(February 13, 2012 / JNS) Toastmasters International President and Executive Director offer their advice on how to craft the perfect one. Hilarious, boring, cringe-worthy—you’ve heard them all. And now it’s your turn to take the stage, get up in front of hundreds of your closest friends and family (or strangers), and deliver a wedding toast. Be you in the wedding party, a parent of the bride or groom, or a guest, there are some simple rules to follow to ensure your words are received well by the audience.
JNS spoke with Toastmasters International President Michael Notaro and Executive Director Daniel Rex to determine how to craft a great toast.
Save yourself the trouble of begging to fast-forward “that part” in the wedding video for years to come, and follow some of the suggestions below.
1. Be brief.
“Be concise. It’s not about you, or a grand performance, it’s about the couple,” Rex suggests. Both Notaro and Rex advise 1-2 minutes for the average toast, and 3-4 minutes if you are the primary toaster.
“A lot of times people think they can wing wedding toasts, but that’s not a good idea. Rehearse it. Plan ahead, think about what you’re going to say. Come up with a good solid humorous anecdote that’s about the couple; not too personal, not something that crosses any boundaries with your group,” Rex says.
3. If you’re not naturally funny, don’t try to be. Or get help.
“If you’re not naturally funny, don’t try and force yourself into something you’re not. It’s not a comedy show; the objective is to give honor to the bride and to the groom. I favor being sincere and telling a sincere story concerning the bride and the groom, something that brings out something about their character that is positive and uplifting to the audience, that shows why this person would be successful or happy in the relationship,” Notaro says.
Yet, if you’d like to go for it, Notaro suggests self-deprecating humor as “always the safe place to be.”
If you’re set on delivering a comedic toast, Rex suggests to rehearse it in front of a smaller audience first. “If you know you have a challenge being funny, go find someone who’s funny and have them help you,” Rex advises.
4. Wait to drink (excessively) until after the toast.
“Do not get drunk; I’ve seen many people give wedding toasts who’ve had too much to drink, and embarrass themselves and everybody around them, certainly the bride and the groom,” Notaro says.
5. Don’t be afraid to weave in the cultural aspects, just know your audience.
“Attributes to any type of cultural and religious wedding that are personal and dear to the couple and the family… can be part of the toast. Whether it’s terminology, or a cultural aspect of how they will live as a couple. At many weddings, though, there is a wide variety of attendees, so you might need to explain a bit, and that acknowledges the diversity that’s there,” Rex says.
6. A general process to follow.
Both Notaro and Rex have processes they follow when writing a toast.
Notaro: “I write the person’s name out. I like to start with adjectives that describe the person’s character: loving, considerate, maybe impetuous, and think about the things in their life that are important to her. I start to write some of those things down, and then I think about those adjectives and descriptors in terms of the new life they’re going to have with their husband. Then I weave those into a brief toast. It’s a little bit of a gestalt creative process. I write down the ideas, then I sleep on it.”
“You’ve got those salient points that make the person unique, and then other people at the wedding reception will say, ‘that’s them!’”
Rex: “Start with a broad outline of the story you want to tell. A welcome and acknowledgement of the people who are there and are significant in the life of the couple (parents, etc.). Work into why it’s a special event or how you first got acquainted with them as a couple; that’s where the humor can come in—great wishes for future life, family.”
“Take it from a broad outline, and make it more specific. You don’t want to take it to a place where it’s word for word. Don’t read it or speak it, you’ll lack sincerity with the group.”
According to Rex, the horrible toasts are those “where the toasters are a little tipsy, or where the jokes are inside jokes, only known to a handful of people there.”