Go With What You Know. (How to write the perfect speech)

You’ve been asked to be the best man; you’ve given yourself a pat on the back and boasted to all your friends, so what’s next?

Panic.

Nothing loosens the sphincter more than standing up in front of an audience and speaking; but that’s the easiest part of the job, it’s writing the speech that can be the most daunting.
Traditionally, the best man’s speech is thought of as a little light entertainment, and can be one of the most memorable parts of the ceremony. We can all remember the one that made everyone laugh, just as we also recall those speeches that became vocal Viagra and bored us so rigid?

There’s no hard and fast rule to writing your speech, and there’s a plethora of websites out there offering advice, however very few take into consideration the same sex ceremony.

Two important points to make are; that this is not a marriage, and should never be referred to as such, and in most cases, the best man (or woman) often represents the couple rather than the groom.

Unless you’re an actor experienced in the art of improvisation, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can wing it on the day, the speech needs to be written in advance. It’s also a mistake to write more than you really need, and assume you can cut it depending on the audience reactions; this can lead to a messy and unstructured delivery.

It’s a good idea to get on with writing your speech as soon as possible, begin by making notes about all the things you think you’d like to say: don’t worry about structure at this point.

Your next consideration needs to be how long will your speech be. A good rule of thumb is no longer than ten minutes. It may not seem a long time but ten minutes of continuous speech will use up around 2,000 words. Take into account toasts, applause and laughter and you’ll be looking at writing around 1,250.
The key to writing and delivering a good speech is to relax and be yourself. The reason you’ve been given this important job, is because the couple have belief in your ability to make their day special. If you try too hard to be someone you’re not, you run the risk of coming across as insincere. So, unless you’ve hired Michael McIntyre to write and deliver your speech on the day, or you have a Perrier award for comedy stashed in your sock draw, don’t deliberately try to be funny, because chances are you won’t be.

When shuffling your ideas into some semblance of order, remember you’ll have a mixed audience. So now is a good time to filter out those jokes that may offend, and keep those ‘in’ jokes out. Keep a check on appropriate language; remember there may be children there too, and finally, unless you’re addressing the entire cast of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert, don’t make it ‘too gay’.

Tradition dictates that the groom must undergo a little character assassination, again respect must be the utmost priority: even when taking the mick. One wrong anecdote, and not only is the speech damaged, but also a friendship. Pearl from Preston doesn’t want to hear about the time the groom got so trolleyed that he ended up being fisted by Gavin, the guy off the fish counter in Morrison’s.

So let’s get that tricky first line out of the way. Keep it simple, there’s no need to make it dramatic, your audience will already know what’s coming. So a quick “Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention, please,” will do the job nicely.

Once you’ve established what you want to say, think about how you’ll deliver the speech. What can you do to make it memorable? Here I suggest a go with what you know approach. If you’re a whizz at work with Powerpoint presentations, go ahead and turn your ten minutes into a slick presentation that the happy couple can take away after the ceremony: Most venues will have access to a projector and screen, but do check well in advance.

If you’re a brick-layer, why not begin the speech talking about laying a good foundation for love to thrive on, take along some bricks, and at certain points in the speech stack them as if you are building a wall. Another idea would be to have a piece of graffiti pre-painted on the wall that reveals itself bit by bit: Don’t worry you don’t have to be Banksy, a simple heart and initials will suffice.

The idea here, is think about who you are, and what you are good at, use your talent to make that speech different but unforgettable.

Once you’ve written the speech and decided on your presentation style, practice is the next obvious step. A run-through in front of a mirror will give you a good idea of how you’ll appear on the day. If you want feedback, then practice in front of someone who you trust will give you an honest opinion. And on the day when you are dressed for the occasion, practice again, call it a dress rehearsal; you’ll be surprised how clothes can make a difference to how we present ourselves.

My top tip for a stress free speech is, print off more than one copy and give the back-up to a friend. The last thing you want is to stand up and see your words dissolve into what resembles a Rorschach test, because of a knocked over glass of bubbly. Talking of which, limit your intake of alcohol until after the speech; rocking and slurring is never a good look.

Finally steer clear of reciting a poem: these belong in the actual service. At a civil ceremony recently, the best man decided to quote the poem Us Two by A.A Milne. As soon as he’d delivered the opening line, “Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,” the audience fell about laughing and he was unable to reign them back in.

Panic over?

Published: Two Men on a Cake, September 2011 © Barry Lillie

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