The Dos and Don’ts of a Best Man Speech


Please do not discuss sex or drinking. Please.

by Stephanie Kaloi, Content Manager

best man speech tips

Even though I’ve gone to tons of weddings as a wedding photographer, toasts are still one of my favorite parts of the wedding. Hush, I’m serious: I get immediately emotional when a close friend or family member steps up to say nice things about the people getting married. Well, I do when the speech is good—but that doesn’t mean they all are. So today we’re going to address the dos and don’ts of the best man speech, which has it’s own particular way of sometimes going… off the rails. Way off the rails, if the stories I’ve heard from the APW staff are any indication.

So here are fourteen points (some of which I wish didn’t have to be made, but trust me, they do), plus a handy best man speech script to get you to magic. The good kind of magic.

1.Do Be personal, but appropriate. Weddings are an ideal time to give in to all of those heartfelt feels you have somewhere, deep inside. Go for it.

2.do not Make fart jokes. This is obvious, right? In fact, maybe don’t make any jokes that aren’t just a way of saying, “I love you and your partner,” or if you don’t know exactly how the joke will land. For example, a broad joke at the expense of your friend is probably fine (“We all know George loves his truck, so it’s a testament to how great Lucy is that you are not listening to me give a toast congratulating George and his truck on a happy life together”), but a very specific joke that no one else will get is not okay (“Well there was this one time we were all in the woods, and it was Steve’s birthday, and so we got him an ice cream cake and he got terrible diarrhea and pooped outside. And well, he’s a good guy, and he’s my best friend, even if he pooped that one time”).

3.do plan ahead. You don’t have to show up with a perfectly edited speech, but a few weeks before the wedding is a good time to sit down and think about what you want to say. (Plus you then have plenty of time to practice.)

4.do not run longer than your allotted time. Trust. No one wants to listen to ten minutes of memories that they played no part in, video game references, or inside jokes. Two to five minutes is fantastic, especially if you skew shorter.

5.do be thankful. Expressing gratitude toward the couple, their family, and anyone who helped make the wedding happen is always a great points winner.

6.DO NOT make quotes your entire speech. Sure, if you both love the same movie, you’ll both get it and laugh uproariously, but absolutely no one else will.

7.do have a story to tell. It doesn’t have to be long or even poetic, and it doesn’t have to be funny, but at this point in the wedding people are usually ready to tuck in and listen to something. Something nice. Talk about playing soccer or Mario Kart together as kids, talk about hanging out at a bar together in college (but DO NOT talk about the time you hung out at a strip club). Then, for bonus points, parlay that tale into a similar story about the couple that reinforces why they’re a great fit.

8.do not ignore your friend’s partner. If you’re playing the role of best man, I think it’s safe to assume you’ve interacted with the partner of your friend more than a handful of times—so why would you fail to mention this person at least once? It can be a fun story about how you two didn’t like each other at all when you met and now do, or something sweet about how great the couple is together. Come on. You can do it.

9.do compliment the parents—if it’s the truth. I once shot a wedding where the best man included a special shout out to the bride’s mom, because she was the “hot mom” while they were all growing up. Her mom loved the acknowledgement, and all the guys in the friend circle roundly agreed. Know your audience: if this would play well, totally include it. It was an unexpected hit. If you’re not sure if it play well, I cannot repeat enough: SKIP IT.

10.do not make it about you. Sure, context is good (“I met Evan when we were in karate together…”) but keep it brief. The speech isn’t about you, and it isn’t even just about your friend—ideally, it’s about the couple getting married.

11.do end on a positive note. It doesn’t have to be sugary sweet, and should definitely not be a lie, but make sure you end on a strong, happy note that keeps people feeling good.

12.do not mention: Ex-partners of either member of the couple, sex, the divorce rate, or kids (unless the couple is very open about definitely wanting to have them right away).

13.do try to memorize parts of your speech. You don’t have to nail it, but make sure you’re orating, not just reading off a piece of paper, especially at the beginning—connecting with guests is key. People feel more when you connect with your eyes and movements.

14.do not be rude. Guys, I have a terrible mouth on me, but I know when it is and is not appropriate to drop a choice fuck or two. Mind your manners.

Now that you have the basics on lock, we have a best man speech template that will guide you to perfection… as long as you stay away from that-time-the-groom-blacked-out.

Pink Line

The Perfect Best Man Speech Template

Hi everyone, I’m                                         ’s best man/best person/#1 fan.

I want to thank                      for asking me to be part of his/her big day. It really means a lot.

And thanks to my fellow wedding party members for all your work in making today special. You all look lovely/foxy/badass and it’s been fun/an adventure/unforgettable hanging out with all of you.

                     and I have been friends for           years. We’ve had a lot of good times together—we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and lived to tell the tales. Of which there are many.

But one in particular stands out.

It was the time                     (Fill in story. Make it a suitable one!)                    .

But that’s when I knew what an awesome/caring/funny/most excellent person         (name)           is. And it makes me so beyond happy that he/she has found someone who sees and appreciates that.

(Name of partner), you are marrying the best friend a person could ask for. You really bring out the best in him/her and I know he/she truly cares for you as well.

(Both persons’ names), I am so excited for the both of you, and I know you’re going to be a great team. I wish you nothing but love and joy for many years to come.

Congratulations!

what was the greatest best man speech you’ve ever heard? What was the worst? what worked—and what totally didn’t?

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! 😊 🎉 🎉).

