By James Evans, Public Speaking Coach & Stand-Up Comedian
Picture the scene: A close friend calls you up. ‘Hi, how you doing? Look, I know it’s not really your thing, but would you mind doing ten minutes of stand-up comedy in front of a room half full of friends and half full of total strangers? It’d mean a lot to me.’ You want to put the phone down but you can’t. They’ve just asked you to be their best man and give a brilliantly funny speech at their wedding.
It’s no wonder that as a public speaking coach, so many of my clients come to me with terror in their eyes. But they don’t need to be so scared and neither do you. Take a deep breath. I’m going to get you through this …
‘I don’t know where to start!’
It’s OK! This totally normal. If you’ve known the groom for five, ten years or even longer, how can you possibly be expected to pick out a few moments to share with an expectant audience? Some clients even tell me, ‘they don’t have anything to say’.
Let’s start with a few questions:
* How did you meet?
* What’s your fondest memory of the groom?
* What is something about him that most people in the room won’t know?
If you spend a few minutes thinking about these and jotting down your responses, you’ll have at least some material to work with. Your first answer establishes your relationship to the groom. Your second will endear you to the audience. Your third will shock them – it might even make them laugh!
‘How do I make it funny?’
Alright, you’ve got something. A story, an anecdote, a memory – something. But you’re not sure if it’s any good.
Ask yourself the following questions:
* Are there any twists in this anecdote?
* Does anything out of the ordinary happen?
* Does it show the groom acting in a way the audience wouldn’t expect him to?
If the answer to any one of these is yes, you may well be onto a winner.
Once you’ve got a story, try it out. On a partner, a friend or a coach. Tell them the story like you would at the wedding – not conversationally but with them playing the audience. Notice where they smile or laugh. Those are the really funny bits.
As soon as you’ve got to grips with the parts of this story that are getting laughs, focus on them. Exaggerate and elaborate. Remember, this is a wedding speech, not a news story, so grant yourself a bit of artistic license.
A lot of the work I do with my clients involves working on delivering these punchlines in a way that lands. Mastering the art of timing takes practice but a good tip is to pause, just for a beat, just before you reach the ‘funny’. This cues the audience up to laugh when you deliver that killer line.
‘What about the order?’
You can structure your speech really simply as follows:
* Introduction – who I am, how we met etc.
* Funny anecdote 1
* Funny anecdote 2 (that comes later in the groom’s life)
* Amusing story about the bride and groom meeting/dating
* Touching/heartwarming anecdote
* Close with a toast
This template is great if you’re already struggling with the speech and want to just focus on the content.
However, if you want to make the speech that bit more memorable, you might need to go down a more unconventional route. I often spend time with clients drawing out the qualities or hobbies of the groom and structuring the speech around these.
One client was best man to a groom who constantly travelled. We turned the speech into one about an explorer who trekked across the world, slotting in all the bizarre and amusing things that had happened along the way – which his sidekick had often witnessed first-hand. The speech ended with the groom in New York meeting his bride. Needless to say, the audience were more than a little impressed.
‘Am I going to be alright?’
Yes. Spend time writing your speech and rehearsing it. Don’t be afraid to ask others for input. You’re going to be delivering your speech to a happy (and often slightly drunk) audience who are on your side. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.
About the author:
James Evans is a professional public speaking coach who specialises in humour. He offers 1-to-1 coaching and speechwriting assistance for would-be wedding speakers. To find out more about him visit: http://thisisjamesevans.com/public-speaking-coaching