Over the years Chanteclaire couples have teased me about my obsession with toasts and speeches. I can be harsh about them, and until the wedding day, no one quite understands my concerns. But then that moment comes, when the Maid of Honor or Best Man stands up and the glorious mood guests are in starts to circle the drain. Please indulge me as I guide your toast and speech makers a bit in order to avoid this warm moment becoming a tragedy.
A toast is a pithy few sentences designed to raise everyone’s glasses in celebration of someone. It does not include information about the speaker, but focuses solely on the honoree and on the raising of glasses. A toast is appropriate just prior to a meal when dinner guests are ready to eat and honoring the person that brought them to the meal.
A speech is a monologue meant to inspire. This can include personal experiences and humor. A speech is appropriate when there is ample time, such as at the end of dinner. While guests are relaxed, the speech serves as a form of entertainment. Guests must not be wanting to move on to another phase of the evening, but rather be comfortable listening to the spoken word as a way to pleasantly pass the time.
Stick with these definitions, and your toasts and speeches will add warmth and energy to the occasion. Cross the two definitions and your guests will start feeling bored, frustrated, and uncomfortable.
Toasts are typically given by the Maid/Matron of Honor and the Best Man. Not everyone attending the event knows these people, so the focus should stay on the couple. Speeches (after dinner) are typically given by the host of the event (Father of Bride or Groom). Everyone invited knows this person and/or respects the fact that the occasion centers a good deal around them. Guests want to hear more about and from this person, which is not the case for the MOH & BM.
Here is our advice for delivering the perfect toast:
Your toast will include 5-6 sentences about the couple. Wish them the best life has to offer. Then ask guests to raise their glasses in a toast. Say ‘Cheers to you’ or ‘Cin Cin’, ‘salut’, salute, ‘to the bride and groom’ etc. Say I love you. Take a sip of your drink. Hug the honoree(s). Sit down.
Rather than telling a story, which risks droning on too long and being boring or even irrelevant, do this: list all the adjectives you would use to describe the person(s). Then for each adjective, replace it with a few words about actions that person does that exemplify this quality.
Ex: kind, funny, adventurous, honest, thoughtful, loving
Change to: To Jane, a teller of corny jokes, a rescuer of stray dogs, the person who brings you soup when you’re sick and isn’t afraid to jump out of planes. Her poignant advice when we are in need of truth has helped more than a few of us. Her love of Sam is an inspiration in humility and humor, adventure and joy. Sam, your ability to see her, really see her, and to love her for exactly who she is makes us all love and honor you. You are her match in intellect and temperament, and I wish you many decades of happiness together. Let’s raise our glasses to two amazing people who brought us together today for this wonderful celebration. Cheers to you. I love you.
This toast should take just under a minute to deliver. Perfect.
More tips to follow:
● Don’t read from a piece of paper or (God forbid) your phone. If you can’t give the toast off the cuff, it’s too long or complex. Be able to look at the couple and the guests. Engage, be present.
● Don’t research other people’s toasts. A great toast will use your normal language, and will reflect your personality (shy, funny, boisterous, etc.). Every human being looks at the world uniquely, and if you just use your normal words you will exhibit this uniqueness without even trying.
● Don’t mention yourself at all unless you are a highly skilled public speaker and writer (in which case you are giving a speech, not a toast). Only talk about the honoree(s). Toast makers often think that being asked to share their insight means the toast is partially about THEM. It is not.
● Don’t use ANY inside jokes. By doing that, you are purposely leaving everyone out of the toast, and that’s just rude. It’s also making the toast about you in a passive aggressive way. Don’t do it.
● Never mention old flames, bad behavior or anything that could possibly embarrass the honoree(s). You surely can find enough nice things to say about them to fill 30-60 seconds.
Once you have your toast written and memorized, don’t let anyone throw you by suggesting you say other things. Be true to yourself in order to give an authentic, heartfelt toast.
Unless you are a highly skilled public speaker and writer, your toast should not exceed 1 minute. Want proof of what it feels like to the audience? Think about the last time you watched a 1 minute commercial in the middle of your favorite show. When you’re fully engaged in the event you’ve been invited to, a break in which a stranger tells stories you don’t understand that goes on for two or three or four minutes makes most people want to stab themselves in the eyeball.
Now it’s time to practice. The trick is to memorize each concept (rather than the entire script word for word), and say each concept so many times that it’s easy to talk about. Then string the concepts together in the right order. The more you practice, the easier it will get. Say it dozens of times until it’s easy.
Now you just have to deal with the jitters of public speaking. Even seasoned pros feel jitters before a speech because it’s exciting to stand up in front of people and have their attention. Sometimes it’s too exciting, in an unpleasant way, but accept that feeling as excitement and allow it to exist even thougt you are going to give the toast ANYWAY. If the ideas are yours, it will be easier to tap into your normal thinking patterns even when under a spotlight. If you know you’ll be nervous, practice twice as much
until the ideas you’re expressing are honest and natural. It will be harder to throw you off your game. Feel honored as you make the toast. It is a privilege, not a burden. Be proud of yourself when you get through it.