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  • Alice

    Oh man, my hubby just got back from a wedding where the bride’s best man talked for twenty minutes about how he had always had feelings for her (the bride), and the groom had better be good to her, and he knew where he’d hide the body (wink wink, but seriously….). As a groomsman who hardly knows the bride, hubby and half the audience were so uncomfortable.

    • toomanybooks

      Oh gosh… No!

    • Jess

      What. Just… What.

    • Ebloom

      Nooo… That would make me so uncomfortable. I would have to consider backing away from tat friendship a little bit.

    • Cellistec

      I hope they can laugh about that in a few years.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh. No. Oh. No. Oh. No.

    • Lisa

      Love Actually, anyone?

  • emilyg25

    My dad memorably toasted his brother and his brother’s first wife at his second wedding. Don’t do that.

    • Meg Keene

      That moment during a toast where you’re like “they’re not going to go there, they’re not going to go there, OMG THEY ARE GOING THERE AND I CAN’T STOP THIS TRAINWRECK.”

      • Aubry

        At a friends wedding, when her dad was over there digging a terrible hole of a speech, the bride leans to one bridesmaid and whispers, and this gets passed down the line to my other friend with the message “(the bride) wants you to stop this.” She whispers back down “how?!!” and this terrible game of bridal telephone ensues at the head table, meanwhile the bride’s dad just keeps rambling on and on, calling the groom fat and the wrong name,basically talking about his failed marriage while trying to pretend they’re still together, etc. I think the older sister eventually did the hug-and-guide-away-from-the-mic move.

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    • Emily

      Ah yes, number 12 should have been followed at my wedding where the best man opened his speech with comments on my husband’s first wedding. Just wanted the world to swallow me whole .

  • Amy March

    Don’t forget to finish! Don’t just trail off into nothingness awkwardly, raise your glass and actually make a toast- “to the happy couple” and then sit down.

    • Sara

      In that vein, if you’re going to end with a toast, don’t pick up your glass until you know you’re ready to end. I’ve been to a couple weddings where the speaker was clearly very nervous and began their speech with ‘let’s raise a glass to J & S”, so we all did and they proceeded to give a full 5 minute speech while we all awkwardly held our glasses up.

  • savannnah

    Sometimes, no matter what you do, your best man is going to talk about the time they both worked at Disneyland and their jobs were to to pick up the trash in the evening and take it out in the morning, both at the park and at home. Or how they used to peer pressure each other into watching dirty movies in middle school and thats the only way the brides husband knows what hes doing in bed. Its mortifying at the time, and then it grows into something funny and still embarrassing that friends can rib you on for the rest of your life.

  • PW

    DO PRACTICE!! Especially if you think you’re gonna get emotional.

    It’s ok to well up at the end (I did during my best [wo]man’s speech) but sobbing all the way through, or so much you can’t get to the end, will be something you regret. Practice genuinely will help with this, I speak as a seasoned speechmaker who cries at just about anything.

    • Keri

      And pick out a few people in the crowd to make eye contact with, even if it is brief. it helps connect you to the room, helps keep your public speaking nerves in check, and reminds you to also address the crowd listening to you and not just the couple.

    • Eenie

      My father in law cried two lines into his speech. He ended it several seconds later by raising his glass and then hugging us. It was a great speech.

      • Cellistec

        Aww. A dad crying while giving a toast is always a winning moment in my book.

  • RT

    Ugh… THANK YOU for this. It’s an easy link to refer to for people we think might get out of hand. I’ve had more than one of my fiancée’s friends tell me to my face, almost as if it was a compliment, that they didn’t think our relationship would last because they didn’t think my fiancée could ever be in a monogamous relationship (her friends are poly) – so I’m cringing at the thought of what they might include in a wedding toast.

  • The wedding I was just at had lovely speeches where they told stories that I understood (having never met the bride and the groom being friends with my husband in very different circles than his best man. The best man was also a teacher so he had the third gradees write up some marriage advice and read the choice ones which was also pretty funny. The speeches were much better done than the ones at my wedding for sure.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I LOVE the third grader marriage advice bonus! Wow, seriously wish I could ask my MOH to steal that idea (she doesn’t work with kids in any way so it might just be weird). It just sounds so hilarious.

      • Eenie

        Any nephews or nieces?

        • Her Lindsayship

          Nope. Maybe my cousin’s kids could be interviewed. FH has some adorable nieces but they only speak German. Could still work…

      • Jessica

        There is some advice from kids you can find online, it’s one of those things where everyone thinks it’s adorable so people probably won’t care whose kid it’s from.

      • Danielle

        Search the internet! I found this adorable video, which is somewhat related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ym0LW_uPPk

      • It was great because he went off on a thing about how he was going to give marriage advice but then realized that since he wasn’t married or in a relationship (and I think he was the younger brother, too) he didn’t think that he would be able to give good advice, so he went to the experts… and then went right into the kid’s advice.

  • Sarah E

    I had a cousin who, as best man, included in his toast a joke about “the next wedding.” Such weak, uncomfortable laughter followed.

    • CMT

      Maybe it’s rude of me, since it’s not like people giving speeches at weddings are usually professionals, but I won’t fake laugh at jokes in poor taste like this. I’ll just keep staring at the speaker, waiting for him or her to move on.

  • Sara

    When I was MOH for my college roommate, one of the groomsmen told me that ‘no one liked MOH speeches’ because they were always too long and sappy, and the BM speeches were always quick, funny and to the point. So I worked on mine for-ev-er, it was less than 3 minutes, had a couple laughs and still showed my love for them. Then the BM (groom’s brother) gave a lovely, rambling, sappy, two page speech about his love for the couple. It made me feel like I should have originally told the groomsman to shove it.

