I had the privilege of delivering a Best Man speech last Saturday.
It was for a close friend and former business partner of mine, Lewis.
He married his partner of 13 years in glorious sunshine.
I’m delighted to say the speech went well, satisfying the audience, the bride and even the groom.
The Best Man speech is a very specific speech – and something few of us have the joy of doing.
Interestingly, it’s something that can strike fear into the even the best of men.
I’ve personally witnessed confident, sensible people unable to eat their meal in that position.
Some turning to alcohol to take the nerves away.
Some simply bury their head in the sand and refuse to prepare anything.
A number of ‘rules’ lie behind the Best Man speech, which can even help you in your everyday presentations.
Making them informal, interesting and memorable.
Here are the seven techniques successful Best Men use to make their speech memorable.
For a Best Man, the game is simple: be funny.
Some of the rules are written.
Toast the couple and the bridesmaids for example.
You must also tell a few funny stories and say something nice about the groom.
Some are unwritten.
Any mention of previous girlfriends is banned, as are ‘in jokes’, which few people get.
And you certainly want to avoid criticising the bridal party.
Just remember: All good presenters worth their salt must play by the rules:
The rules give you a list of ‘must-haves’.
Now you can make these informal to lighten the content.
Let’s take the rule: introduce yourself.
I could stand up and say “Hi, I’m Andy, one of the Best Men”.
But the game is to be funny.
So it has to be adapted:
“Hi there, my name’s Andy and I’m one of the Best Men. My role today is to address the sizeable elephant in the room: how on earth did the groom fit into his trousers?”
For your presentation, the game may be to encourage your audience towards buying your product.
So you can switch the formal to the informal:
“Hi, my name’s Dianne and I’m the Chief Executive of BioSystems. My aim is to persuade you to download our app before the end of my presentation, and use it every day thereafter. Let me tell you why you’d do that.”
Now you’re speaking informally, with everyday language.
Just remember: Leave the language of the Boardroom in the Boardroom.
Play the game, addressing the rules, informally.
My opening line on Saturday was simple:
“I always knew Lewis’s speech would be hard to follow. And right enough, I could hardly follow a word of it.”
Cue some laughs and a good start, which helps temper the inevitable nerves.
I’ve seen some Best Man speeches start with the formalities.
For example, the Bridesmaid Toast or notes from absent friends.
This can make it very difficult to gain momentum.
For other types of presentation, you want to get straight to the point.
If you know the game, this will be nice and simple.
Just remember: Give the audience an immediate reason to listen to you.
Good Best Man speeches leave plenty of spaces for pauses.
Ideally for when the audience’s sides are splitting.
What’s harder is to create suspense in the build-up of a story, before you deliver your killer line.
When making a presentation, pausing for effect is absolutely vital.
It’s a barometer of confidence in your message that can influence the audience.
Plus, it gives you more time to think where you’re going.
Half-second pauses before big numbers;
One second pauses after full sentences;
Five second pauses to allow you a drink of water while the audience is digesting a point.
They punctuate the presentation beautifully.
Just remember: Plan your pauses to great effect.
One of the clearest rules in a Best Man speech is to make everyone feel involved.
That’s very difficult when you have everyone from children to octogenarians.
Along with families that have little knowledge of one of the married couple.
Plus, various friends from different social circles.
Funny stories, therefore, need context.
Locations and dates.
Now you can bring everyone towards the punchline together without them saying “I don’t get it”.
Your job is make them get it.
Somebody once told me that making a Best Man speech is actually incredibly easy.
The audience wants to laugh; you just need to let them know where to laugh.
Simple stories told well, with context, and appropriate pauses for laughter is all you need.
Just remember: Every person in the audience must know exactly what you’re talking about.
Explain acronyms and give background.
If they feel involved, they’re more likely to understand and therefore follow you.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the presentation.
Forgetting to address the people in the corner of your eye.
Or to assume that the people at the back can hear.
For people to feel involved, they must be able to see and hear you.
So pivot from left to right to include everyone.
And project your voice to be confident the people at the back know what you’re saying.
You can also choose to ask, speaking to those directly at the back of the room,
“can everyone hear me ok?”
This way you can be certain everyone is onboard with your speech.
Just remember: Project your voice rather than shouting.
Have the confidence to ask the audience if needs be.
The groom told me he planned to ‘wing’ the speech, without notes.
Before being instructed otherwise by his wife-to-be.
As a result of writing down brief notes, his speech was superb.
It’s easy to get carried away as a speaker.
Given the nerves and the topping-up of wine at the top table.
Without notes and under the influence, that job has now become much harder.
Even if it’s bullet points, write them down and practise with the notes.
Just remember: Ensure you nail the speech several times before the big day.
The best mark of a speech is whether people are talking about it in the immediate aftermath.
A wedding is the best time to easily find out if this has happened.
It gives time for people to come up, introduce themselves, and tell you they enjoyed your speech.
But what about a conference?
Over lunch, eavesdrop – are people talking about you?
Ask people if the speech resonated with them.
If you’ve followed the steps above, they will play your game with you and you’ll achieve your goals.
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Andrew McFarlan is the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can view his full profile here.
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