Few events in life will be as nerve-wracking as your wedding day – except perhaps the day you’re someone’s best man.
Often it’s the best man’s speech that the guests are waiting for, because traditionally it’s the one that’s the most fun. You’re likely to hear uncensored, embarrassing stories of the groom’s youth, and even the bride might learn something new about their new husband.
But all of this means there’s a lot of pressure on the best man. The royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle takes place on Saturday, and if best man Prince William isn’t prepared, his speech may fall flat – or he may be outshone by his sister-in-law-to-be, who is a professional actress.
Based on tips from experts, here are 11 rules you should follow to prepare for and deliver a winning best man’s speech. After all, once your moment is over, you can finally enjoy the day.
1. Preparation is key
Starting with the obvious, it’s really important you rehearse and re-rehearse your speech. Unless you’re the most charismatic person alive, being unprepared will probably leave you floundering, and there’s nothing worse than forgetting your lines when you have hundreds of eyes on you.
You should also give yourself plenty of time to write the speech. According to experts at Blinkist, an app that condenses nonfiction books into 15 minute chunks, there are some books to help you nail a speech too. They recommend “Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time” by Bill McGowan and Alisa Bowman, and “The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling” by Annette Simmons, which will help you tell your anecdotes in an exciting and memorable way.
2. Remember your audience
Some best men may be so focused on trying to make their speech funny, they can forget their real audience – the bride and groom.
“While [it] can seem hilariously funny to make jokes about old girlfriends or questionable past behaviour, it’s important to keep it clean,” Australian etiquette expert Anna Musson told the Daily Mail.
Ultimately, you want to make sure your speech is well received by the couple, because it is their big day after all.
“Remember there are now two families to consider when bringing up old jokes and stories of laddish behaviour,” Musson added.
The father of the bride may have spent a lot of money on the day, so it’s not going to be much fun avoiding him for the rest of the night.
3. Watch your language
There’s a good chance you may attend an international wedding at some point. If you’re picked to be best man, then you’ll probably be delivering your speech where one half of the room is from one country and the other half is from another. This complicates things, not least because the risk of your jokes crashing and burning or being misunderstood dramatically increases.
Experts at Babbel, the language learning app, say in this case you should practice your speech with someone who speaks the first language of the bride or groom. That way, they can let you know if anything is lost in translation, or you’ve used the wrong word. For example, “embarazada/o” in Spanish doesn’t mean “embarrassed,” but translates to “pregnant,” while “excité” in French means “aroused” – a couple of mistakes you don’t really want to make.
4. Avoid gimmicks
According to Mussen, although you might be tempted to break out in song or create an elaborate video montage, it’s probably best to avoid it. She suggests you resist singing at all unless you have a really amazing voice.
Then again, if you have a really original idea that you’re sure the happy couple will enjoy, go for it.
5. Use flashcards…
Unless you’re a very well practised public speaker, you’re allowed to have prompts. In fact, when the nerves hit, your perfectly practised words might fall completely out of your head.
According to etiquette coach William Hanson, this is why it’s a good idea to use flash cards. He told Business Insider that although it’s good to have them on hand, it’s best not to read from them. Make sure you look around the room and engage with the audience.
“It depends how good an orator you are, but if you can, try not to read the speech and instead use bullets on queue cards,” he said. “Rehearse it, even record yourself on your phone, and then do it in front of others before the big day.”
6. …But don’t be afraid to improvise
The guests will probably all be in very good spirits. They will be on your side, so don’t be afraid to improvise a little.
According to the Telegraph, it’s always impressive if you can add in an off-the-cuff observation of the day – something that has struck you as particularly funny, moving, or out of the ordinary.
7. Lay off the booze
It’s normal to be nervous before anything public. With the added pressure of being best man, you’ll probably be tempted to have a drink to calm your nerves.
If you can help it, try and lay off the Champagne until after your delivery.
“If you’re nervous, you’ll be inclined to drink too much, and it ruins it for everyone if you’re sloshed and can’t speak,”said Hanson.
8. There are better ways to calm your nerves
If your palms are sweating and you’re seeing double, there are a few things you can do to calm down, according to David Brudö, CEO of the mental health and personal development platform Remente.
One odd but strangely effective idea is taking your shoes off. The feeling of the ground beneath your feel can help cool you down and keep you centered.
Also, Brudö recommends a three-step method. First, plan for a five-minute “worry session” where you allow yourself to feel all the emotions. Then, the second step is identifying your worries – you may find that many of them are insignificant. Lastly, you accept your feelings and tell yourself that you can deal with them after the speech. Before you know it, your moment is over and everyone is going back to their dessert.
9. Be engaging
It might seem obvious, but wedding guests are expecting to be entertained. If your speech is boring, they may well forget it, but you’ll go down in history as “the dull best man” – which nobody wants to be.
You could try and spice up your speech by using a tool like Mentimeter, which creates interactive presentation and polls. You could make some quizzes and multiple choice questions about the bride and groom to see how well their guests really know them.
It helps involve your audience, which takes the pressure off you a bit, and it might make the time go a bit quicker.
10. Don’t mumble on for ages
According to the Telegraph, you shouldn’t mumble your way through the speech. It won’t take any of the attention off you, so speak clearly and confidently.
But don’t shout either. The best thing to do is get a sense of the room beforehand, and work out how well your voice will carry. If there’s a microphone, speak clearly and confidently, but don’t overdo it.
Also, don’t go on for too long. About 10-15 minutes is optimal. Nobody wants to be stuck listening to you for half an hour while they’re hungry for their dessert.
11. Have a back-up joke on hand
Even if everything has gone completely wrong – you’ve made some vulgar jokes, Grandma’s upset, and you’ve mumbled your way through some unimpressive anecdotes – all is not lost.
It’s a massive wedding faux pas to get jokes off the internet, but there are a few that will probably get a laugh – or a groan – provided by sites like Smartgroom.
For example, there’s the classic: “My parents always told me that if I had nothing good to say about someone, I should just be quiet,” followed by sitting down. It’s corny and obvious, but if everyone’s had a drink they might take sympathy on you.
Hopefully you don’t crash and burn, but worst case, your time in the spotlight is over in a few minutes and everyone will soon forget about it. Just don’t spill anything on the bride and you’ll probably be fine.
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