    • sofar

      My experience has been the opposite. The MoH makes an amazing speech. Short, sweet, funny, good comedic timing and makes people laugh and cry. The Best Man speeches I’ve seen have been have been long rambles of “Oh mannnn bro! You’re gettin’ married, dude. Yo, I remember back in college when we had this inside joke. Remember? Yeah, dude, you remember. And you got with some really slutty girls. [rambles incoherently for 15 more minutes]. Anyway, here’s a quote from Wedding Crashers/Old School.”

      • Kari

        Oh my god, why is this always the case? The girls are always well prepared and thoughtful and witty and sweet and the guys…just can’t put it together. Except for the groom (usually).

  • Keri

    I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard a speech at a wedding. Speak up, y’all.

  • EF

    We had 3 speeches at my wedding — my best man, my partner’s best man, and me. All lasted about 8 minutes. All got big ovations. Guys, I STRONGLY recommend knowing who in your group is good at public speaking! All three of us were trained in public speaking, do so for our jobs, used to speaking to crowds of 200+ so 75 wasn’t a big deal, and this helped SO MUCH.

    But totally want to re-iterate the KNOW YOUR CROWD. My best man made a whole bunch of the speech more about him than Stephanie would recommend, but it was an excellent story, and hilarious, and was about a road trip we’d been on together in college. About half the room had heard this story before, and cheered and joked as he told it; the other half were delighted too. The other best man made it very much about us as a couple, and included lots of jokes about how he ‘as a junior, trainee psychologist’ totally knew we were gonna work out. It was supportive and beautiful. A ton of people, including the photographer, said these were the best wedding speeches they’d ever heard. I really think it’s because we were all public speakers.

    I can’t wait to return the favour for my best man, and have a draft half-speech written already (he’s not even engaged yet! but….it’s coming). Speech giving doesn’t have to be a chore or a bore. It can be awesome too.

    • Laura C

      Yes to the public speaking thing, with the caveat that sometimes someone who’s a little less polished but has really worked hard on their toast and brings extra emotion to it, and a visible desire to get it right, can absolutely kill.

      My husband met most of his best friends as theater majors at Northwestern. These guys take their toasts very seriously, and are great at public speaking and landing jokes. The only danger is that they ALL want to give toasts at any given wedding.

      • EF

        yuuuuuup to the ALL THE TOASTS thing. this is why we only had 3 speeches, and a guardian of the microphone. in a room of lawyers and performers (not mutually exclusive) with many, many old college debate friends…again, know the crowd, and lock down that microphone!

    • Eh

      And f you pick a best man (or anyone else you want to do a speech) who is not normally a public speaker then respect what they are capable of. My husband was best man at his brother’s wedding and he hates public speaking. He practiced and practiced but he froze because a bridesmaid grabbed his butt while he was doing his speech and he just wanted to get it over as fast as possible. My BIL was pretty upset about my husband’s abbreviated speech.

      • EF

        yeah that’s not cool what the bridesmaid did! but i think in general it is a kindness to avoid putting people who would otherwise not wish to speak in public in this spotlight! there are lots of other ways to honor people important to the relationship.

        • Eh

          My husband knew taking the job he was also being asked to do a speech (having his butt grabbed was not part of the deal though). I agree that they could have asked someone else who is more comfortable to do the speech part and not have that as part of the best man duties but my in-laws are very traditional and they would think that is weird (they thought it was weird that I let my sister pick her own MOH dress and that my sister was not planning my bachelorette because she lived across the country).

    • lildutchgrrl

      My dad knew his crowd. He’s a good speaker when he has a chance to practice (used to pitch sales/marketing stuff all the time), and although I learned my introversion from him, I also know he can be very charming — and we had a tiny wedding, so it was more like giving a toast at the Thanksgiving table. So, knowing his daughter’s friends… he stood up and began: “Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togevvah today.” Hilarity ensued.

    • Keeks

      My brother’s speech SLAYED because he’s already been best man twice (so he knows the format) & he speaks at meetings several times a week (so he has no stage fright). Seriously, people talk about 2 things from our wedding: the food, and my brother’s speech.

  • Laura C

    For all the stories you hear about best man speeches, the worst offenders I’ve heard, by far, have been parents. The father of the bride who got the groom’s name wrong and said “welcome to the elite” — ostensibly about the fact that the bride’s family always had their weddings in this specific country club, but AWKWARD in the context of a son of Haitian immigrants marrying a woman whose family…always had their weddings in this specific country club. The father of the groom who talked about being at college and hearing his hometown girlfriend was “knocked up” and then referred to the bride as a trophy wife. And so on.

    • sofar

      OH wow. Just wow.

      We are a bit worried about my FIL talking forever. We will tell him “five minutes at most,” and he’ll agree and then he won’t realize how long he’s been talking. He won’t plan a speech. He’ll just talk. And this is something we’ll just have to accept.

      The most parent speech I’ve heard was from a father of the groom. His son was marrying an Indian woman. Father of groom thought it would be cute to joke about being a fish out of water at the Indian ceremony, which had taken place a day prior. In reality, it was a bunch of jokes about how “weird” his son’s new in-laws’ language,customs, food and music were.

