Here at Pissup we know how to throw a party – the clue’s in our name! But when it comes to advice on how to be a best man, we wanted to find someone who had real expertise. The best man for the job as it were. Well cue www.iamthebestman.co.uk a site which brings everything a best man needs: with advice on giving speeches, throwing stag dos and all the independent information you want – all in one place.
We love the site so we thought we’d do an interview with Oliver Lucas of iamthebestman.com – the site’s founder.
While we are here freezing our proverbial nuts off in Europe, Oliver is in blazing hot South East Asia for a few months living the location-independent Tim Ferriss dream. On our chat over Skype we discussed his own experiences as a best man (all three of them!), why he founded his awesome website, and what advice he could give to you lads out there who have been asked by your mate to be the best man.
How did you get the idea for iamthebestman.com – your advice website?
Well, there was an existing problem which I didn’t feel was being solved I suppose. I’d been asked to be best man three times – and every time I had this frustration where I’d go on the internet looking for advice and the information out there was very bitty. I found groom advice websites that talked about various things none of which solved the problems I’d had.
More specifically let’s say I wanted to book a stag do, for instance – if I did want to go down the package route – I’d have had to go traipsing around all these different sites to try and get quotes and what not. So I thought it would be a good idea to have all the quotes in one place, for a start. I saw that that would be quite useful. There was also the issue of independence, which is lacking in that market. I think it’s important to have an honest point of view.
On the speech side, it’s a case of simply having a place where you can say ‘can I have some help please?’ That side of being a best man is a bloody hard thing to do. You’re essentially being asked to deliver ten minutes of standup, effectively. I mean you ask anybody to go to an Open Mic night it’ll be one of the scariest things they ever do – in fact, independent surveys both in the UK and the US have been conducted asking people what their greatest fear is. And public speaking comes top – which is higher on the list than the fear of dying! I wanted to lend an empathetic hand, because I don’t consider myself to be someone who can wing it, or is a naturally great charismatic Boris Johnson kind of person who can stand up and entertain a crowd.
I also think that blokes, especially that demographic of blokes in their late twenties and early thirties aren’t great – historically at least – at asking for help. Particularly because once you’ve adopted that macho persona as the stag do organiser, to then admit you’re a bit scared is a bit of a contradiction. So you put all those elements together and those things were missing so that’s why I started the site.
Would you consider yourself a best man ‘expert’ – or can someone be an expert in this field?
If you’re English, as we are, there’s something we feel uncomfortable about when we hear the word ‘expert’. What defines an expert? According to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s what? 10,000 hours of exposure or practise in a particular discipline. Well if that’s the case, according to the Gladwellian definition, I would be an expert. But would I sit here and hold up my hands and say: “Yes, I’m an expert – I know everything there is to know about being a best man” – no, of course I wouldn’t.
What I’m offering is an element of having experience and an element of having immersion within that sector. And critically, speaking to best men on a regular basis and finding out what they have to say about these things. In that sense a commentator might be a better word to use than expert.
Or an analyst?
Yes, perhaps you could use that word! The problem is you can find information but a lot of the sites have an axe to grind, as it were.
When were you a best man – you said three times, right?
Yes, I think another reason for being the site was my first experience as a best man…which was horrendous, I’ve got to say! Because the speech, was hand on heart, awful. It really was bad. And there were several reasons why it was bad. The primary one was, I just had incredible nerves. I was paralysed with this fear, and that was a big issue. And then, you know, the thing about delivering a best man speech – and public speaking in general – I would say, is that it’s a learned skill.
It’s true to say that there are ‘naturally’ good speakers, going back to the Boris Johnson example. I mean think what you like about his politics but he’s a very charismatic guy – who’s comfortable speaking to crowds, and he loves to entertain. But on the other side of the scale there are complete introverts, who are quaking in their boots. Particularly when they don’t have to do it in their profession. And that might apply more to blue collar than white collar professionals – who generally, today, have to give presentations.
What I’m trying to say is I think it can be learned, and that’s why I started the site. I believe public speaking can be taught.
Did you get any help when you did your first speech?
