How To: Tips for a New Year's Eve Toast
When toasting, remember your ABCs.
By Michael Varma, ATMG, ALB
As a professional magician I’m constantly asked, “Can you show me a magic trick?” I smile and consent to conjure up a miracle or two. It’s an occupational hazard. Toastmasters are constantly faced with requests for similar command performances – for instance, to stand up and “say a few words” at family gatherings, or holiday meals, or to give a toast to the New Year. To avoid a real-life, spur-of-the-moment Table Topics test, remember to be prepared and follow the ABCs of toasting. To begin a well-thought-out toast, consider the following three A’s: audience, agenda and ability:
Parties and gatherings are a melting pot of ages, genders, relationships, educational levels and ethnicities; all these folks carry high expectations for Toastmasters to speak with poise and confidence. Feeling the pressure? Take a deep breath... exhale. Release that mental stress by asking yourself some questions beforehand about the audience you’ll be facing. Answer those questions and your anxieties will vanish as fear of the unknown dissolves, especially when you stress the positive.
For example, you might ask, “What is the age range of this audience?” Answer: 20- to 40-year-olds. So you say to yourself, “Yeah, no kids!” Or you ask, “What’s my relationship to the people here tonight?” Answer: They’re friends and family. So you say to yourself, “Great – no co-workers or boss!”
In addition, the more you know about your audience, the easier it is to create the appropriate content for your toast.
Toasts are most engaging when three primary elements are clearly defined: Why are we celebrating? Who are we honoring? And what is the point you as the toaster want to make? Knowing what you want to say keeps you calm, even while standing in front of a party of people with all eyes focused on you.
Use a succinct sentence to explain the agenda and set the foundation for your toast. For example, “I find when families pause their busy lives to gather from five different cities and share stories, our holiday meal times become magical.”
Whether you’re an executive used to talking to a crowd or just start- ing out in Toastmasters, be sure to evaluate your skill level. Practice one or all of the Special Occasion Speeches (Item 226N) at your club and you’ll no doubt receive valuable feedback. Some people get very nervous when they have to talk in front of a group. Even seasoned speakers frequently talk too fast, causing spectators to ask their neighbor, “What did he say?” By honing in on your skills through practice, you can build the experience and self-confidence necessary to communicate effectively.
As the author of the book Tasteful Toasts, the question I’m asked the most is, “How long should a toast be?” In a word: short. Be as brief as possible. It may seem like a cliché, but leave them wanting more. If you are going to speak for as long as five minutes, you’d better be outstanding and bring your Grade-A material. For first-time toasters and experienced speakers alike, I recommend following the three B’s: be brief, be bold, be done.
Two minutes is a terrific target time for a tasteful toast. Keep your remarks short and simple and your toast will have a greater effect. If you hit five minutes, the snore bore alarm will begin to sound.
Enunciate clearly and project your voice to the back of the room to ensure everyone can hear your words. Display poise and confidence.
When finished, sit down. Avoid the urge to take a bow or return for an encore performance. Remember, the purpose of a toast is to shine a gentle spotlight on, and pay tribute to, a specific person or event. Say your toast and then return the attention to the honored guest and festivities.
Dec. 31 will soon be here and Toastmasters across the globe will be called to convey, with conviction, a reflection on 2009 and a vision of prosperity for 2010. Yes, I am refering to the New Year’s Eve toast. And as promised, it’s as easy as A, B and now C: communicate, commemorate and celebrate.
Your first remarks before the midnight hour will slow the hands of time, and party participants will gather round for a message of inspiration. A short joke will bring laughs followed by a few seconds of silence. These golden ticks of the clock are when people will look to you for your next witty comment – it’s human nature. In this pivotal moment you control the room and set the mood. Say something pithy and spirits remain light; say something serious and people become reflective. Take advantage of this precious time and use it wisely. Know what you want to say before you say it.
The new year means a fresh start for many people. It’s a time to remember the past before stepping into the future. It’s also a time to acknowledge the struggles you’ve encountered and obstacles you’ve overcome. Place your thoughts on paper and you will be poised with words that honor the sacrifices and commemorate the victories.
When both hands of the clock point to 12, you can celebrate the fact that everyone’s goals will be established and resolutions made. Give a toast to motivate listeners to be better in their personal and professional endeavors and to face the future with confidence. Raise your glass to celebrate the achievements to come.
Merely reading this article will not make you an expert or smooth-talking toasting machine, but it will start you on the right path. Similarly, I can read how to perform a magic trick but it requires practice until polished to a quality performance level – that’s no illusion. Make a resolution to follow the three ABCs of toasting and practice in front of friends or family, and your audience will cheer as you bring in the new year.
Michael Varma, ATMG, ALB, is a member of BergenMeisters Toastmasters club in Orange, California, and the author of the book, Tasteful Toasts, available from www.toastmasters.org/shop. Reach him at www.michaelvarma.com.