      • Laura C

        Oy. And that kind of stuff doesn’t necessarily stop with the toast. My husband is Indian-American, and at a big extended family event a few months ago, his cousin’s FIL clearly seized on my parents as fellow older white people with whom to bond by complaining about my husband’s aunt’s spicy cooking.

        • sofar

          Augh, why is the go-to Indian joke among old white people about the spicy food? “Indian food, amirite?”

      • Shawna

        My sister and I were so worried about my dad, but he gave a beautiful (and correct-length) Father of the Bride speech. Given that he hadn’t written much a week before the wedding we were really nervous he would just wing it having had a bit too much celebratory drinkage and it just wasn’t that way at all. He not only memorized what he wanted to say, but he made a point of including everyone in the welcome and said just the right things about my now-husband and the two of us together. Everyone raved about his speech (really, everyone’s toasts were amazing). He was still sad he forgot to say a bit about my sister and two of our old family friends, but nobody else noticed and my sister didn’t care that she wasn’t called out (she gave her own wonderful speech, after all). So you never know what you’re gonna get, I guess.

        Also (speaking of marrying white and Indian families) I legit only realized I am the only non-white member of my husband’s extended family two days after the wedding. So everyone was really well behaved. Amazing! And one of my new nieces (from a particularly picky eating family) said afterwards that she now likes spicy food better. Hooray!

      • KH_Tas

        I’ve seen the latter happen, only with a Chinese groom. Equally bad.

    • Sara

      Oh the worst was my friend’s wedding where his parents had gone through a really messy divorce a few years prior. The dad gave a short blessing/congrats before dinner. The mother was so upset she wasn’t asked to give a speech, she stole the microphone after the MOH’s speech and gave a long rambling, clearly off the cuff, speech about the couple. Super awkward. Followed by the best man’s long, long, religious (he was in seminary, couple was non-religious), awkward speech, we were all thrilled when the speeches were over.

    • Danielle

      Not exactly the same thing, but my dad gave a long, rambling, embarrassing speech at the “rehearsal dinner” the night before our wedding, all about my life, accomplishments, embarrassing things I did as a teenager. Why did he pick that moment to share my life details with everyone? I guess he wanted to brag a bit, but it was also directing a lot of the energy towards him and seemed really unnecessary.

      • BSM

        This is what my FIL did for my now husband at our wedding, except recounting some of his (harmless) failings instead of accomplishments (parking tickets, etc.). It was so uncomfortable. I don’t think he even mentioned me in it. So awkward.

        • Danielle

          Yeah, dad didn’t really mention my partner either. I don’t know what he was/they were thinking. I guess most parents don’t get a chance to talk about their children in front of a crowd much, so when they do, it can be… Unpolished, to say the least :/

    • Her Lindsayship

      Agreed! My uncle gave a “speech” at his daughter’s wedding that just shouldn’t have happened. He can be really good at public speaking, but let’s just say he’s distanced himself and some of us were surprised to even see him there. He said something to the effect of “speeches are best kept short. Let’s eat!” I so wish he had just refused to give a speech. It would probably have been less painful for my cousin than having him stand up in front of 300 people and announce that he had no words to offer up for his daughter on her wedding day. Thankfully the bride didn’t seem to let it get to her.

    • Ebloom

      Yes, I too have heard some pretty bad Father of the Bride speeches. Most recently where the dad felt it necessary to talk about his daughter’s exes and how her purpose in life was to be a wife. No one laughed. We were filled with awkwardness. I’m glad it’s over.

    • Carolyn S

      I went to a wedding where the father of the bride and her uncle gave a, I kid you not, 45 minute rambling speech. I don’t even remember the content except that it was definitely awkward at times, pointless, not funny, and interminably long.

    • savannnah

      My future FIL is notorious for terrible father of the groom speeches. Like unforgivable bring up the time my BIL broke up with his now wife over the phone drunk and they didn’t get back together for 2 years stuff or worse. And its all because he has three sons and cannot handle them getting married or growing up at all-it makes him feel abandoned and disrespected when they have other priorities in their lives. My fiance is the last to get married and the youngest and everyone thinks my FIL is gonna loose his shit. SO to mitigate that, we are doing family speeches at the rehearsal dinner and I told him he can say anything he wants (since hes more tempted to break rules when they exist) and we are all just hoping for the best.

    • CMT

      Definitely anybody can give a bad speech! I just went to a wedding where the MOH and a bridesmaid gave a speech together (the sister and cousin of the bride). I think they didn’t have much time to prepare, but their jokes were basically about how spoiled the bride was and how much the groom was going to have to put up with. They weren’t funny jokes, they were mean.

    • Aubry

      Terrible speech sharing time!

      My uncles wedding where the bride’s brother went off on a rambling, pointless speech that included misogynist “jokes” directed towards his wife. And he didn’t catch the crowd at all, and just kept making them, making the rest of us progressively more uncomfortable. She was staring daggers at him the whole time, with the couple trying to smile through it. I may mention he was very, very drunk at the time…

    • ART

      Oh yes, I’ve seen a 10+ minute father of the groom speech that listed every bro-tastic thing the groom ever did and somewhere in there threw in the “look at his new hot wife, isn’t she a 10” sort of line. It was…the worst. I didn’t know him so I couldn’t tell if he was drunk but I would believe it. God, so painful.

  • Chloe

    I was at a friend’s wedding recently without any speeches which of course is totally cool and what they wanted but it made me realise how much I like hearing funny stories about what the people were like as kids or when they were growing up in the speeches. Especially if you are not old childhood friends or family- you get to learn something new about them.

