The extended family is gathered. Parents, grandparents and little cousins. Everyone is excited about the new marriage. Let the toasting begin!
First, a groomsman stands up and tells the story of when the groom failed out of college. Then a sorority sister begins to compare the groom to all the bride’s ex-boyfriends. The self proclaimed marriage expert gives a 10 minute, 10 point lecture. A high school friend talks about an old summer fling. A golfing buddy stands up and totally freezes. The work friend relives that time the groom cheated on the bride and how glad she is that all that is behind them. Then you have the uncle who, apparently, began toasting hours before and, in his drunken stupor, has now shifted the focus to himself as he nostalgically tells stories about his own high school football days.
These are all true stories. I perform a fair number of weddings which means I hear hundreds of toasts. Mostly bad ones. It’s hard to overstate how bad the average person is at giving toasts.
But there is good news! There are some easy fixes. So, in an effort to help prevent people from embarrassing themselves, the couple and the couple’s family, here are 9 things that can make you a decent toaster.
It’s Not About You
No sentence should begin with ‘I’. You aren’t there to talk about yourself or to show everyone how funny you are. You want to direct the spot light to the couple.
Keep It Short
Unless you are the Best Man, Father of the Bride or someone very close to the couple, three minutes is enough. That’s plenty of time to tell a great story or even two. No one makes fun of the short toast. If anything, they might pull you aside later and thank you for it.
Very few people can just walk up and give a decent toast without preparing. So unless you that 1 in a 1000 person, don’t wing it. Come up with a plan. Like a speech, a toast has a beginning, middle and end. Here is a good outline:
- Say something positive you have observed about the person/couple. Start out with “Here is what I want you to know about Jane….” or “The best part about Jane is…”
- Background. This is when they figure out how you two know each other. But, again, it’s not about you.
- Tell a story to illustrate. One good funny story that backs up point one is better than three short stories that either go on tangents or don’t go deep enough.
- Wish the couple a happy marriage, clink and sit down.
Now, preparation doesn’t mean you are reading from a script. Maybe have an outline, but getting every word right is no substitute for eye contact. By ‘prepared’ I mean know it, not read it.
If You Have Been Married Less Than A Year, Don’t Give Marriage Advice
Would you take medical advice from a first year medical student? Same applies in marriage.
The whole crowd becomes more uncomfortable with every apology. This includes:
“I’m sorry, I get so nervous in front of people.”
“Forgive me, I didn’t come prepared to say something.”
“I didn’t know (groom) very well, but…”
“Hang in there I have had too much to drink”
On that note…
This isn’t just a pastor talking. All experienced speakers will tell you, if you are drunk, don’t speak. It will go down hill, and fast! The toasting is supposed to be the beginning of the drinking, not the middle or end of it. Believe me, all will thank you.
Leave sex out of it
That means all sex. Sex they have had with other people. Sex they have had with each other. And, sex they will be having later that night. We all know what happens later that night. Do grandma and everyone else a favor and leave the sex out.
It’s A Toast, Not A Roast
Here is a really helpful filter: will the family of the bride and groom be encouraged by what you say? It may be funny, but is it uplifting? Save the roast for the bachelor/bachelorette party. A toast is meant to honor everyone there.
When In Doubt, Ask
I almost wrote, ‘when in doubt, throw it out.’ But to be fair, sometimes we just don’t know. If that’s the case, ask someone. Ask someone with some speaking experience. Ask someone related to the person you are speaking about. You will probably get a helpful answer.
Make a great toast and you are the person everyone wants to talk to afterward. Make an awkward toast and you are the person everyone wants to talk about afterward. You do it well and you may even get some free drinks out of it. Your toast is a gift to the couple. Make it a good one.