First off—congrats! You've been declared "best man." 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: giving a killer toast.
The Best (and Worst) Best Man Speech Ever
The best man's speech traditionally follows the groom's speech, and it's a chance for you to say some sweet words about your relationship with the couple and wish your best pal well in his new marriage. But if the thought of giving a speech has your kneecaps sweating, relax. We found you a coach with years of experience delivering well-crafted and heartfelt words to millions of people. While Barack Obama did not respond to our DM, we found the actual next best thing: his former speechwriter David Litt.
Meet the Expert
We tapped Litt to help us create this guide on getting the process started. Read on for speechwriting tips, and even ideas for best man speeches to pull off the best toast ever.
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 finding your flow.
Find a theme. A theme is a unifying idea that ties the whole speech together. Think of it as the takeaway of your speech, or think about the one thing you want guests to remember. The best way to identify your theme is by making a list of your favorite stories. "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," says Litt.
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, fill it in with pertinent details and memories while still ensuring you're staying on point. "Think about it in terms of ideas," says Litt. "You can get in one or two short anecdotes, maybe three, and one big idea. If those are good, you don’t need more."
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.
Focus on the newlyweds. Most best men will include a story or two about their friendship with the groom, but don't center the whole speech on it. "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," says Litt. "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."
Share your feelings. Deliver something more meaningful than one joke after another. "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. 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 writing and delivering your best man toast.
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.
Guests should feel like they know you a little bit, and that they know the couple really well after you’re done.
Find a theme. A theme is a unifying idea that ties the whole speech together. Think of it as the takeaway of your speech, the one thing you want guests to remember afterward. The best way to identify your theme is by making a list of your favorite stories. "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," says Litt.
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 also suggests to "imagine you’re just telling a story to a group of friends because, really, you are."
Stay true to yourself. Stick with who you are and how you would normally act around your friends; you don't need to adopt a character just because you're giving a speech. For example, if you aren't normally the comedian in the group, don't try to tell a bunch of jokes. If you're not usually a super-sentimental person, don't force it—there's nothing wrong with keeping your speech more lighthearted. The couple already knows (and loves) your personality, so the more genuine you are, the better your speech will be received by both the newlyweds and their guests.
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.
Keep things positive. Even if you think it's well-meaning, don't turn the toast into a roast or make jokes at the couple's expense. "I’ve seen best man speeches where someone thinks, 'Oh, my job is to roast the groom.' Unless the couple 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.
Don't upstage the newlyweds. Litt's previous boss (ahem, former President Obama) really enjoyed telling other people's stories at speaking engagements, and this ultimately strengthened his messages. "His speeches are not really about him. They’re about other people," says Litt. Channel Obama by keeping your speech focused on the couple. "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.
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.
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.
Practice. The last thing you want to do is stand up and give a speech that you've never said out loud. "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.
Keep it short. Let's be realistic: super-long wedding toasts annoy guests. "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.
Limit your drinks. Don't embarrass yourself by slurring through your toast. "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 of 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."