A groom’s speech does not have to be heavily crafted: in fact, it shouldn’t be. This is your chance to look the woman you love in the eye and tell her how much you love her, straight from the heart. So there are really no rules. There are, however, some things you need to include, a few basic guardrails to keep you from careening right off an oratorical cliff. How you address them is your business, but address them you should.
1. Thank the Previous Speakers
Remember, you aren’t just popping up out of nowhere and rocking the mic. Chances are someone else important just spoke before you, so acknowledge the previous speaker as you begin. Unless you had the chance to preview the other speeches, you will have to be ready to improvise your introductory comments, in a way that responds to whatever was just said.
2. Thank the Bride’s Tribe
You will no doubt address your own side of the family, but the key here is to be inclusive. Go out of your way to mention the cousins and uncles from the bride’s side of the invite list. Start with something like, “I feel like I’ve not only gained a wife and two wonderful parents in-law, but also a new uncle—who I can presumably ask for discounted dental care—and a nephew who looks like he will be my new weed dealer.” (Obviously we’re not serious about that last one. You should never assume that a dentist will give you a discount, even if you are family.)
3. Thank the Bridesmaids
Give it up for your wife’s sisters, cousins and best friends, and not only because it’s gracious and shows good form. You want the bridesmaids to think kindly of you. At some point in the coming years, your wife will complain about you to one or all of these women. Her friends will not hesitate to express their opinions, and if they remember that you didn’t mention them in your groom speech—which they definitely will—you can expect to be torn down more thoroughly than the Russians tore down Berlin at the end of World War II.
The best way to avoid this is to dwell on the bridesmaids with extra love during your speech. Mention each by name. Flatten them with flattery. Overdo it: you’ll thank yourself in the end.
4. Thank Your Groomsmen
Your groomsmen and best man don’t get as much praise as the bridesmaids, but you should say one nice specific thing about each one, for example: “Daron, so glad you got out of rehab in time to be here. Leo, did you grow an inch—at the age of 35? Nice! And Phil—is it the lighting or are you less bald than usual?” And so on. Toss out compliments like bon bons. The room will eat them up. This is your time to be generous of spirit, but with these guys it can be cloaked in a little ball breaking. Just stay away from inside jokes, and nothing too brohamcentric—remember the entire room can hear you, so keep it PG. This section of your speech should be no more than 45 seconds because nothing is more boring than a dude celebrating his bros.
5. Thank Everyone Else
Your speech is essentially about thanking people, so you need to make sure to include everyone, or they’ll feel left out. Thank everyone who helped with the wedding, and any guests who travelled long distances to attend. And be sure to thank the elderly, who may have only a few more weeks to live and yet here they are, spending their final moments with you, eating cake. Wonderful!
6. Thank the Most Important Person in the Room
Don’t mention your bride until the very end. That way, she will start to get nervous and think you have forgotten her. When you do start to mention her, shift into first person and address her directly. This is the time for cutting all humor and saying something simple and true. This part, you should not make up—you will be better off if you just read some version of these words:
“Barbara, I can’t believe how lucky I am. You are a goddess in my eyes and I will do everything possible to be worthy of your love. I feel like the frog that got kissed by a princess. You look so beautiful there are no words to express it. So right now, I want to make a toast to the woman who has made me the happiest man in the world.”
And don’t worry if her name isn’t Barbara. She’ll forgive you. She’s the best.