How to Give a Toast Like a Gentleman
In a world full of phobias, public speaking is up there at the top – right next to that spider at the end of Arachnophobia. And yet, men and women both dream about absolutely dominating the room as you give the perfect toast. Many secretly dream of raising a glass and speaking off-the-cuff with such prose that the ladies swoon and someone starts a slow-clap.
It may not go quite as dramatically, but there’s actually a good formula for making sure your toast is remembered for the right reasons, and not because you embarrassed yourself or someone else. Here’s how you give the perfect toast: [remember to Subscribe Here]
If you don’t drink, you can skip to the next point. If you like the local libations, always keep your wits about you. Personally, I recommend one drink to relax and drop some of the anxiety that may accompany the minutes leading up to your big moment. Make no mistake, if you think it’s a good idea to give your toast while standing ON the table, you are not allowed to give a toast. You are drunk. Go home.
Keep it short.
Unless you’re a world-renowned storyteller, keep the toast short. The magic number for memorable toasts is right around 3 minutes. It gives you just enough time to provide a little backstory, pepper in some humor, provide a wish for the future, and keep everyone engaged. You don’t have enough time to give a dissertation, so land the plane, Jack. You’re going to be talking about someone else, so have 3 minutes worth of material to entertain, enliven, and appreciate that person(s) with the rest of the guests. The next key will help keep it short…
Don’t talk about yourself.
People love to talk about themselves. This is why first dates are always interpreted more favorably by the person that got to talk most about themselves. If you only ask questions and let her speak, she may not know a thing about you at the end of the night, but it was still one of the best first dates ever. In giving the perfect toast, however, you want to talk about the guest(s) of honor and not how great you are.
And don’t kid yourself into thinking that story about how Brad helped you land that million dollar account and live happily ever after is a testament to how awesome he is… it’s actually an indicator of how great you think you are. Save it. When you get honored, someone else can tell your story. Right now, your job is to talk about them.
Funny and embarrassing are two different things.
“When I first met John, he was running to the bathroom with the worst case of explosive diarrhea I’d ever seen…” No. Whether you know it or not, you are no longer welcome at any of John’s social functions, golf tournaments, Superbowl parties – hell, you might as well just delete him from your phone. You’re no longer friends. The audience has no context in that story – they weren’t there to be a part of the original moment, so they have to take the story at face value, and that’s embarrassing.
“We all know John isn’t one for accuracy – something you’ll learn if you ever play the back 9 with him…” Yes. We can all chuckle at John not having an excellent golf game because most of us don’t either, and it’s light-hearted. We’re laughing at John’s expense, but he isn’t embarrassed about it. We can relate and laugh about our own experiences.
The perfect toast has a little humor in it, but it’s never mean-spirited or embarrassing like the first example. If you’re going to tell a story that has some embarrassment in it, get the host’s approval first. If they know you’re going to mention the “cream cheese incident of 2004” beforehand, they’ll be able to tell you whether that’s kosher or not. Remember, if you don’t want someone coming to your party and embarrassing you, don’t do that to them.
Know what you want the guests to feel.
Giving a toast at a wedding is an easy example of wanting the guests to feel the love, and get a sense of how great the newlyweds are for each other. A toast at New Year’s is also an easy theme: do great things in the new year. When you’re giving a toast at other events, make sure you know what you want the audience to know or feel. That’s what makes a great speaker so great – he or she knows what the audience needs to feel, and they speak the words and inflection to create that sensation. Make sure your toast does the same thing. If you want them to feel the love, share the love you feel. If you want them to feel empowered, share the excitement and power you feel.
Write it down and practice.
There are a select few that can shoot from the hip and make it sound natural and beautiful. The majority, however, need to write it down. If you know you’re going to be giving a toast (wedding, ceremony, celebration, etc.), write out your toast beforehand and practice. I tell men to practice their toasts in the mirror at least 5 times before the big day. Put your story on notecards, and go through them until you can either recite the toast from memory, or only need to see the first word or two on each card to remember it. Practice really does make perfect.
Close with confidence.
Rounding out those three minutes with a couple of poignant final sentences is social gold. After you’ve told a great story, peppered in some humor, and helped the guests feel a certain emotion, knock it out of the park with something simple and direct.
“To life! May we look forward with curiosity and a thirst for all it can bring.”
When I gave my toast at my college roommate’s wedding, I opened with how I met him and how hilarious he truly is. I moved into how he met his bride, and how suddenly he was a man. And I closed with his commitment to her and how their love is “the sail that catches all of life’s winds: whether strong or subtle, may they always propel you forward. To Jim and Delaney!”
In the game of giving the perfect toast, the rules are actually quite simple: Be kind, be light-hearted, be selfless, be focused, be timely, be poignant – and always know why you’re there. To you! Sláinte!
What do YOU think is the most important factor in any wedding toast or speech?
Did your wedding have an excellent toast? Did you give or receive on that wasn’t great?
Let me know in the comments below! And remember to SUBSCRIBE to the podcast!
Cover photo credit: Luke Snyder Studio