  • Carrie

    When one of my (female) cousins got married, the best man’s entire speech was “May all your ups and downs be between the sheets.” He didn’t even introduce himself. Luckily, my grandmother couldn’t quite hear what he said. And no one was willing to repeat it to her.

    I basically banned speeches/toasts at my wedding, at least partially because my MIL’s “family toast” is a crude joke about oral sex that I didn’t want to have to explain to my mom’s family…

  • Notreallytrevor

    I LOVE speeches! It’s one of my favourite parts of any wedding. I really wanted to give a speech at my sister’s wedding and loved it. I probably went on a little too long and accidentally offended my mum which I still kick myself over. If I had of practice more or with someone else listening I probably would have realised what I was saying could have been taken in a negative way. So another vote for practising!

  • A.

    Our best man—a very good friend of both of us—went the route of essentially talking about what a piece of crap my husband was before meeting me and how he’d be nothing but a total bum without me. Do NOT go this route, even if you think you’re being cute about it. For one thing, my MIL is still angry about it (she saw it as an indictment of her parenting skills–a bit of a stretch, but sure, especially with the emotions of a wedding day) and it honestly made people question whether our best man even LIKED my husband. He was trying to be funny and tried to go the roasting direction, but it backfired. Though it did help that even though my husband and I were interally like, “WTF??” we kept smiling and laughing to try to show that all was good.

    Ironically, we weren’t worried about his speech at all because in every other circumstance, he’s polite almost to a fault. So definitely try not to feel too much pressure to be funny!!

    • A.

      [And I feel like I should note that my husband was NOT a piece of crap before we met, though he was a long-haired teenager with a penchant for clove cigarettes and binge drinking. So… a college freshman.]

    • Jessica

      My parent’s friends, who I call my Moms and Dads, are still mad at my FIL for insinuating that my husband was not a responsible person in his speech. They were disappointed that it appeared my in-laws couldn’t appreciate the great man he has become.

    • Bethany

      The exact same thing happened at one of my friend’s weddings! (Apart from the MIL part, I personally can’t speak to that.) The roast theme was HORRIBLE, it wasn’t funny it was waaaay too long and everyone felt so awkward. I felt bad for everyone involved – the couple, the parents, and even the Best Man, because he really is a great guy otherwise. If your speech is completely bombing you need to know when to just cut it short.

    • sofar

      I think you hit the nail on the head with “pressure to be funny.” People seem to expect wedding speeches to be like stand-up comedy routines. Sometimes, you get a speaker who can pull that off flawlessly, but more of then than not, you get tone-deaf “jokes.”

  • sahara

    My brother’s best man – who incidentally showed up late and delayed the wedding – gave a carefully-rehearsed speech full of jokes about my new sister-in-law cheating on my brother with the postman. No joke. It would have been worse if it hadn’t been so preposterous – I have no idea where that came from, given the quiet and steady personalities of my brother and sister-in-law.

    • sahara

      [Well, I know those jokes come from a place of good old fashioned misogyny, but that is just so far from the nonconformist egalitarian dynamic of my brother and sister-in-law too… I’ve seen multiple toasts now from friends, brothers, parents, where clearly-unwelcome sexism was on display.]

    • I can not even imagine how someone would think that would be good idea.

  • Eenie

    At our wedding, one of the friends who was supposed to give a speech had a seizure during one of the other speeches. After calling 911 and being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, we continued with the last three speeches. Our friends nailed it. Tears streaming down our faces laughing. I’m not sure we could have pivoted back to a party feel without it. They followed Stephanie’s suggested format. It works.

  • Carolyn S

    I realize it’s a “know your crowd” thing, but I’ve always hated speeches that felt like roasts, and those seem way too popular. We didn’t have speeches for a lot of reasons, but a big one being that I know I’m more sensitive than my family realizes, and I wasn’t interested in being embarrassed by “cute” stories about my past.

    • Laura C

      My BIL thought wedding toasts were *supposed* to feel like roasts, like that was the official way to go. Luckily he mentioned this well ahead of time and we set him straight and he gave a really lovely toast.

  • sofar

    I agree with the advice to PRACTICE! Practice, practice, practice. Do your speech in front of multiple people beforehand. Write out multiple drafts. Memorize the important parts. I think a lot of people think that rehearsing makes it too “formal” and that it’s more “authentic” to wing it. This is absolutely false, and I have seen too many best men/MOHs who obviously though the words would just “come to them” in the moment. Nothing came. Except a bunch of rambling and pity-laughter from the crowd. When you’re nervous, the spontaneous, witty party of your brain WILL shut off. So go in with a plan.

    Also, time your speech. With the stopwatch on your phone. I remember learning in my public speaking class that people who don’t time their speeches will underestimate how long they are — every time. You may think your speech is five minutes, when it’s actually 10 or 15.

    • Violet

      Regarding people thinking it’s less authentic to practice– I don’t subscribe to that viewpoint, either. When I gave a speech at my sister’s wedding, I totally wrote it, revised it, and practiced until I had it memorized. (And yeah, keeping it on the shorter side helps with memorizing, too.) Honestly, if anyone thought it was less authentic, then they’re not paying attention. The words were mine. Also, I think a rehearsed speech shows that you took the time to actually work on it, which is a pretty clear indicator of your love for the couple, right? Not saying the opposite is true either (to say if you wing it then you don’t love them is just as preposterous) but I have a hard time linking clear and obvious effort with a lack of caring.

