The best man’s toast is like an offensive lineman. It’s only noticed if he screws up. Don't let that be you.
The best man’s toast is like an offensive lineman. It’s only noticed if he screws up. Will it make or break the wedding? It won’t make it, but it can sure as hell break it. Don’t panic. This is actually good news. As long as you, the best man, avoid saying anything controversial—no jokes about cheating, bulimia, or the bride’s breast implants—almost nothing you say will matter. (Note: if you're looking for an actual speech template and structure, click here.)
Frankly, you don’t want to be so brilliant that you outshine the groom, the bride’s father, or the bride. Yes, it’s great to be clever, funny, and touching, but this is not about you. You can give a lousy speech and the guests will still clink their champagne flutes, applaud, and then return to their cakes and dancing. So relax. Mediocrity will suffice.
If you want to rise above mediocrity? Then follow these Dos and Don’ts:
Do: Have a drink to loosen up.
Don’t: Have 10 drinks to loosen up. In the list of Bride’s Worst Nightmares, a wasted best man with a microphone is just below getting stood up at the altar, and it’s just above stripper-sex at the bachelor party. Eliminate any chance of you drunkenly slurring: “You know…when Greg first told me about Sarah, I couldn’t quite believe that shit. I mean, look at her. Go on. Look. She’s sorta cute, but Greg usually dates models, you know? Then, over time, I learned that even though Sarah’s legs are a little chubby and her forearms are kinda hairy…she has a beautiful heart. And that’s what true love is all about. To the bride and groom!”
Do: Flatter the bride. Underscore how lucky the groom is to have met her, how much she’s rocked his world, how she can even throw a football with a tight spiral, that sorta thing. Stick to this mantra: flatter the bride, needle the groom, flatter the bride, needle the groom.
Don’t: Wing it. In my awkward early days as a best man, I gave a toast at the rehearsal dinner…and then failed to realize that I also needed to give a speech at the reception. Oops. Having already squandered my ace material, I was utterly blindsided and said something bizarre and off-the-cuff: “If their happiness in the future is, ah, even 40% of their apparent happiness today, then they’ll be in great shape.” Literally. That’s what I said. Apparent happiness? 40%? This is what happens when you don’t prepare. So, instead, you should:
Do: Practice. Whether you write out the entire speech or just have some talking points, rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse until you stop fumbling for your next line. Practice to an actual person if possible, practice to the mirror if not.
Don’t: Read from a sheet of paper. That just looks stupid. It’s fine to have some quick notes on index cads, but never dictate from a notebook, hunched over, like you’re on CSPAN reading the by-laws of an agriculture bill.
Do: Keep it short. In the over 3,000-year history of public speaking, from the Greek orator Demosthenes to Abraham Lincoln to President David Palmer, no one has ever listened to a great speech and said, “Man! I wish that puppy was longer!” There’s an old saying about the “3 Bs.” Be brief. Be brilliant. Be seated. And there’s another saying: “If you want be heard—stand-up. If you want to be loved—sit-down.”
Don’t: Get catty. The toast scene from Wedding Crashers is instructive; Rachel McAdams thinks she can sneak in a blistering joke about how the bride and groom “both like green” (as in cash) and, as Owen Wilson predicted…awkward silence. Crickets. Avoid sarcasm in the following situations: wedding toasts, funeral eulogies, and complimenting a newborn child.
Do: Introduce yourself. Not everyone will know you. Assuming it’s G-rated, describe how you know the bride and groom and, if possible, pivot from that to an amusing anecdote. However, don’t start off by saying, “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m [fill in the blank]….” Chances are whoever makes the next speech will say the same exact thing. Try to come up with something a little more interesting, like “I’ve known Mathew since he carried around a Transformers lunchbox..."
Don’t: Slouch. You’re doing it wrong if your posture looks like Paul Giamatti from Sideways. Roll back your shoulders. Stand tall.
Do: Balance it out. The entire toast can’t be about the groom. Even if you barely know the bride, create the illusion of balance by talking about how the groom has changed because of this incredible woman. And if you think that he’s changed in a bad way? Lie. Safe topics include his eating habits, the way he dresses, his apartment, skipping the NHL playoffs to take her to the museum, and how he no longer blows all his money on Chinese hookers. Kidding, which takes us to:
Don’t: Say anything dirty. This must be squeaky clean. Spotless. Nothing that would even possibly offend dear old Aunt Gertrude. And no, cleverly spelling out dirty words is not an option; no “Boy, I knew she was The One when Greg said that she gave great H…E…A…D.”
Do: Make eye contact. Especially to the bride and groom. Try and remember to look left, look right, dart your eyes around the room to make everyone feel included.
Don’t: Speak too fast. Whenyoutalktoofastyoulosetheaudience. When you slow down? Then people will hang on your Every. Goddamn. Word.
Do: Get personal. The best toasts avoid limp generalities such as “Love is like a butterfly” and instead tell specific anecdotes. As the groom’s best friend, you have a unique perspective of how he’s evolved. Share it. Talk about how at your annual fantasy football draft, he accidentally picked a Kicker in the first round because he was on the phone with his new girlfriend, and that’s how you knew it was serious. Those kind of specific moments breathe life into the speech.
Don’t: Mention Ex-Girlfriends. Even if you’re trying to draw a nice little contrast with how your buddy used to be a scoundrel and now he’s in love, you should never refer to other women he’s dated, no matter how obliquely or vaguely. Everyone in the audience—particularly the bride’s family—will connect the dots and interpret this as: he’s had sex with these girls, therefore he’s a slut, therefore our little angel is marrying a slut, therefore she’ll eventually get dumped and divorced.
Do: End with something rousing and upbeat. If you take some good-natured pot shots at the groom (like the fantasy football bit), be sure you end with an emphatic note of optimism. It’s impossible to overplay the “they’re so happy” hand. People lap that stuff up.
Don’t: Curse. Profanity will stand out, draw attention to itself, and make the audience uncomfortable. For real. We’re fucking serious.
And there are plenty of other sites that give more explicit tools, like BestManApp.com.
-By Jeff Wilser