Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Burning Question for Best-Men

The Burning Question
I've coached a lot of best-men and the question I've been asked most often - and usually in a kind of awkward, pained way - is: 'does the speech have to be funny?'. 

I say pained because they usually feel a LOT of pressure (much of which is imagined, or self-inflicted) to make it the best and funniest speech ever written, even though they may have no experience whatsoever of writing a speech, let alone delivering one to a large audience.

The Simple Answer
In one way, the answer is simple: no, your speech doesn't have to be funny...

...that said, most of us would prefer a few laughs along the way. Whether we're a guest or the one standing there with the microphone in our hand, a couple of laughs helps it all go more smoothly. 

I'd also acknowledge that there are usually higher expectations of the best-man's speech to be amusing than that of the other speakers. Especially in Ireland!

So, this post is mainly aimed at the Best Man and it gives you my take on the subject, along with a few tips to help you get the speech just right for you and your audience.

My Usual Response
I've seen enough jokes fall flat in wedding speeches to make me very cautious about how I coach my clients on this topic. Just search YouTube for 'funny best man speech' and see how many times they actually make you laugh.

So, I usually respond to The Burning Question by asking: 'Well, John, are YOU funny?'

I'm not trying to insult them. What I'm getting at is how much their friends and guests will EXPECT them to be funny. 

If you're generally a fairly straight-laced fella, then people aren't going to expect you to magically be hilarious on the day. They're going to expect to see YOU speaking. The best speeches are always genuine and not forced.

My Golden Rule

*If YOU'RE not funny, don't try and FORCE your speech to be funny*

(If you ARE funny - i.e. you're widely regarded as a person who's really funny IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE, which can be quite different to joking with your mates sitting around a table, then you can stop reading now and go and have fun working on your material. Wedding guests make a great audience; they're usually in a fun mood and ready and willing to laugh along!).

For everyone that's still reading, my message to you is to be careful about trying to stitch lots of jokes into your speech - it's REALLY hard to nail the timing and delivery when you're nervous. 

Careful now:
I'm not saying it should all be boring and soppy and serious. What I'm saying is, being genuinely 'funny' in a comedian / after-dinner-speaker kind of way takes HUGE amounts of skill and practice and is not something most people manage to achieve. 

The Alternative? Humour, Not Jokes
So, if I'm getting all preachy about turning your speech into a try-hard gag-fest, then what's the alternative? 

In my experience, what nearly everyone can manage (and comes across as more genuine at a wedding anyway) is having a SENSE OF HUMOUR.

This means that instead of trawling the internet for jokes and trying to build your speech around them, you're: 

  • not taking yourself too seriously; 
  • not trying too hard to get laughs;
  • not relying only on scripted, usually clich├ęd, gags (though there's room for one or two of them if you can't resist);
  • letting the stories / anecdotes be funny for you (see below), and
  • behaving as your natural self, or at least as much as you can in this situation!

To inject humour into your speech, you need to prepare well in advance of the big day. D
ig around and collect some stories, facts or anecdotes that are funny to begin with, then: 

  • carefully select the best ones (1 or 2 should be plenty),
  • polish them up and put them in language that you're comfortable with,
  • run them past someone you trust and make sure they give you honest feedback, and finally,
  • practice them over and over as a scripted part of your speech. Don't rely on your improvisational skills. When you're nervous, it's next to impossible for a normal Joe Soap to improvise in a funny way.

Of course, this post shares my opinion and others will argue differently. But, please, even if you disagree with me, remember this universal truth:

*Your wedding guests don't want to hear the EXACT SAME Best-Man jokes they've heard 5 times in the last year*

Naturally enough, you'll still be nervous but remember:

*Great confidence comes from knowing your speech reflects the real you*

If you need more help, or still have questions, then give me a call for a free consultation about your upcoming speech.  Until then, make sure you sign up to my newsletter and let the blog posts come straight to you!

p.s. Here's an EPIC example of using a sense of humour (and a video crew and a rally car!) to make a super-memorable speech ...