      • sofar

        I’ve always been shocked at the number of wedding-speech-givers who wing it. I think lots of people have this fantasy that inspiration/love for the couple will strike them and they’ll make a brilliant joke/observation that comes to them in the moment. But this never happens, except in movies.

        My other theory is that people psych themselves out with the pressure of writing a perfect speech, so, instead of sitting down and planning out an imperfect speech well in advance that they can tweak, they think, “Once I’m up there, inspiration will strike and I’ll say something beautiful.”

        • Violet

          I completely agree. There’s the pressure of perfectionism combined with wanting it be special. There’s the inspiration versus perspiration piece (when really, both combined are pretty powerful) and some plain ole procrastination at times. I know I had trouble sitting down to write it a few times because of all the things you mentioned, but I just knew myself well enough that I would not come up with anything on the spot I’d be remotely happy with after the fact. I’m impressed by the people who can be spontaneously eloquent, but I know I’m not one of them. Why risk someone else’s special moment with my own unwillingness to face facts about my own limitations? Not me, anyway.

        • Keri

          Plus, people who give really good toasts make it look easy. So people might thing it’s easy.

      • Bethany

        The best speech I ever heard was by the MoH at my friend’s wedding. She started working on it in her head as soon as the couple starting dating because SHE JUST KNEW. It was everything you could ever want – funny, sweet, and personal. It was super authentic and she had literally be practicing for over a year! I think “winging it” is mostly just lazy.

    • KC

      The first time I was Maid of Honor, I did not know that toasts were a thing (or were going to be a thing at this wedding). I learned about a half hour before the toasts that I was going to be giving one (which was not exactly a half hour of “free time”). I did get together a sort of mental outline, but woefully unprepared? Yes.

      So, also… if you want people to give a toast, please ask them in advance?

      • JLily

        This happened to me too. The other three bridesmaids had something prepared. My short and sweet speech turned out ok but I was so mad because I had asked about speeches and NO ONE said that they were preparing something. If you feel weird asking people, as the person getting married, tell your mom/dad/DOC/MOH/etc to get the word out!

      • Etiquette says you’re not supposed to ask people to give a toast, they’re supposed to volunteer to do so and it’s no one’s duty to give a toast (not even FoB, BM, or MoH!)…so, to be totally proper, you say nothing. To fudge the rules a bit, you do some weird word wiggling. Like asking a group of people that if they’re interested in giving a toast, to alert you to that. Just so your people know it’s a thing to think about…To throw the rules completely out the window, you ask people point blank if they wanted to give a toast.

        Choose your own adventure!

    • cpostrophe

      one tip that I got from doing Moth storyslams is to write out your story, practice with it, learn the ‘map’ of your story (ie. how do you start, where will you end, if there’s a twist — how will you setup and deliver the twist) and then once you’ve studied and know your map and you’re fairly sure that you don’t need to revise it any further …

      Burn the draft and do the rest of your practicing without the notes.

      Don’t memorize every sentence. Remember the map. Don’t worry about saying everything perfectly or including every detail that you wrote out. What comes to your mind when you’re doing this without notes is what’s important and it helps make everything feel more natural.

      That’s not unlike the way we tell stories to each other anyway. We all know the version of the story that we want to tell, and the overall sequence of events. Memorize that map, then throw it away, and lead people through it with your words.

  • Violet

    We had two best man’s speeches. One was painfully long, rambling, talking about a trip to Italy, mildly poking fun at my partner and making no mention of me or that this speech was in any way related to a wedding. After suffering through that, when the next best man’s speech was, “I am so happy for Violet and her husband, I can’t even describe it. So I won’t try. To the couple!” I was so relieved I could’ve hugged him to death.

  • lindsayinMPLS

    Editing my speech for my sister’s wedding next weekend with this open in the other tab right now…

    • Cellistec

      Yup, bookmarking this in case I get tapped to give a toast at my childhood friend’s wedding this weekend. Timing FTW.

    • MC

      Yep, this reminded me that I need to work on my MOH speech for a wedding in two weeks!

  • CharlotteJ

    At his brother’s wedding, my boyfriend was the best man. He was told repeatedly he would not be asked to speak, that they weren’t doing speeches, so he didn’t prepare a speech…and then there we were, at the reception, and he was handed a microphone! He was pretty shocked, but he recovered well. In fact, he gave one of the best Best Man speeches I’ve heard. He hit all these points beautifully, including welcoming his brother’s new wife to the family with a great anecdote about how his brother had started writing poetry as soon as he’d met her. He hadn’t prepared anything, so he definitely wasn’t reading from a piece of paper, and he kept it brief and lovely. No one could tell he wasn’t prepared. I was pretty proud of him :-)

    • scw

      wow, sounds like he nailed it. being handed a microphone unprepared definitely up there in my list of (non-life-threatening) worst nightmares.

      • CharlotteJ

        Me too! Oddly enough (despite alcohol before a speech generally not being a good idea) I think it helped that he had already had a couple beers. He was relaxed enough to get the job done!

  • Alexandra

    We had lovely speeches at our wedding, and I have heard nothing but lovely speeches at the weddings of my friends and families. However, it was quite funny when my (slightly self-important uncle) grabbed the mic at our rehearsal dinner and made an impromptu speech about how I had caught the bouquet at his daughter’s wedding a year ago and look! It worked! So all the single ladies–watch for Rachel’s bouquet! And…glad she’s marrying Mike!

