Funny You Should Say That: Clink, Clink, Clink. (Gulp)
How to be first-rate when you celebrate.
By John Cadley
When you tell someone you’re a Toastmaster, they might reasonably conclude that you are a master at giving toasts. And yet what Toastmasters really give are speeches, and Rule No. 1 of toasting is that it should never be a speech. Those listening are poised with various libations that they are eager to drink, and if you talk for more than a couple of minutes you are very likely to become toast yourself.
Lest any Toastmaster suffer that fate, I offer here a few brief observations that may prove valuable the next time you’re asked to perform this time-honored ritual.
First, you need a festive occasion. You can’t toast, say, a dehumidifier. Weddings, anniversaries, retirements, baby showers – anything that denotes both a joyous achievement and the promise of still better things to come. I’ve always thought divorce fits that description nicely but you don’t see divorced people toasting each other, for some reason.
You also need an audience. You can’t propose a toast in an empty room. It shows you’ve missed the point.
Make sure everyone has a glass. It looks funny when nine people are raising one glass, and even more comical when they all try to drink out of it at the same time.
Know what you are going to say ahead of time. A memorable toast rarely starts with, “Boy, you’ve really caught me by surprise, here...” It does, however, usually contain some little-known fact about the honoree that helps those assembled to see him or her in a new light, such as, “Most of you probably don’t know that Jack is a CIA operative...”
Technically, you’re not supposed to write your toast out and read it from the paper, but I would encourage you to do it anyway. Then if you faint, someone else can read it and you’ll still get the credit.
Don’t try to be funny. Humor requires talent and timing, which I have noted to be in short supply among the general population. Don’t try it. I once attended a wedding where the best man gave what he thought was an uproarious monologue about the groom’s past romantic exploits. The bride was furious, her mother was in tears and her father was making a phone call to have his future son-in-law’s kneecaps broken. That’s not funny.
And please, don’t cry. Yes, it is an emotional occasion but sobbing is not something people like to watch while they hold crystal champagne flutes over their heads, especially when your nose is running and you have nothing to wipe it with. What’s worse, it makes the toast about you, and it’s not about you.
Avoid clichés. Standing up and announcing, “I would like to propose a toast” is like saying, “Hi, folks, I’m standing up here in rented, ill-fitting formal wear performing a task I couldn’t avoid, although I did briefly consider leaving the country.” People know that. Say something original. (And when you do say something original, please tell me what it is, since – in the 459,368 toasts I’ve heard so far in my life – I have yet to hear so much as an original syllable.)
Finally, honor your butterflies. Everyone says not to be nervous, but what are the chances of that? It’s like standing in front of a firing squad and having someone say, “Relax, this will only take a minute.” Besides, the very custom of toasting came into being precisely because of nervousness. This was back when poisoning was in vogue among Greek royalty. If the King felt threatened, he’d lure his suspected enemies to the castle under the guise of a friendly feast, slip a little arsenic into their wine, and have them carted off to the bone yard. Consequently, any invitation for a meal with the Big Guy was greeted with a certain...nervousness. This led to the guests insisting that the King take the first sip. You see, in those days, “a drink to your health,” had a far more literal meaning. Even the clinking together of glasses was originally meant to spill some of your wine into the next guy’s, so if he was poisoning you, you could return the favor.
Hence, if you have to give a toast, here’s my toast to you: May your verbiage lack verbosity, may your sentiment be unsentimental and may your words sparkle like the champagne (or cider) you’re dying to drink.
John Cadley is an advertising copy-writer in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at email@example.com.