Best man speech etiquette

This isn’t about attending a finishing school class, this is so their’s no tumbleweed moments, with lots of help on what you need to say, and quite a lot on what your shouldn’t say!
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Oliver Lucas

Published 12 Sep 2023

Groomsmen raising the groom in the air

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I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of the word ‘etiquette’, an image springs to mind around finishing schools. You know, those posh places where pupils are taught to walk around with a book on their head and such like. Fear not comrade, I’m not going to be recommending such things to you, but what I do think they had right was to use a ‘do/don’t’ type formula.  So that’s what we’ll be talking about in this guide to Best Man Speech Etiquette.

And if you’re still not convinced take a look at the Five Worst Best Man Speeches of all time to see just how badly wrong it can go…….

A black and white picture of people sat at a wedding table toasting the best man speech

Best Man Speech Etiquette:  Some Simple Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t

Improvise your Best Man Speech

Having once chatted to a fairly well known comedian, I was surprised to learn that a lot of the improv in stand-up routines is actually planned. What looks like off-the-cuff wit and hilarity is, in many cases, scripted. On quizzing him further, he explained that it was too risky and could throw them off what is essentially a well-practiced script. Whilst this was initially disappointing to learn, it is nonetheless understandable on reflection.

Why am I telling you this?

Because if guys who do this for a living, and are the best in class don’t do it, then take their lead! Learn from the experts. Keep to the script for your best man speech jokes and you’ll avoid blurting out something you shouldn’t.

Go on for Too Long

I’ve seen Best Man speeches run so far over, the crowd started talking amongst themselves. Different people will give you different opinions on how long Best Man speeches should be, but the general consensus is no longer than 10 minutes. Convoluted stories, too many of them or an overblown set piece can do more harm than good. Less is more, as the saying goes.

Assassinate the Groom

This is perhaps the most common mistake Best Men make in speeches that don’t land well. It’s not that the Best Man plans to cause offence, it’s the simple reason that they underestimated where the line of acceptability ends. It’s a matter of taste. What you find funny, Auntie Maureen may not. It’s not easy and that’s why it’s one of the more common mistakes.

How do you mitigate this risk such that you don’t step over the line?

Get some counsel. If you’re concerned it’s risky, run it past someone else who’s close to him. Go to someone outside of your own peer group. The lads will probably find it funny but this is not the audience who are at risk of offence. Instead try your old lady, someone at work or a relative. Their reaction will be enough to make the judgement. If they give you the thumbs up, then you’ve got yourself some killer material.

Still don’t…

Use Sexual Gags

Ever had that excruciating experience of having to sit through a sex scene on TV in the same room as your parents?! Telling a shag gag to an audience consisting of parents and grandparents may induce a similar sense of cringe that you’re really better off avoiding. A bit of implied smut is fine in any Best Man speech.  But mention of genitalia or sexual acts is better left for a more receptive audience down the boozer on a Friday night.

Mention the Ex or a Previous Marriage

It’s definitely bad Best Man speech etiquette to mention the ex, whatever the circumstances.  I had a friend, let’s call him Pete, who split up with his fiancée shortly before the stag do, which had already been booked. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, the stag weekend in Amsterdam went ahead and the trip went as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Years later when Pete got married to another girl, the Best Man thanked him for allowing him to take on the role for a second time and remarked that Pete was the only man he knew to be single at his own stag do.

Tumbleweeds blew, the carpet felt a hundred eyes on it and the Best Man’s speech was the talking point of the evening for all the wrong reasons.

Go down the route of referencing an ex and you’re playing with fire.

Talk About Money

‘I know I shouldn’t mention this but it’s great that your new wife is rich’. Yep, someone actually said that.

To an audience of over 100 people.

Brave? Arguably.

Risky? Certainly.

Inappropriate? Without a doubt.

When people go and talk to their bank manager, the conversation doesn’t take place at the counter, or any other public space. Instead, they go to an area where there is privacy and discussed confidentially.

There’s a reason for this.  Money is a sensitive subject and so raising it as a punchline can be a risky business that can backfire.  Not good Best Man speech etiquette.

Include Stag Do Stories

We’ve all heard the mantra of what goes on tour stays on tour which is a fairly obvious reference to unmentionable misdemeanours.  But the other thing to bear in mind here is that, as content it can be quite exclusive. In other words, if you tell stag do stories, for the most part you’re catering for a relatively small part of the audience – attendees of the stag weekend. In a Best Man’s speech you need to be inclusive such that it caters for, and appeals to everyone. For that reason you’re probably better off steering clear of the stag do as part of the speech material.


Do

Make a Heartfelt Speech

Ensure that the speech is heartfelt. Funny stories, teasing anecdotes and a gentle mocking of the groom are all acceptable – as long as the audience are always aware that they stem from a genuine affection.

Be Nice to the Bride

And please be nice to the bride – who will ALWAYS look gorgeous.

Honour your Responsibilities as Best Man

Thank yous

Read any telegrams

Respond to the toast on behalf of the bridesmaids

Thanks to your hosts

Toast to the Bride and Groom

Get Your Best Man Speech Guide

If you’d like advice on how to write your speech then download our comprehensive 28-page guide to Best Man speeches including:

How to structure your speech

How to write a speech that’s memorable for all the right reasons

How to actually deliver the speech (very important this part, don’t skip)

And lastly… how to know if it’s actually any good

 Download Your Best Man Speech Guide Now