You sip your water, grab your champagne and take the microphone. The din in the room softens, and eyes turn to you. Now what?
When you’re charged with making a toast, preparation is key, but often overlooked. Off-the-cuff seems to be the current style, and it almost always flops.
June is the most common month to marry, and chances are you’ll find yourself at a wedding soon. With brides and bouquets comes a barrage of speech-making, much of it poorly executed – the rambling host, the over-served best man, the father of the bride at a loss for words.
Unfortunately, these blunders extend beyond the ballroom. They also occur in professional settings of any size: an office party, corporate dinner or an evening entertaining clients.
Dardis Communications offers training in public speaking, including toasting, to transform any tongue-tied client into an effective elocutionist, but observing the following tips will put you well on your way to perfecting your toast this wedding season.
1) Prepare. One of our public speaking experts on our team deejayed weddings during college. Now certified as a corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant, he draws on his experience for perfect examples of terrible toasts. The biggest mistake? Insufficient preparation. Notes jotted on a napkin between the wedding and reception do not count as planning ahead. Your thoughts need a roadmap. Write a draft at least one week before the event to provide plenty of time to rehearse and tweak phrasing. Planning your speech in advance will not only produce a better speech, but it will help you relax and deliver your remarks with a natural cadence.
2) Be confident. Preparation helps you properly view toasting as an opportunity, not a burden. It’s an easy way to make a great impression. Even if public speaking terrifies you, don’t start a speech with a line to lower audience expectations, such as “I had nightmares about this moment” or “I’m not very good at this,” even to draw a sympathetic laugh. To display fear at this moment detracts from your honorable efforts to prepare and overshadows your thoughtful words. Instead, make eye contact with your audience and the subject of your toast and use note cards to stay on track.
3) Keep it short. A toast is not a Shakespearian soliloquy. A welcome toast can be two or three lines; a toast given by the best man or maid of honor need not exceed three minutes. Toasts for business events should be to the point. Time your speech when practicing.
4) Stick to the plan. Consider the case of the well-prepared best man, armed with note cards. He stood from his seat, reached into his jacket and retrieved his speech. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I’d like to share some words about my relationship with the bride and groom.” He paused to glance at his notes. “But you know what? I think I’ll just wing it.” He ditched the cards and proceeded to tell embarrassing stories that snowballed into a rambling mess. Whether he later realized it or not, he made a poor choice. Some may think extemporaneous speeches sound more natural or that winging it creates a more heart-felt presentation. Rarely is that reality. The well-chosen and well-rehearsed phrases of a prepared speech will always flow more smoothly than lines made up on the fly.
5) Respect your honorees. At a wedding, toasting is an opportunity, entrusted to the speaker by the newlyweds, to publicly celebrate the event. It should not turn into an embarrassing story or string of inside jokes. This sort of speechmaking is prevalent in comedy films, but it’s only funny because it’s awkward. Toasts need not be humorous to be memorable, especially if that’s not your style, and a captive audience does not give you permission to test out a stand-up routine. Importantly, don’t rely on “liquid courage.” Moderate what you drink before your toast to ensure your composure and make sure there’s enough in your glass to raise at the end.
In sum: Be prepared, be brief and be seated. Honor the newlyweds or guests of honor and wish them good will, health and prosperity with poise, letting your words reflect the esteem with which you hold them. A well-prepared toast will go far in setting the stage for a successful event. Cheers!