Imagine you’re gathered with friends and family, your drink of choice in hand. Then someone asks, “Would you like to give a toast?”
Your heart skips a few beats, your face reddens, your chest tightens … and you begin. Seconds later, you hear a hearty “Cheers!” after your toast and watch as your family and friends clink glasses.
A holiday toast or memorable occasion speech—impromptu or planned—is not the same as a wedding, awards, or commencement speech. I’ve created a guide to help you write down some thoughts and plan what to say should you find yourself with a holiday-toasting opportunity.
Three goals of any holiday or special occasion toast are to:
- Keep it short.
- Keep the focus on the group.
- Keep your audience in mind to calibrate your humor and stories.
Even though your toast may be short, you will want to think ahead for your planned remarks. It is okay to have your thoughts on notecards or a piece of paper, but when speaking for less than a minute you should try to memorize your toast rather than fumbling around for notes.
The easiest way to keep your toast short but meaningful is to draw inspiration from great one-liners from poetry, popular songs, or quotable movies.
Plan for about 30 seconds to one minute at most. You might have more leeway if you are the host and the occasion is extra special, but people are gathered for the celebration (plus the food and drinks). Your guests want time to mingle and catch up, not to attend a Toastmasters meeting. Although your Table Topics® skills will be helpful in a toast of this length.
In this Toastmasters Podcast episode, learn extra tips for mastering your special occasion speech with Toastmaster Eddie Rice.
The easiest way to keep your toast short but meaningful is to draw inspiration from great one-liners from poetry, popular songs, or quotable movies. The quote can even be your entire toast:
From the Song “45 Years” by Stan Rogers:
“After (twenty-three years) you’d think I could find
A way to let you know somehow
That I want to see your smiling face forty-five years from now.”
Note: Feel free to edit the “23 years portion” for your specific anniversary.
“After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” –Oscar Wilde
“Hanukkah reminds us where we came from. What a blessing it is to call you ‘family.’” —hallmark.com article
“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” —The Polar Express (movie)
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” —T.S. Eliot
Points of Inspiration
Unlike a graduation speech or wedding toast, which have somewhat defined structures, the special occasion toast is relatively free-flowing. Here are a few ideas to get started.
Reminisce upon the past year and the year to come—
Pick a single memory that everyone in the room will know and retell that story. Then, talk about your hopes for the year to come. Remember to keep the toast focused on the positive or funny events that happened rather than negative ones.
Focus on the group, not you—
When choosing a story to reminisce on, look for shared experiences—not something particular to you.
Remembrance of those who have passed—
You may want to say a few words about those who have passed away. You can keep this general, such as, “Let us remember those who are here with us in spirit,” or you can name specific friends and family. A word of caution here: If the memory of the loved one’s death is too recent or tragic for your group, keep it general or don’t mention it.
It’s not a boardroom meeting—
If it’s a company gathering, you do not want to bore everyone with this year’s numbers or next year’s projections. Instead, focus on a challenging project or moment when everyone came together and use that as your springboard.
Start a New Tradition
If you are out of ideas, consider drawing inspiration for your toast from other cultures. Let the audience know the significance behind the tradition, and you may be well on your way to starting a new one at your festive event.
In some regions, it’s proper to give a toast and then select the next person to give one. Warn your guests ahead of time and know who might be shy about leading off or closing. Allow guests to pass, of course. You can even give a prompt, “What are you thankful for this year?” or “What do you look forward to next year?”
Paper wishes in glasses:
According to winecountry.com this tradition happens in some Eastern European countries: “On New Year’s Eve, they’re known to write down their wishes for the coming year on a piece of paper. At the stroke of midnight, they will burn the paper, drop the ashes in a glass of bubbly, and take a big gulp of their hopes and dreams that will supposedly come true in the next 365 days.”
It’s common in Australia to use light-hearted insults during a toast. Of course, know your audience and stay cautious, depending on the event’s etiquette. Still, you can get away with some light humor, as suggested by Drink Me magazine: “In the land down under, a plain ‘toast’ may seem like an insult, as Aussies have a fun-loving cultural tradition when it comes to drinking. Whether at a formal event or a dinner with friends, it’s common to hear the toaster say, ‘Cheers, big ears,’ to which the toastee will respond with a gracious, ‘Same goes, big nose.’”
The holiday toast does not have to be nerve-racking. It can be a fun moment to share a memory, look toward the future, and, above all, mark the occasion eloquently. The Gettysburg Address, delivered by Abraham Lincoln, clocks in at 272 words—you can leave a lasting impact on your audience with even fewer words. Find the shared memories and lean on those to create a memorable holiday toast!
Eddie Rice is the author of Toast: Short Speeches, Big Impact, and a member of Eastside Toastmasters Club in Shaker Heights, Ohio. You can find out more about him at ricespeechwriting.com.