Sunday 23 October 2016

Brevity is the soul of wit for a Best Man's speech - and steer clear of nether regions

John Daly

Published 23/07/2016 | 02:30

There's a correct way to hold your wine glass. File photo: Getty
There's a correct way to hold your wine glass. File photo: Getty

Ever stood in front of 250 expectant faces, their eyes fixed like lasers on nothing else but you? Thought not. It may be one of life's great honours to deliver the Best Man's speech, but handled badly it can become an unwelcome albatross attached to your personal history.

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For many of us, public speaking began and ended with saying the few words after hoisting the under 9s muck-hurling trophy to a congress of 10 proud mammies. Fact is, few of us are born public speakers, and discover it is an art to be learned, practised and honed to suit the needs of the occasion. Like a deft McIlroy pitch to the centre of the green, it mixes discipline with rehearsal - sprinkled with that all- important element of individuality.

Having done the gig twice myself - disastrously first time, smarter the second - experience teaches that brevity is indeed the soul of wit for this occasion. Minimum five minutes to maximum seven - that's your lot, buddy, if you haven't managed to get them tearful and tittering in that window, exit stage left to a triple shot of malt whiskey and sad glances for the rest of the night.

Churchill remarked: "A good speech should be like a woman's skirt, long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest'. He was spot on, despite the sexist implication.

Crucially, it's all about entertainment, with honesty and truth having little to do with any of it. That sea of faces out there? It's been a long day of endless photos, weak punch and polite palaver with strangers, and they're ready for nothing less than laughs, bloopers and devilment in any form you care to deliver.

No pressure, like.

Keano's famous dictum - 'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail' - should be your abiding mantra in structuring a winning game plan. Pick five or six points, expand them to a minute each, and there's your speech.

As the main topic is the groom, chart his life in past, present and future chronology - all of them peppered with light-hearted humour and gentle jabs on his foibles as a human being. It goes without saying that any mention of the bride will have awe and adoration automatically attached.

Big tip - stay a mile away from sex, smut or anything connected to the body's nether regions - even George Clooney's Best Man knew better than to venture into that steamy jungle. Besides, as we all suffer through streams of bawdy jokes at the pub every Saturday night, a little clean humour will likely prove a surprising audience pleaser, as well as soothing your frayed nerves.

One recalls the timid UCC sociology professor invited to address a South Kerry ICA meeting in the early 1960s, only to belatedly discover the topic was Sex in the Rural Landscape. Nervously gazing out across the packed hall, he leaned toward the microphone and said: "It gives me great pleasure" - and promptly sat down again.

If the last thing you learned off was Shelley's 'Ozymandias' for the Leaving Cert, you'll definitely need some time alone at the bathroom mirror to channel an inner Rhianna for optimum cadence and rhythm.

In a sense, we all make speeches every day to partners, colleagues and customers - this is just a longer version, and you're selling fun instead of Tupperware. And it's not just enough to learn the speech by heart, you'll also need to incorporate gestures, smiles and body movement.

Like Donald Trump's supporters at this week's Republican convention, you begin with the crowd already on your side - the trick is to keep them there, and leave 'em laughing when you go.

Learn from the greats and allow frequent pauses for laughs. Take a moment to look up with a big smile on your face - people often need this visual prompt.

Like the old adage, 'you only get one chance to make a first impression', the first 30 seconds sets the tone for all that follows. Walking that thin line of wanting to please the rowdy element needing Graham Norton burlesque and the sophisticates awaiting Wildean wit, try to land somewhere in the middle as you silently count down the seconds remaining in this matrimonial purgatory.

Ultimately, the key element of any decent Best Man's speech is putting your own voice to it. You were chosen for this task because you really are the best man for the job - trust your own instincts and you won't go far wrong.

And do remember one very important thing: everybody in that vast sea of faces will have slept through many, many boring and meandering wedding speeches in the past. Whatever you give them in the way of entertainment will be gratefully received. Guaranteed.

Irish Independent

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