On November 19th 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered an address that would come to be known as one of the finest speeches in history. The Gettysburg Address is a mere 272 words in length and took Lincoln less than three minutes to deliver.
The speech contains powerful, moving language heavy with sorrow and deep with resolve and some of its phrases would likely have achieved renown regardless of its length, but to be clear, one of the reasons the Gettysburg Address was and remains such a powerful piece of oration is its brevity.
Any best man (or maid of honor, of course) looking to deliver a great wedding speech is well advised to take a note from Lincoln and keep it short. He’s also well advised to make it a bit lighter than the remarks the 16th President delivered on that early November day.
And remember, being asked to be a best man is a great honor – with luck (and a lot of work and devotion), this man will only get married once in his life, and he is asking you to be the pillar of his wedding party. So you owe him, the new bride, and everyone assembled a good speech. It need not be a perfect best man speech, but it better be good.
How Long Should a Best Man Speech Be?
To start your speech strong, go with a tried-and-true opening formula: introduce yourself. Briefly explain who you are in relation to the groom, and then quickly move on to talking about the man himself and his new spouse. Quickly because the speech is not about you, and because giving a great best man speech means being short and, for the most part, sweet.
The shorter the better, frankly. Look to Abraham Lincoln for inspiration and try to keep your remarks to under three minutes, which means trying to keep your whole speech to around 300 words or a bit more.
Even if your best man speech is going to be partly off the cuff, make sure to practice the wedding speech, or a “draft” of it, anyway, a few times beforehand and time yourself. If you tick past the five-minute mark, you are going on for way too long.
Best Man Speech Tips
A truly awesome best man speech will have everyone happy, many people laughing, and have the whole room feeling better about the bride and groom. Note that a best man speech is not about making you look good – a funny best man speech should center on the groom and something amusing he did or said; an inspirational best man’s speech should center on an impressive act by or quality of the new husband.
You are giving a speech, but you are not its subject, so be a great friend and make your friend look and feel great. And the same goes for his new spouse, too: focus on your friend, then focus on the couple, then wrap it up.
Your speech should have a theme that you can touch on several times. It may be as simple as love and kindness, but identifying a theme for yourself will help anchor the speech, preventing you from straying off topic and rambling too long.
When making a best man speech outline, remember always to plan a speech you can deliver while being genuine. If you’re not a slapstick humor kind of guy, don’t try for that kind of humor. If you’re a known jokester who always has the room roaring, don’t try to lay on the life advice and words of wisdom too heavily. Your best man’s speech will be at its best when it’s heartfelt.
As for what to talk about, that’s really up to you: you were chosen to be the best man because you know the groom so well, either as best friends or family, presumably, so you know whether a funny story, a touching anecdote, or a bit of both is best called for. Just remember that not everyone in the audience at the wedding reception will know you well – in fact, half of them may not even know the groom well – so don’t get too obscure.
Remember that it’s always a good idea to mention how wonderful the wedding day has been and to acknowledge the ceremony itself and the wedding vows, to thanks all the wedding guests, to note the venue, the food, the music, and even the cake. The people whom planned the wedding reception will appreciate you noting all these details – as will the bride’s father and mother or whoever paid for the wedding. Might want to thank them, too, eh?
And don’t forget to end with a short wedding toast and wishes for a good night and a good life for the couple, and to then turn it over for a maid of honor speech. (And if this has already happened, make sure to acknowledge it.)
Best Man Speech Tips: When in Doubt, Quote Someone Else
There’s a reason so many speeches incorporate quotes from other people: a well-known quote has already been effectively vetted by many audiences, so you can count on it working for yours. A quote can serve as the start of your speech, as the anchor
So, what are the best types of quotes to use? Love quotes are always a good choice at a wedding, as are quotes about commitment, about the future, about trust, about kindness, and about friendship. Look for quotes that are either already well-known or are from a well-known source, be it a famous person, a popular song or book, or another source people will recognize.
One of the reasons quotes are powerful is because they are comfortable; they tend to work best when they re-confirm a notion someone already held rather than imparting new information.
Things to Avoid During a Best Man Speech
Alright, so we talked about tips for things you should consider doing; now here are the things to avoid during a best man speech.
First and foremost, be very cautious with the embarrassing stories. The line between a great best man speech and an abominable failure is a fine one indeed if you start in on the embarrassing story approach. If you have even a shred of doubt that an anecdote or joke you’re considering is crossing the line, leave it out. You can always share the more cringe-worthy stories with the gang out on the dance floor or as the cigars come out later, leaving that “he’s a great guy!” reputation intact in front of the larger crowd.
And do not, repeat, do not drink too much before your best man speech, and don’t have more than one drink while giving your remarks, either. You can hit the bar hard later, but you can’t ever unsay things that slipped out due to a few too many cocktails or glasses of champagne.