Chances are that even after a busy summer, you’ve got at least another wedding or two on your calendar for this season. And if the groom is one of your best friends, chances are even higher that you’ll be asked to give a toast during the rehearsal dinner or reception. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned public speaker or not, there are plenty of ways to make sure that your toast is a hit.
Most great toasts follow a certain formula, says Steve Faber, the screenwriter of the movie Wedding Crashers. “I analyzed toasts when writing Wedding Crashers and realized that, like a movie, a toast needs a character arc and roughly five sections: background, an anecdote, comic relief, a turning point, and a conclusion,” Faber told Real Simple. (If you’re stuck, here’s a few suggestions of what to include.)
Aside from that, there’s plenty of ways to make sure that you stay in the good graces of your buddy’s family — and his newly minted in-laws. Here’s five tips to make sure your toast doesn’t turn into an hour-long monologue, but also that it says something with a little more substance than a 10-second tribute.
1. Be yourself
Are you the life of the party who’s always got a joke (that people actually think is funny)? A toast with a comedic tone is probably for you. Or instead, do you tend to be more sincere and heartfelt? Either angle is totally acceptable for a toast, but it’s important to make sure that you stick with the one that’s most natural for you.
“The first and most common pitfall of a wedding toast is not being yourself. Toast-givers go in one of two ways — either they get too formal and quote iconic poets, sounding pompous to those who don’t know them, or they get too loose and try too hard to be funny to the crowd, which is equally unimpressive,” Sharon Naylor, author of Your Special Wedding Toasts, told Jezebel.
The most memorable toast you’ve ever heard might have been a funny one. But if your funny bone isn’t up to par, don’t try to make your natural sense of humor something it’s not.
2. It’s not about you
You might be making the toast, but using “I” and “me” in every sentence is going to be a problem. “This mini-speech is about the bride and groom but for everyone there,” Ask Men advises. To make sure everyone connects to what you’re saying, keep the focus on the guests of honor. Be flattering to the bride, even if she’s the reason your best friend can’t come to Friday night poker events anymore. Ideally, you’ll also be friends with the bride by this point. But if not, be diplomatic. “If she’s a workaholic, say that she inspires everyone with her drive. If she’s boring, say she’s down to earth. If she bosses him around, say she keeps him grounded,” Ask Men suggests.
If you’ve been asked to make a toast, chances are you also know an embarrassing story about the groom — or several. Those should have gotten out of your system at the bachelor party, but keep a lid on it if you’re itching to tell just one more. Now’s not the time or the place, though good-natured teasing is ok. Whatever you do, though, make sure you don’t go negative. “Bottom line: if you’re at all in doubt about whether something is too negative for your toast, leave it out,” Jezebel advises.
One more note on the groom that Ask Men points out, that should act as a guide for the entire toast: “You’re representing him and his friends, so you’ll want to present a good image to the people there who might not know him that well.”
3. No exes. Ever.
This should be self-explanatory, since you’re not supposed to go negative in the toast. But even if your buddy and his ex have stayed friends, or the bride’s breakup before meeting her groom was amicable, a toast is never the right time to mention them.
“[When] people mention an ex, they’re trying to be funny and they don’t quite recognize how serious this is. The groom’s parents are there, their in-laws are there. People want to be funny, which is great, but they’re not always careful enough. People are really, really, really sensitive during their wedding — they’re standing in front of everyone they know,” says Wendy Paris, author of Words for the Wedding: Creative Ideas for Choosing and Using Hundreds of Quotations to Personalize Your Vows, Toasts, Invitations and More.
One thing to remember about this point: If the couple has hired a videographer for the wedding, chances are your toast will be captured in its entirety, and included verbatim in the final cut. Don’t make them relive that past relationship every time they want to watch their wedding video — especially since they don’t want to explain who that ex was when their future children find the DVD someday.
4. Get the technical stuff right
Look straight ahead when you’re speaking instead of only at the bride and groom, Faber suggests. “If for some reason the person isn’t smiling, you might panic, thinking that he or she hates what you just said, and there goes your speech. It’s easy to misinterpret reactions when you’re under pressure,” he told Real Simple.
In addition, make sure you’re not impersonating a novice rapper by slobbering all over the mic. According to The Knot, most mics will sound best if you speak while holding the mic away from your mouth, equal to the distance between your extended index and pinkie fingers. (In other words, a few solid inches will do the trick.)
And finally, know that most great wedding toasts are two minutes, max. “Shorter is better,” Wendy Paris told Jezebel. The Knot suggests a speech of 2 to 3 minutes will hit the sweet spot of saying something thoughtful but also keeping guests from getting too antsy about getting their next drink or hitting the dance floor. You’re at a wedding celebration, not a high school graduation ceremony.
5. Lost? Rely on crowd-pleasers
If you’re stuck on where to begin, The Knot and Wedding Crashers‘ Steve Faber both suggest starting with a favorite quote, either from a poem or a song. It does run you the risk of sounding aloof, as Naylor pointed out to Jezebel above. However, if you’re not comfortable with starting cold or beginning with a joke, this might be a great way to do it — provided you don’t swipe something off of Google from your phone 5 minutes before it’s speech time.
Phineas Mollod, co-author of The Modern Lover: A Playbook for Suitors, Spouses & Ringless Carousers suggests starting with a Top 10 list of some kind. As The Knot suggests, it will likely engage your audience and will be one of the few permissible things you can read from a sheet, calming the jitters you have right at the beginning. “No matter how nervous you are, anyone can read and be entertaining,” Mollod says. “Once you’ve made it through your list, you’ve got your perfect transition into the heartfelt thanks.”
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS