How To: The Toast – That Other Proposal
A good wedding toast inspires laughter
or tears, but a great toast evokes both.
By Sandra Miller
From the simple civil ceremony to the ultra-swank shindig, the toast is an ever-present wedding tradition. But contrary to tradition, toasts are not just for the best man. As weddings become increasingly tailored to personal tastes, more women in bridal parties are asked to say a few words and then raise a glass to the newlyweds. While these toasts bring depth and character to the reception, they can also induce jitters in someone who balks at public speaking, particularly while wearing a strapless sateen dress and facing a hundred pairs of expectant eyes.
Not to worry! If you’ve been asked to make a toast at your friend’s wedding, there are ways to move past the terror and treat this as a chance to honor someone who obviously values your friendship and your words.
When making a wedding toast, all but one rule can be broken: Shorter is sweeter. Unless you have an excellent reason to hold the floor for more than a few minutes, don’t be greedy with the microphone.
Oh, wait! There is one other unbreakable rule: Speak up! No toast at all is preferable to one where people are leaning across their salads asking each other, What did she say? When you’re wondering how loud to be, think of the bride’s 90-year-old Aunt Sally as your target audience. If you’re using a microphone, speak clearly and slowly in your normal voice. If you don’t have a microphone, try to project your voice. If you feel like you’re speaking a bit too loudly, you’re probably just right.
When preparing your words, keep in mind that a good wedding toast inspires laughter or tears, but a great toast evokes both. So start by thinking of some stories about the couple that are tender and lovely, such as recounting the time the vegetarian groom made the bride a pot of homemade chicken soup when she had the flu or the way they volunteer together in a nursing home every Saturday. I recently attended a wedding in which the bride had just survived cancer. Of the several toasts, the most poignant described how the groom stayed by his beloved’s side through the entire ordeal, insisting that she fight her disease in the name of love.
Next, think of funny stories about the couple. This isn’t a time to humiliate the bride with tales of her first failed engagement to the ex-con or make dark confessions about what really went on at the bachelorette party. Rather, consider some funny moments related to their being together. For example, the time they tried camping and spent the night in a tree because they thought they heard a bear prowling around the tent. Perhaps mention how after that, they knew they could survive anything together. At another wedding I attended, the maid of honor talked about the wedding couple’s blind first date. She mentioned that the groom appeared at the meeting place on roller blades and literally fell head over heels across the sidewalk – and in love, upon catching sight of the bride.
Once you’ve narrowed down your stories to some concise anecdotes, think of how your own life is in some way richer because of your connection to the wedding couple. Maybe they helped you through a difficult time and you will be forever grateful for their support. Perhaps when they walk down the street with fingers entwined, they make you believe in true love. There must be something that links you to them that the rest of the guests will nod at with appreciation and understanding.
This brief personal reflection is often a good way to conclude your speech before lifting a glass “to Jane and John” or “My sister and the only man we would want her to marry” or “My two luckiest friends in the world.” Again, don’t stray from the personal. That’s why you’re speaking and the person next to you isn’t.
Once you’ve written your toast, practice in front of a friend who can tell you what needs tweaking. The best writers will assure you there’s a reason for the rough in rough draft and it can take several tries to get it right. When you’re comfortable with your words, memorizing them might make you feel more confident in your delivery, but be sure to have discreet note cards as a back-up.
Finally, when your moment arrives, take a deep breath, stand up and try to speak slowly and honestly from that place of love you feel for your friend, who in getting married just did something more frightening than what you’re doing. When it’s over, graciously accept the compliments that a good toast inevitably receive. That’s another reward; giving a toast makes it easy for people to approach you at the reception and gives you the opportunity to have far more fun than less visible guests.
Sandra A. Milleris a freelance writer living in Arlington, Maryland.