Best Man Speech Mistakes
It finally happened. Your buddy – the guy you’ve known since grade school, who you used to ride bikes around the block with, who you used to spend summer afternoons playing baseball with and who was the only one you could talk to when your first girlfriend broke up with you – is getting married. And you have been given the honor of making the best man speech. The only problem is you have no idea how to be a best man, how long the best man is supposed to talk or what he’s supposed to say. Not to worry. We’ve polled a number of our married contemporaries to find out what they consider to be the ideal best man speech length and, most important, the 10 best man speech mistakes to avoid at all cost. Let’s get started.
The glasses have been changed, the hall is quieting down, heads are turning in your direction and now it’s up to you. You stand, straighten your bow tie, clear your throat and hope to hell you don’t make any of these 10 mistakes!
1. Having Too Many Before the Speech
Public speaking is not for everyone. While some seem born to it most people spend most of their lives trying to avoid it. And that’s understandable. It’s also understandable that someone might want to have a drink or two to get in the wedding day spirit and maybe loosen up a bit before the spotlight turns on them. But there’s a fundamental difference between loosing up and getting hammered. At wedding receptions, the alcohol is usually flowing fast and loose and the temptation can be intense. Restrain thyself! Have one if you must but save the bulk of your partying for after the speech. Standing there wavering back and forth, slurring your words and making drunken comments about the bridesmaids won’t just reflect poorly on you but on the bride and groom who entrusted you with this honor.
2. Making the Bride Look Bad
Anything, repeat, anything you say about the bride should cast an ethereal glow upon her. There should be no references to the time she passed out at the New Year’s Eve party or the guy she dated once in high school who wound up in jail. Never try to get laughs at her expense and never comment on her outfit, her makeup, her hair, her work, her temperament, her education, her car or anything else unless you can do so in a way that enhances her stature in the eyes of everyone assembled. It doesn’t matter if you think she’s an abomination from beyond the wall of existence. This day is not about your opinions it’s about your buddy and his chosen life partner. When you mention the bride be unselfish, kind and complimentary.
3. Trying To Be Something You’re Not
You’re not Winston Churchill. Everybody knows that. So don’t think your best man speech needs to rally the legions to defend the motherland with their last drop of blood. It’s you talking about your buddy. You don’t need to enlist the services of a top speechwriter and your speech should be free of words like “therefore” and “hence” unless that’s the way you talk in your everyday life. Remember, you were chosen because you and the groom have the kind of ties that bind. So when you rise to deliver your little soliloquy ditch the flowery rhetoric and speak from the heart. If you’re not the kind of guy who’s a nonstop laugh riot don’t try to force jokes on the audience. If you are a naturally funny guy go ahead and be funny. Just keep the other items on this list in mind when you choose your jokes. The groom wants other people to see why he considers you such an outstanding friend. That means being you. So be you.
4. Relying Too Heavily on Anecdotes
Anecdotes during a best man speech should be kept to a minimum and used to reveal the character of the groom. Go ahead and talk about that time his car broke down in the middle of nowhere and you couldn’t get a phone signal. But also be sure to talk about how he gathered himself together and slogged 5 miles through the snow to find a gas station and arrange for a tow truck. That’s the kind of guy he is. Dependable. Level headed. Even when the chips are down. Making the speech one long litany of anecdotes is a sure way create restlessness in the room. And once people start shifting in their seats or talking among themselves you’ve lost them. Strive for balance, keep the anecdotes to a minimum and be mindful of your wedding speech length.
5. Invoking the EX
The unwritten rule of any best man speech is to leave your buddy’s ex-girlfriends out of the speech completely. While it might seem like a good idea to try and build up the bride by comparing her to someone else – “Sure his ex Sophie had an amazing figure, but she had all the personality of boiled spinach” – it’s not. Trust us on this one. The people the groom dated before finding The One are irrelevant. Everyone has gotten on with their lives. Respect that.