    Except my name is Alex. And my husband’s name is Chris. Admittedly–both of us have a middle vs. first name situation that does make things confusing, but it was pretty hilarious because everybody was like…who is he talking about?

    And there was no way I was going to throw my bouquet. I only “caught” his daughter’s because it fell on the floor and I felt sorry for it.

  • Laura

    Also: limit your pre-speech alcohol intake. I’ve witnessed waaaay too many sloppy drunk nervous rambling inappropriate best man/MOH speeches. Even from people I knew had practiced beforehand or were reasonably prepared. The urge to have “just or two to loosen myself up” is strong, but there’s plenty of time for drinking after speeches!

  • Laura

    A few of the worst speeches I’ve heard were from younger siblings (19-21ish) of the bride/groom who were made best man or MOH. It was a perfect storm of poor preparation, lack of experience talking to large groups, nerves, and alcohol.

    This included two different weddings with younger sister MOHs who took the “nobody is good enough for my sister, the groom kinda sucks because he just doesn’t understand what a treasure she is” route. One of them even started crying and talking about the groom “stealing my sister from me.”

    And then another wedding with the poor younger brother best man (19-20ish) who was sobbing and choked out “You’re an oak, [groom’s name]” before dissolving into tears. Apparently a quote from some movie they both liked and sweet that he was so emotional about the wedding, but incomprehensible to the rest of the room.

    • EF

      totally this.

      on the other hand, some teenagers can really pull it off. my sister asked me to give a speech at her wedding when I was barely 16. I wrote it all out, forgot my cards but had practiced enough that it was more or less memorised, and it was the first time I got a standing ovation for a speech. also the first time I thought ‘hey, maybe I should think about speaking persuasively for a living…’

  • Her Lindsayship

    Anyone have experience with organizing speeches at multilingual weddings? The majority of our guests will understand English, but there will be a small few who only speak German. In the interest of not alienating anyone, I’d like to include some Deutsch in there, but I don’t want it to be like, ‘this speech is for the German family, this one is for the Americans.’ Any thoughts on how to keep it relatively inclusive?

    • Danielle

      Is there a bilingual person who could translate all/some of the speeches?

      • Her Lindsayship

        The best man is bilingual so that could work out well!

        • Eenie

          I’d ask for a copy of the speeches before hand so he can have most of it already translated.

        • sahara

          I went to a wedding with several speeches in a language that half the guests didn’t understand. It was lovely (fun to watch the loving and animated speeches even though I couldn’t understand what was being said), and one of the speeches was highly entertaining because someone who was bilingual translated just a little bit – basically interjected witty paraphrases – so we could get the gist of what was being said. That takes talent, but it was a good way to keep the guests who couldn’t understand the language engaged without all the effort of a word-by-word translation.

          • Her Lindsayship

            This sounds perfect, I’d love to make something like that happen! Thanks :)

          • Keri

            I’m picturing a super-animated, detailed speech in another language and then someone standing up and translating the whole thing as, “He loves you guys and he’s happy for you!” which would be adorable.

    • Carolyn S

      Maybe have everyone give their speech in their native language? So like, if most of the speeches are by native English speakers, make sure at least one speech giver has German as their first language, and gives their speech in German. That way it’s not split up by who the speech is directed at, but naturally by what language the speech giver is most comfortable in?

    • Alex K

      I went to a wedding where they used a TelePrompTer program and projected the speeches into the opposite language (so the speech given in English was projected in Spanish and vise versa). I’m sure it was not perfectly timed and the wording wasn’t perfect but I still felt like I could laugh along with speech that was not in a language I spoke.

    • If you had the text beforehand, and access to a projector and a white wall (or projection screen, etc.)–or a solid color dark wall, fabric, etc., with white text projected, you could project surtitles live, like in opera or theatre in another language. It’s not that hard (my wedding had that for the ceremony) and everyone feels included. The other option of interpreting would be good too. Yes, it takes more time, but it creates a communal experiences where no language is privileged over another. Good luck! (And let us know how it goes, if you want!)

  • Lisa

    Ugh, I’ve only done one speech, and while I think I followed the guidelines outlined here reasonably well, my sister felt the need to interject herself into my speech in a way that made it super awkward. I was trying to tell a story about a silly fight we had (glossing over the details because who cares/brevity) that ended with the revelation that she was one of my best friends and how close we’d grown since high school, and she felt the need to interrupt in the middle of it and clarify exactly what the fight was about.

    So maybe we also need rules for brides and grooms, too? You’ve turned over the microphone and the time, and as long as the speech-giver isn’t carrying on for 20 minutes or falling down drunk or recounting every single one of the couple’s sexual exploits, you kind of just have to sit there and listen for the duration of the speech. Unless you’re proofing the speeches beforehand, I think you’ve given up control of what happens for that 5 minute chunk of time.

  • cpostrophe

    Just as a general note, on the advice about not mentioning ex-partners, sex, or the divorce rate — my other pet peeve for those of us who are also marrying older are speeches that are a variant on, “it’s about time both of you settled down / both of you were such whores when you were younger / we thought that neither of you would ever get married.”

    Hey, we all get it. Being single can be fun, and staying unmarried is a totally legit option. Some people are picky and some people take a while to decide if they even want to get married. And contrasting the footloose years of singlehood with the commitment of marriage can be fun, but it’s not helpful to paint the single years as some phase of callow irresponsibility. For some people, choosing to be single when you’re younger was the responsible choice.

    No matter what the past may be like, be happy for the people at their wedding, and toast the future.

