Speech Therapy

At a summer wedding last year, the groom’s best man told me how he and the groom used to watch a lizard crawl up the side of a terrarium during their biology class in high school. The story’s one and only “highlight” came when the lizard reached the terrarium’s top to escape, only to have his plan spoiled by the terrarium’s lid. I wasn’t the only person who listened to that story. He also told a 300-person wedding reception.

That was his best man speech — no mention of the bride, love, or happiness. Just lizards. Try again, Best Man. Try again.

His failure reminded me of wisdom a former boss frequently reiterated: “Everybody needs an editor.” Best men and maids of honor need editors, too, because those speeches, which should each be five minutes (tops), should be sharp and witty yet meaningful and poignant. A good wedding speech has guests rolling with laughter one moment, and the next sentence makes their eyes water with happiness.

I might be laying the pressure on too thick, but great best-man and maid-of-honor speeches can set a subconscious tone for the rest of the reception. Though the best man and maid of honor don’t serve as the reception’s cheerleaders or ring announcers, their speeches can make wedding guests feel upbeat enough to hit the dance floor or cause guests to look at their watches and wonder how long they could politely stay.

Take the advice of an editor, and make a speech that defines the reception.

Speak clearly.
You have the microphone so announce to everyone that the bride is the prettiest woman in the room — even if she isn’t. Everyone will nod in agreement because they have to, and you already have them on your side.

The next part is tricky: You have to make the guests laugh. That includes the great-aunt with the hearing aid and the teenage nephew with the short attention span. If you’re the best man, a good-natured jab at the groom is in order. For example, “I’ve known the groom for 10 years, and our colorful history shouldn’t be shared at a family event. So … good night, everyone.” For the maid of honor, try, “Well, I guess the bride is finished with all the bad blind dates.” The key to making an audience laugh is to find shared experiences. We’ve all had too much to drink with a close friend or been on a bad blind date. These jokes engage the audience.

Send a message.
Hit them with a funny story. Ex-lovers shouldn’t be mentioned, especially the one who got away, and the story needs to show who the groom or the bride is. Inside jokes don’t work either. Again, people want to relate. Keep it around two minutes; otherwise you risk losing the nephew’s attention to a shiny object. Anything less than two minutes and the story will be too vague and no fun.

Take it home.
You’re almost out. Wrap it up with a meaningful remark about love. Feel free to borrow a famous quote, or simply raise a glass and wish them the best. Cue applause.

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