6. Wink Wink Nudge Nudge Know What I Mean?
While it’s good to be lighthearted and paint a humorous warts-and-all picture of the groom in-jokes or off-color references that have meaning to only a few guys in attendance are going to make the rest of the people uncomfortable: “I have to say the whole wedding so far has been amazing! Maybe not like that Saturday night we spent at the Candy Shack in Fort Lauderdale during spring break, but pretty amazing. Right Bob? Oh yeah!” Cue angry looks from the bride, the new mother in law shaking her head and the new father in law staring at you with a white-hot intensity that would melt iron. This isn’t a bachelor party. It’s a wedding. Remember where you are and who your audience is at all times.
7. Using “Colorful” Language
This is related to the previous point but needs to stand on its own because few things are as ill-advised as peppering your best man speech with “colorful” language. Again, this is not a bachelor party. This is a wedding. See those people over there? Those are the bride’s grandparents. They traveled 1,600 miles to be here so they could see their one and only granddaughter get married. They don’t want to hear you sprinkle your speech with obscenities in an effort to make it edgy and memorable. Chances are good there are kids in attendance too. So even if grandpa isn’t personally offended by your choice of language he’s going to be pissed that you’d talk that way in front of a bunch of kids. The moral of the story? Even if you are well-known for having a potty mouth you’ll be expected to rein it in because, again, this is not about you. This is about making your buddy and his partner look good and bringing warm smiles to the faces of the family and friends in attendance.
8. Dissing Previous Speakers
It might be some small consolation if a previous speaker botches their speech. But don’t try and capitalize off their misfortune. That’s really distasteful and will only alienate people instead of drawing them together, which is what the day is all about. Standing up and saying something like “I don’t know if I’ll be able to stumble over my lines the way Cindy did but I’ll give it the old college try!” will not only provoke Cindy’s ire but that of her friends in attendance as well (which may include the bride) and others who identified with her or felt bad for her. Before you even get started half the audience will be hoping that you mess up so they can snicker and sneer while you turn beet red. Of course, a better use of your best man speech time would be to prop Cindy up a bit. Not by mentioning the lines she stumbled over, but by stating how her honesty touched you in a very real way.
9. Forgetting to Practice
Chances are it’s been a good long time since you had to do any public speaking. In fact, maybe you have never had to stand up and talk in front of a crowd. If so you wouldn’t be alone. But whether you’ve never had to make any type of public presentation or you’re a public speaking veteran you’d still do well to write out what you want to say and practice it beforehand. That way, when you rise, you have a certain air of confidence about you instead of the deer in headlights look about you. It’s also perfectly alright to have notes with you when you actually get up to speak. Experienced public speakers do that all the time. It’s called having “prepared remarks”. Writing down what you want to say and practicing it will also let you figure out what’s likely to work and what isn’t. If there is someone who can listen to it and provide feedback that’s even better. Especially if they are familiar with the bride and groom. The bottom line is to put some effort into your best man speech and commit at least some of it to memory. But be sure to have notes with you as well in case you lose your way.
10. Running On And On And On….
How long should a best man speech be? Well, a lot of wedding speeches tend to be rambling boorish affairs and you should strive to make sure yours is not one of them. Here’s an a example of how your speech shouldn’t sound: “When it comes to Bob I have to say that, from the time I first met him on the playground at the school over on Elmwood Drive that day back in ‘96 I realized that, beyond being really good at basketball and having the exact pair of Nike sneakers I’d been trying to get my parents to buy for me, he also had a way of making you feel comfortable and that when I started talking to him I also realized we had a lot in common and would probably start hanging out together for a long time even though he like the Patriots and I like the Steelers and he liked rap and I liked country and blah blah blah…” Try something like this instead: “The moment I met Bob all those years ago I knew we were going to be friends. And that’s what happened. And it’s been a great 20+ years. So thanks Bob.” Short and sweet works for everyone. Don’t forget it.