At weddings, people with no public speaking experience — and no desire to have any — sometimes have to get up in front of a big group of people and say something moving, charming, and memorable. Unsurprisingly, this is stressful! But we have some tips to make it less so.
The first and most common pitfall of a wedding toast is not being yourself. Toast-givers go in one of two ways –- either they get too formal and quote iconic poets, sounding pompous to those who don't know them, or they get too loose and try too hard to be funny to the crowd, which is equally unimpressive. It's important to sound like yourself, use your natural sense of humor, don't feel like you have to open with a joke.
Wendy Paris, strategic communications consultant and author of Words for the Wedding: Creative Ideas for Choosing and Using Hundreds of Quotations to Personalize Your Vows, Toasts, Invitations and More, adds that "really popular wedding toasts tend to be either funny or really heartfelt, and I think it's good to figure out either how you feel in the situation or which is your strength." So don't feel like you have to take the same tone as other toasts you've seen — follow your instincts and your personality and compose a speec that's right for you.
But remember it's not all about you.
Yes, your toast should be in keeping with what you're like as a person. But it shouldn't be all about you as a person. Says Naylor, "you don't want to stand up and talk for too long, saying the words ‘I' and ‘me' too often. Any self-importance in a toast is to be avoided." Paris concurs, saying, "make sure it's not too much about yourself." It's fine to tell stories about experiences you've shared with the bride or groom, but remember, this isn't a time to show off or prove what a great friend you are. It's a time to honor the people getting married.
Don't talk about exes.
Really. Even if you think it's funny, even if the bride and her ex are totally cool now, even if you joke about him all the time. Paris explains,
[When] people mention an ex, they're trying to be funny and they don't quite recognize how serious this is. The groom's parents are there, their in-laws are there. People want to be funny, which is great, but they're not always careful enough. People are really, really, really sensitive during their wedding — they're standing in front of everyone they know. It's a very mixed audience.
[N]ever refer to any previous partner the bride or groom has had. This means exes of any type, no matter how serious or storied. That kind of embarrassment stays with them for a long time and may even be captured on videotape for eternity. Leave the ex factor out of your toast.
Don't go negative.
Maybe you and your friend have a teasing relationship in private, and that can be totally fine. But his wedding probably isn't the time to make fun of his indecisiveness or the fact that he still hasn't found a job. It probably isn't even the time to make fun of his fashion sense — unless you're doing it in a very light-hearted way (in the right circumstances, "Bryce has really improved John's wardrobe" could be sweet). And it definitely isn't the time to say anything bad about his bride- or groom-to-be. Bottom line: if you're at all in doubt about whether something is too negative for your toast, leave it out.
Do a trial run beforehand.
Test them out on a few people from different groups. If you'll be at a bridal shower, test out your toast on the bride's mom (who may be your mom too, if you're the maid of honor/sister making the welcome toast!). For the wedding, read your toast to friends, as well as to someone in the older generation, to see how it flies with people of different humor levels. No matter who you're testing your toast out with, do so by reading your toast aloud – not just having them read it in email or printed form –- so that they can assess your delivery, which any comedian tells you makes all the difference. Watch for the person's immediate reaction –- is there a pause, a flicker of their eyes like they just heard something extremely offensive? Are you getting a pity laugh? Is the person being honest and shaking his or her head No at your attempts to be humorous? All signs to chop out any bad jokes.
Read your toast to someone who has great grammar, to help you remove the bad habit of saying things that you hear on reality shows all the time, like ‘Anne and I's friendship.' (Shudder!)
If you have a friend who has a great sense of humor and knows the difference between a split infinitive and a hole in the ground, so much the better.
When in doubt, ask some friends.
I was a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding a few years ago, and I wasn't sure I wanted to give a toast. I did, however, spend a lot of time telling stories about the couple's awesome relationship with other members of the wedding party. As it turned out, I didn't give a toast, but one of the ushers took a story I'd told and made it into a toast of his own (giving me credit, which was nice of him). He was able to take my anecdote and turn it into a moving commentary on our friends' impending marriage — and you can make that strategy work for you too. Says Paris, "if you're stuck, talk to the person's friends or family. She suggests questions like, "When you think about Sarah, what do you think about? What do you think are her best characteristics?" Sometimes just hearing someone else talk can help you put your feelings about your friend into words.
Hit the basics, then sit down.
Naylor offers a simple formula for a great toast:
1. Open with who you are and how you know the bride or groom
2. Talk about what you've observed about their happiness since meeting
3. Share a great story about when you know they were The One to each other
4. Wish them a lifetime of happiness together
She adds, "nervous toast-makers will be happy to know that the average toast is no more than 2 minutes long." Paris is explicit: "shorter is better." You don't have to rush through your speech, but don't feel like you have to deliver an exhaustive treatise on your friend and her marriage either. A great toast will mean a lot to the marrying couple, but so do dancing, eating cake, and having fun, and the shorter your speech is, the sooner they can get back to doing that.
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