Even the shortest speech in the world needs an opening line. Don't waste it. This is your opportunity to get people's attention, and the best way to do that IS with humour. Forget sentiment and formality for now, whatever the books tell you, and get in with a rib tickler. And remember, the more you can tie it to the event you're attending, the better. Consider the following:
If the wedding reception is in a marquee …
"Ladies and gentleman, after my speech please feel welcome to dance and enjoy yourselves but please remember that we have to vacate these premises by midnight as they're needed for a protest camp tomorrow."
If it's an expensive and elaborate affair …
"Quite clearly, no expense has been spared in creating this wonderful occasion for us all to enjoy. And by the way, please don't worry if you hear any unusual noises during the speeches - it's only the groom's wallet groaning in agony."
If traditional Scottish costume is the order of the day …
"Could I start by making an observation about Paul and Linda's choice of dress code for today? However cold the weather might be, there are distinct advantages for a man in wearing traditional Scottish costume. Unlike women, we don't have a nervous breakdown if another bloke turns up wearing the same skirt as us. In fact, we're actually rather relieved."
If the date of the wedding has some special significance …
"Today, August 3rd, is a special day in history. Just as Paul and Linda are embarking on their journey together, so in 1492, Christopher Columbus and his crew embarked upon their own voyage of discovery. Let's hope that Paul and Linda enjoy as much excitement and good fortune as Columbus's men - only without picking up syphilis along the way."
There are plenty of ways you can connect your opening gambit to the particulars of your event. Click here for more examples. Alternatively, you could go for an opening line that plays on some recognizable characteristic of the groom. Try these for size:
If he's known to enjoy a drink or two …
"The bride is elegant, educated and from a refined family so perhaps she is set on making a gentlemen of Paul. Achieving this may take some time however. I mean, where do you start with someone who drinks beer through a funnel?"
If he's a control freak …
"We all know Paul can be a bit of a worrier, but here's one fact that should put his mind at rest: on average, married men live two years longer than single men. Even better, it'll feel more like ten…"
If he has reputation for grovelling …
"Paul has everything it takes to make this a successful marriage … a quiet charm, a persuasive manner, and the ability to grovel without wrinkling his suit!"
If you'd rather make yourself the butt of the first joke - a tried and tested strategy for getting the crowd on side - then draw on your own notoriety instead. Think about what you're renowned for and be prepared to offer up anything even vaguely amusing about your looks, habits or personal circumstances. For example:
If you're a reluctant public speaker …
"I must admit that I am very new to this business of public speaking. In fact, up until half an hour ago, I always thought that a Toastmaster was a kitchen appliance."
If you're a bachelor …
"People say it must be hard having a best friend getting married… that I’ll still have to go out looking for love, while he’s snuggled up at home with his new wife. The way I see it, I might finally be able to talk to a woman without him cramping my style."
If you're packing a few extra pounds …
"I've tried all the diets to fit into this wedding suit today. I tried the GI Diet. In my case that stands for Gave In. I tried the Cambridge Diet. That's the one where you try and live on the same income as a student. I even tried the Bikini Diet but I kept choking on the elastic."
If poking fun at the groom or yourself doesn't appeal, think about the type of humour you're most comfortable with. Again the more authentic and personal your speech sounds, the better it will go down with the audience. Here are some examples:
If you want to play it safe …
"I know that any personal details I tell you about Paul won't go any further than the 150 guests here today, your families, friends, workmates, casual acquaintances and anyone you choose to share them with on Twitter, Facebook and Radio 5 phone-ins."
If you're a bit of a lad …
"I'm sure you will agree that everything has gone swimmingly so far. Unfortunately, you can't expect perfection, which is why you have me for the next few minutes. But unlike many best man speeches, which are full of sexual innuendo, I have promised the Bride & Groom that if there is anything slightly risqué I will whip it out immediately."
To paint yourself in a sympathetic light …
"Right, I'd just like to start by laying down a couple of rules. Firstly, if you do have a mobile phone… please, leave it switched on; keep yourselves entertained. And secondly, if anyone texts you any good jokes, could you please forward them to me?"
And if you really want to impress, a topical icebreaker that connects a recent news story to theme of weddings or marriage can work wonders for your reputation for witty repartee.