you're planning on saying. "If you’re the kind of person who has a track record of going a little too far with your surprises, you should be self-aware enough to run this by a third party—maybe another close friend or a friend of the bride," says Litt.
Frankly, at the end of the day, you want to make sure the groom is happy with it, but you really want to make sure the bride is happy with it.
9. Practice. "The best thing to do is practice with a friend. Anybody giving a big speech rehearses beforehand. If you’ve already gotten good feedback from field-testing your remarks with a smaller group, then you’re going to come out on the wedding day comfortably knowing you have a good speech. It's that uncertainty that can be scary when you’re up there speaking," says Litt.
10. Keep it short. "I’ve never been to a wedding where anyone said, 'That was a great wedding, but the best man speech was just too short and that ruined it.' I would say five minutes is the absolute maximum. Three minutes is fine. There’s no question that if you’re reading this, you’ve sat through a speech that was too long. But when you start writing a speech, you almost never think, 'Is this going to be too long?'" explains Litt.
11. Limit your drinks. "Being one drink in works for some people, but being more than one drink in is never a good idea. At that moment when you’re like, 'You know what I need? Another couple shots.' That is never what you need," advises Litt.
A Best Man Speech Example to Make Your Own
We asked Litt if he had heard any standout best man speeches that immediately came to mind, and he was happy to share a particular favorite. His words below:
"I was just at a wedding where the best man gave one of the best best man speeches I’ve ever heard. The premise was that the groom was governed by something called 'Andy’s law,' which is, as the best man explained, the opposite of Murphy’s law. So instead of 'anything that can go wrong will go wrong,' the best man went through all these different examples where things had just totally played out in the groom’s favor somewhat unexpectedly. Then, the end of the speech was about how the ultimate example of Andy’s law was finding Liz, his now wife. It was very funny, but also, in the end, it was very sweet."
Still in need of some inspiration to help rev up those speech-writing engines? Try to incorporate some of these quotes into your own toast.