    • JLily

      Yes! Rude to the people getting married and anyone else who is older but not yet married/coupled (and maybe upset about it). Plus, these kind of jokes are so cliched–like, be creative or something!

  • Violet

    Reflecting on bad/outdated/sexist/rude jokes for a moment. If you can imagine a 90s sitcom character making the wisecrack, it’s not clever or novel. Skip it.

  • Kayjayoh

    The year before we got married, my now-husband was the best man for a good friend of his. He was totally worried about the speech and was working on it all weekend leading up to the wedding. And damn, he knocked it out of the park. I was very moved and very proud of him. And I cannot remember a single thing about it. :)

  • Kayjayoh

    My husband didn’t have a “best man” specifically, but one of his groomspeople volunteered to do the speech.

    So, I don’t know if any of you would be familiar with it, but there is a short story by Saki called “Sredni Vashtar” about a sickly young boy who lives with his horrible aunt, and who has a secret pet polecat ferret. Terrible things ensue. My husband has a fondness for this story.

    (https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~rgs/sk-vashtar.html)

    The toast-giver started to reference this story in his toast, and husband and I kind of froze in a “where on Earth is this going, that story is so dark?” kind of way. It turned out fine, but perhaps don’t reference dark, weird literature that includes death by mustelid unless you *really* are sure how it will go over, and maybe prep the couple first.

    • Cellistec

      Wow. I can’t even imagine the thought processes that would lead to “You know what this story would be perfect for? A wedding toast!”

      It also reminds me of the wedding toast fable in David Rakoff’s “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish.” It starts innocently enough and then gets dark fast. In rhyme. It’s brilliant and only fit for fiction.

      • Kayjayoh

        Fortunately, the toast wrapped up in a sweet way, without getting too completely dark (especially for anyone who hadn’t read the story). It was just…odd.

        • Cellistec

          Whew, good. I do like how the ferret story references toast…maybe that’s where the groomsperson got the idea to tell it at the wedding?

          • Kayjayoh

            If I recall correctly (and it has been *almost* two years now) it was something to do with having faith in another? Or something? I think I might be the polecat-ferret in the scenario? I don’t quite recall… It worked. It was just…weird.

          • Cellistec

            Wait, it has a moral? I thought it was just about a kid’s attempt to wrest a sense of control from his life by projecting godlike attributes onto an animal. But I did read it pretty fast.

    • lildutchgrrl

      Death by Mustelid: my garage band’s next album.

  • MC

    Totally agree with all of this. I always think of the scene in Wedding Crashers where Owen Wilson tells Rachel McAdams to skip the funny and go for heartfelt, and she lands some really rude/poorly-received jokes before she finally takes his advice.

    My dad is not one to emote publicly, but I offered him the opportunity to give a speech and he accepted. His speech was short, sweet, heartfelt, and didn’t have a single joke in it – but everyone who was there knew my dad and knew that even that was a big deal for him and was very touched. A year and a half later, I still think about it and feel my heart swell. So, no need to be super bombastic or go way out of your comfort zone to make a speech that is impactful. Being yourself and being sincere (and nice, of course!) are the most important parts.

  • CMT
  • macarons

    At my cousin’s wedding the best man gave a long speech that HEAVILY insinuated that the bride was pregnant. The entire speech seemed to be a precursor to him (or someone else) making a big announcement that they were expecting. Everyone – even close friends and family of the couple – was kind of like,”Holy crap, is this really happening? Are they actually? And is this how they’re going to announce it?” And then at the end of the speech he was like, “Just kidding! Gotcha!” and sat down. For the record, she wasn’t.

    The bride was a good sport about it but I would have been pretty pissed. The guests were some combination of confused, pissed, and just wtf.

    So maybe don’t do that.

  • lildutchgrrl

    If you want to have an open mic for speeches/toasts at any point… find someone to be in charge. Someone should be willing to kick things off, and someone (perhaps the same person) should be on hand to wrangle anyone who gets really out of line (drunk, crude, droning on). And remember that toasts are voluntary, please! I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding, and unfortunately was just recovering from food poisoning and barely hanging on during the reception. Plus I HATE public speaking with a passion. The emcee type (another bridesmaid; there wasn’t a MOH as such) was a great choice because she’s loud, irreverent, funny, used to speaking in public, and doesn’t give a damn about other people’s opinions (translates to no stage fright). Unfortunately, she was still on the mic when she nagged me into giving the next speech — which I’d been assured by the bride I wouldn’t have to do — and there was no way to gracefully refuse more than twice. Trust me, I glared daggers at her while trying to simultaneously think of something clever and/or sentimental and NOT throw up on my shoes.

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  • Tree

    Hey APW, love the tips. As a feminist site though, can I suggest that you consider either editing this or changing it next time to something more gender-neutral? I don’t know all the traditions around who’s supposed to give the speech but it sure sounds like these tips would work equally well for the speech given by either “best man” or “maid/matron of honour” (slash person filling those roles). (side note: does anybody know if it’s traditional for the MoH to give a speech? Or is that just a guy thing? If so, any ideas why?). I’m not offended, I just wanted to point this out since it seems a bit inconsistent with how good you usually are about thinking outside the traditional wedding “box”!

  • Lucinette2

    At the wedding of my friend, the best man gave a speech that referenced the groom’s (ALLEGEDLY) large penis…multiple times. So in addition to “avoid sex references”, it apparently needs to be said that you should avoid describing the genitals of the people getting married.

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