No nothing – and again the truth is you’re in this isolated bubble. And there’s an increasing amount of pressure, as the day comes forward, that you’ve got to be this entertainer and a stand up comedian. Whether we like it or not – the best man’s speech is entertainment. People want to be entertained by the best man – and that’s a lot of pressure for people. Particularly if you’re not a natural.
In my case I also had the added pressure that a lot of the audience didn’t speak English. Because my mate was getting married to a Japanese girl. And i didn’t get all the laughs I thought I was going to get. But in retrospect that probably wasn’t my fault, because they didn’t understand! Anyway it didn’t help…it was a disaster. I thought afterwards ‘I can’t be the only one in this position’. I thought there needs to to be some resources on this so people don’t have to go through the same torture.
And what about the next time you were a best man?
Next time was a whole lot better. Because I learned from my mistakes the first time. And the chief difference was practice. I’m kind of evangelical about practice now. The bottom line is, the first time I didn’t practise enough. There is a few problems with that.
Firstly, if you don’t practise you’re looking at a piece of paper – not at the audience. Second, your voice is not projecting to the audience it’s projecting towards the page. So with both those things you’re not looking at people, and eye contact is a form of trust and engagement with people. So you’re not going to make a connection with the audience. It’s like a conversation: if someone isn’t looking you in the eye it’s almost rude.
Also when I did my first speech, I wasn’t gesturing properly because I was reading. And I didn’t know what was coming up next, and when you don’t know that you can’t do any of the sort of higher level skills – you can’t gesture, or add intonation, what I like to call vocal variety. You can’t add any of that level of polish to a speech if you don’t know it.
All of that learning I took to the second one, and that time round I knew it off by heart. It’s a bit like an actor – you can’t hit the stage with your lines, that’s not acting. How can you act if don’t know what you’re going to say. You can only act if you know what’s coming.
That’s all great advice for the speech – but most people don’t realise that the being a best man is more than that, isn’t it?
Well the more time goes by, the more expectation grows regarding what the best man is. Because of social media there are more examples of good and bad behaviour. The expectation is probably higher now than it was ten years ago, say. We all know about that last night of freedom stag do, down the pub. But stag do’s have moved on with the advent of cheap air travel. And also movies like ‘the Hangover’, where expectations are such that you have to put on a complete show. You have become a party planner – often organizing a weekend for people you’ve never met before.
The two key pieces of the best man role are the stag do and the speech. There are things in between and on the day that you can do to ease the pain of the groom. Really at those points you’re the PA, the concierge, the can-do guy. If there’s anything that needs to be delegated – you’re the man. If there’s a problem you need to come back with a solution because the thing about being a groom is that it’s a stressful experience too.
They want somebody they can trust, they want, in fact I put this in my ebook, they want Mr. Wolf from ‘Pulp Fiction.’ Someone who is going to sort solutions fast, and get things done. You have to be an organiser a party planner, a diplomat in some cases. Because there’s all kinds of politics that goes on during stag dos!
Finally, going back to the speech, do you have any dos and don’ts for the speech? Things you should and should not say?
Again, going back to the idea of being an ‘expert’ I don’t want to say there are things you definitely shouldn’t say. But obviously talking about ex-girlfriends usually doesn’t go down well. Making sexual jokes is always going to be close to the bone – and I would generally avoid that. Generally one of the biggest mistakes a best man can make, is they forget who the audience is.
In an audience you’ll often have two or three generations: you can have parents, grandparents and kids. And a lot of best men will write for their mates, basically.
So they’ll get big belly laughs from a table. Because they’re all finding it hilarious because there’s all this in jokes, but for everyone else it’s not accessible or appropriate. So sexual jokes are not going to go down well because they won’t appeal to two of the three generations. At the very least it will make them feel uncomfortable. The other thing is the in joke, because that’s exclusive and you want to be inclusive. It’s all well and good making the odd joke, with a wink of the eye and a nudge, to something that means something to a certain group of people – but that’s not inclusive, so it’s not very good for everyone else.
Be sure to check out www.iamthebestman.com for all the advice a best man needs!