Best Man Speech, Part 1: Invention

Welcome back.

This is the first of five steps towards making your Best Man speech a success.

If you follow along, you won’t be hiding in the toilet but relaxing before, during and after your speech.

You’ll have people coming up afterwards to tell you how much they enjoyed it. And you’ll realise that you can apply these skills to public speaking in all kinds of other contexts.



Beginners often make the mistake of thinking that the topic of their talk – the subject matter – comes first. It doesn’t.

That’s like thinking you must pack your bags before you decide where you are going, only to find yourself with nothing but skimpy swimwear in the North Pole / fur coats on the equator.

The most important thing is your purpose: you’re talking to a specific group of people, and you want to have a specific effect on them. Before you decide what to talk about, you need to understand the group, and the effect you want.

How do you want them to be changed (even slightly) by hearing you?

And what this means is you can’t approach public speaking as a generalisation. You’re always talking to a specific group of people at a specific time. In this course, you’re focusing on a best man speech – but in the process you will internalise ideas to use on other occasions, to other audiences, for years to come.


Five Ws, One H

One of the best ways to invent your talk is to ask yourself the five W questions and the one H: what, where, when, who, why and how? This mind map (there’s an easier-to-read PDF download below) uses those questions to spark off further considerations:


Your Motive

As a broad (but useful) generalisation, speakers look to do one of two things to their audience:

  • Reassure: stop them worrying about something. When a company is struggling, or a nation comes under attack, leaders reassure.
  • Unsettle: shake them out of their complacency. When activists wonder why people aren’t worried about (say) climate change, they seek to unsettle.

At a local government planning appeal, you might attempt to reassure if you are a property developer, wanting permission to build; or to unsettle if you are a local resident opposed to the proposal.

Unsettling is key to so many speeches because audiences often think they know it all already; or profoundly resist hearing about something that’s uncomfortable. By unsettling first, you get their attention. From that point on, you may choose to provide reassurance – or not.

There’s another way to think about this: typically, a speech is designed to inform, entertain, persuade or inspire. It might do more than one of those, but the central purpose is just one of them. Here are a few examples, to show what I mean.

  • A teacher might like to be inspiring, but needs most of all to inform. A politician might like to entertain, but persuasion comes first.
  • At a funeral, you may wish to inform people about the person you have lost, but you probably want most of all to inspire listeners to appropriate feelings of sorrow and love.
  • You’re delivering a speech at a wedding, so you probably want to entertain and inspire. You won’t need to do much persuading unless the wedding was somehow controversial (“Hey, believe me, the groom really isn’t such a bad chap”).


Spectrum Of Communication

It must surely be obvious that to find – and achieve – your purpose you will need a reasonable sense of your audience. In my own experience, you can never know enough about the specific people you are talking to. Sometimes, unfortunately, you know very little.

For instance: right now, you are my audience. You may be a stranger, you may be somebody I know already, you may be a member of my family. How am I to get the tone right?

As a speaker, you must find out as much as you can about your audience beforehand, and you continue to find out more as you speak. What this means is that you tend to move towards the right on this spectrum of communication, which you can download (scroll down page) to see more clearly:

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Video: Invention, in real time

Not long ago, I was asked to deliver a “motivational talk” to 180 sixth-formers over Zoom. It wasn’t a Best Man speech, but for our purposes right now that doesn’t matter.

I spoke to the event organiser beforehand, the deputy head of the sixth form, Ms Elliot, and with her permission I recorded our conversation to share with you my planning process.

You can do something like this with the people who have invited you to deliver your talk.

Postscript: Perhaps inevitably, the session threw up surprises.

But that’s fine. In fact, it’s great.

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Case Study: Real-Life Coaching Example

In this next piece of audio, you can hear me coaching somebody else who is preparing to give a wedding speech.

Not a Best Man, but again that doesn’t really matter. As you listen you will almost certainly recognise similar concerns.



MA Invention Five Ws & H.pdf (232.2 kB)

Modest Adequate Invention Spectrum of Communication.pdf (232.0 kB)

Modest Adequate Invention Questions.pdf (50.8 kB)

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Your Homework: Challenge 1

Create a mind map of Invention for your Best Man speech.

Take your time to map the Who, What, When, Where, How and Why of it. Think carefully about the degree to which you may want to unsettle and / or reassure.

Consider whether your purpose is to inform, entertain, persuade or inspire, which of those is most important, and whether there’s room for any of the others.

Use the downloads (above) to get you started.

Till next time!

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