Mazel tov, bro

A speech for the best man

At first I wasn’t sure I’d give a best man speech at my brother’s wedding.

Nobody had mentioned anything to me, and Hermano’s style doesn’t lend itself to the spotlight or ceremony. So I figured they might just not be doing toasts, and I was fine with that – one less thing on the plate as work and school ramped back up for the new year.

But my feelings changed as the big day got closer. I realized this was going to be one of the most memorable days for him, her, and our families, and I wanted to give them all something special to show how much they mean to me. Considering that they live out of state and we don’t talk that much, the best man speech was my best shot.

I decided early on that if I wasn’t given the opportunity to give a toast, I would prepare something anyways and surprise them at the reception. Fortunately it didn’t come to that.

They eventually invited me to give a best man speech, I happily accepted and subsequently killed it.

I got compliments, handshakes and hugs from both families, distant relatives, strangers, the DJ – even the wedding photographer told me it was one of the best speeches he’d heard in years, and that he stopped shooting to listen in.

Why am I so shamelessly bragging about the speech here?

Because as proud as I am of the writing, I’m much prouder of my brother, my new sister-in-law and our family. By bragging about the speech, I’m bragging even more about them, and hopefully expressing how lucky I feel to be part of such a special familial team.

In addition to all that gushy stuff, the speech (and the speech-writing process) offers some good examples of some of the people-focused values I learned in my first semester in business school. I also wanted to break the speech down, and pass along a few of the tips that helped me, in case you’re working on a similar project.

Enjoy, and Mazel Tov, bro!

1. Quick intro to set the context and break the ice

Hi everyone, I’m Adam, Hermano’s older brother, and even though I’m just a civilian and he’s a Marine – and he outranks me, outweighs me and could knock me out with the flick of his big toe – I am still the reigning ping pong champ of the household and I will defend that title with everything I have.

2. Thank you’s and shout outs

I wanted to thank Hermano and Hermana-in-law and our families for making today so special. It was an awesome wedding and it’s been a lot of fun to see everyone. Thanks a lot – we’re all having a blast.

3. Story time!

Most of you know this already,  but Hermano, our sister Hermana and I spent a lot of our childhood living overseas in Africa. We saw cool stuff like Mt. Kilimanjaro and lions and elephants out in the wild on safaris. We also saw crazy stuff like military evacuations and roadside bombs blowing up cars on our way to school.

But even with all those memorable and largely traumatic experiences, there’s really one moment that stands out as the most pivotal and influential of our childhood. And that was after we moved back to Phoenix, when Hermano got his first computer.

Our lives would never be the same.

Hermano and I fought when we were kids, like most brothers do, but when he got that computer, the fighting stopped because I didn’t see Hermano for the next six years – he never left the desk in his bedroom.

From 1997 – 2003 Hermano survived off bottled water, goldfish and some type of photosynthesis where he figured out how to convert the light that came off the computer screen into nutrients and energy to survive.

He was always a smart kid, but when he got his computer he got scary smart.

We wouldn’t see him for weeks – he’d go dark and we had no idea what was going on in there – then he’d emerge for a monthly trip to the bathroom and have these superhuman skills that he taught himself like underwater breathing and the ability to communicate with animals.

I remember one time I went in his room just to bug him, and I caught a glimpse of his computer screen. Normally on a teenager’s computer you expect to see movies, or video games or even porn – but no. On Hermano’s screen I saw ones and zeros and codes and patterns flying across the screen.

And that’s when I realized my brother lives in the Matrix – he was living in the Matrix before any of us even knew about the Matrix. In fact Hermano isn’t even here right now – this is actually a hologram that Hermano programmed for the wedding today. The real Hermano is back in San Diego, in his kitchen, turning his dishwasher into a drone. It’s his secret weapon, and if you tell anyone, he’s going to kill us. I told you, he’s scary smart.

4. But seriously folks, this dude is awesome

Not only is he scary smart, he’s a master at everything he does, he’s hilarious, he’s proudly serving his country, he’s driven and he’s authentic. Even though I’m the best man today, Hermano is the best man I know. As an older brother, I try to set the bar high – but Hermano keeps raising it. And even though we don’t talk much, he challenges me to be a better person everyday.

5. And she’s awesome, and they’re awesome together

And it takes a special person to not only hang with Hermano for an extended period of time, but to elevate Hermano – and that’s what Hermana-in-law does. Hermana-in-law is perfect for him, and they’re perfect together. They’ve been through a lot already – long distance and deployments – and they’re stronger because of those challenges. We’re all lucky to have you in our lives – I love you, I’m proud of you and I hope you keep getting stronger together. Cheers.

Tips:

  • Keep it tight. Best man speeches always drag on and on. Don’t be that guy. Shoot for a concise three minutes, and you’ll end up speaking for about five minutes like I did.
  • No inside jokes. If you’re going to tell jokes, everyone should be able to get them and they shouldn’t take explaining. Write the speech like you’re speaking to strangers.
  • It’s not about you. It’s about your brother (or sister, or friend), and the audience. You should spend most of your time focusing on making the speech special for them.
  • Don’t make it awkward. Tempting as it may be, now’s not the time to air your grievances or the groom/bride’s dirty laundry. Doing so would not only make the newlyweds squirm, it’d make everyone else in the audience squirm too – that’s not the effect you want.
  • Remember to say cheers at the end. I got emotional and completely forgot to raise my beer and say cheers at the end. No big deal, but I would have preferred a cleaner landing.
  • Give yourself time to plan it out and get creative. I started researching (this Deadspin article gives some excellent advice that helped me get going), jotting down ideas and outlining the speech about two weeks in advance. After that initial braindump, I kept pecking at it in the days leading up to the wedding and the form slowly appeared.