I love weddings. I am not exactly the romantic type, but I do love witnessing a man and a woman promising to love and be faithful to each other as they take their vows publicly. I have attended dozens of weddings for family and friends over the years, and as a pastor, I have had the privilege of officiating quite a few of them. In addition to the wedding ceremonies themselves, I also love the parties surrounding and celebrating the union.
But over the years, I have witnessed some fairly embarrassing and unfortunate situations, mostly surrounding the toasts. You probably know what I am talking about. Whether it’s the rehearsal dinner or the reception, we’ve all watched someone grab hold of the microphone to begin what turns out to be 10 minutes (or more) of pure awkwardness. Every once in a while, someone delivers a hilarious or touching speech that really makes the party feel all the more appropriate. But more often than not, I wish (for everyone’s sake) that the toast didn’t happen at all.
Now hear me, I don’t blame anyone in particular for these seemingly inevitable moments of social pain. Few people have opportunities to learn how to speak in public. And as cultures and customs from all over the world mix together, weddings no longer fall into one tradition everyone recognizes and in which they can easily participate. So giving a toast is a difficult thing.
So I have finally decided to put together a few tips for those of you who might be invited to offer a toast at the next wedding you will attend. I hope they help you to avoid embarrassment and enjoy the celebration all the more. Here then are ten tips for wedding toasts.
#1: Remember the Purpose
A toast is meant to be an expression of honor, goodwill, or show of support. Don’t lose sight of this. The purpose is not to entertain or set the emotional tone, even though those might be bi-products of your speech. Make sure you remember to focus on honoring the couple, expressing your joy and hope for them, and showing your support for their marriage.
#2: Come Prepared
Once you have the purpose of a toast in mind, you can plan your words to accomplish that purpose. And you need to plan. Do not simply stand up and expect that you will be able to say something winsome and wonderful. Very few people are able to speak on their feet like that. Plan what you will say, even if it is a simple outline of your thoughts, and then write them down so you can stay on track once you find yourself looking out over a room full of expectant faces. Count on your nerves making you a bit flustered. So plan and write it down.
#3: Stay Sober
I believe this is an important life tip in general, but at the very least, it’s a must for someone delivering a toast. This may be a no brainer for many of you, but I have seen a drunken toast before and it isn’t pretty. You can almost guarantee the happy couple won’t be honored by what your drunken self has to say.
#4: Introduce Yourself and Express Gratitude
A good way to start your speech is with an introduction. Don’t assume you are so important that everyone will know who you are. Tell everyone your name and, briefly, what your connection to the couple is. Once you have begun this way, it’s classy to thank the hosts (usually the parents of the bride and sometimes both sets of parents) who have made the party possible and the guests for adding to the celebration of the wonderful day.
#5: Make a Connection
Now that you have gotten started, tell a story or an anecdote connecting you to the couple illustrating your support, goodwill, and/or respect. It’s nice to compliment the couple, but simply stating how wonderful you think they are can come off as shallow and trite. More than likely, if you have been asked to be part of the wedding party or to offer a toast, then you have some connection to the couple that you should be able to draw upon to specifically illustrate the nice things you want to say. So avoid simply stating that they are perfect for each other, the best people ever, amazing, and the fairy tale couple. Show everyone why you can honor them and celebrate with them. You want your speech to be and feel sincere, and a story that connects helps accomplish this.
#6: Focus on the Couple
While it’s appropriate to tell a story connecting you to the couple, don’t make it about you. Some of the most awkward and embarrassing toasts I have witnessed involved: a) the speaker going on and on about how close they are to one of the newlyweds, b) inside jokes, or c) emotional comments about how it won’t ever be the same again. Remember, the couple just got married. Don’t try and make them feel bad about how they have left you behind or stolen their spouse from you. And don’t lose sight of the fact that you are speaking in front of a room full of people. There is no need to tell jokes only you and a select few understand. You can always write them a note for that. Bottom line, you are not the star of the show, and you should honor not lament the new marriage.
#7: Avoid the Negative
Don’t make jokes about how bad marriage is or how their lives are now over. Don’t bring up past failed relationships. Avoid trying to embarrass the bride or groom just for laughs. It might be appropriate to tease or laugh along with them if you can turn the ribbing into a reason why you now support them, but be careful here. On the whole, consider what is appropriate to say in front of the couple’s friends and family.
#8: Keep It Short
If you follow the tips above, you should be able to write a brief speech. But if you lose sight of what you are supposed to be doing or forget to plan and write it down, you might end up rambling and repeating yourself like a fool. An effective and enjoyable toast almost always stays under 5 minutes, and usually they can be as brief as 2-3 minutes. You don’t have to talk a lot to say a lot.
#9: Conclude with Wisdom or a Blessing
I have literally heard someone deliver almost the exact same toast twice in one speech because they didn’t know how to end it. Plan your ending and go out on top. The best toasts usually conclude with a small piece of wisdom or advice. It’s nice to find a clever (but not trite) quote or saying capturing the basic thrust of your speech. Many times, a verse from Scripture can do this nicely.
#10: End with a Toast
Don’t forget to toast. You should be holding a drink or have a drink nearby so you can end your speech with something like, “Please join me in raising a glass to a lifetime of love for the bride and groom.” And be sure to take a sip. Custom says that not drinking is actually an insult, though I am sure few people would take it that way these days.
If you follow these tips, you will almost certainly honor the couple and avoid embarrassing yourself and others. Following these tips won’t guarantee everyone will remember your awesome toast for years to come, but it will ensure they don’t remember your terrible speech for years to come.
What do you think? Do you have any more helpful tips?
[A friend of mine wrote this helpful post with some great advice of her own.]