How to Give a Wedding Toast
How to Give a Wedding Toast
The tradition of giving wedding toasts is one of the most fun and memorable parts of a wedding. Aside from the wedding officiant and the DJ, the toast is often the only opportunity for anybody to address all of the wedding guests at once. The wedding toast is a great way to bring together the room full of guests with a touching story, a humorous anecdote, or an inspirational reflection on the bride and groom and their future lives together.
In spite of the obvious upside, the prospect of giving wedding toasts has stricken fear in the hearts of best men and maids of honor for decades. This can be attributed to a combination two major issues. First of all, everybody has seen a million brilliantly-crafted wedding toasts done in the movies, and this sets the bar high in our minds. Secondly, we’ve all been first hand witnesses to boring, trite, and even sometimes cringe-worthy toasts that have turned the reception from joyous to awkward in no time. So yes, the stakes are high. But fear not, best men; take heed, maids of honor—here are a few bits of advice from a veteran of multiple wedding toasts that will help you knock ‘em dead. And no, picturing the audience in their underwear is not on the list!
Be Prepared without Sounding Rehearsed
Think of the best stand-up comedian you know. Maybe it’s Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., or Jim Gaffigan. (I hope you’re not thinking Dane Cook, but for this illustration, he works too.) What does the delivery of each of these comedians have in common? They all deliver their stand-up routines like they’re talking off the cuff. Up until now, you may have been just thought that these guys are, in fact, improvising, or that they just have some superpower. This is not magic. While all of these people are very talented, the secret to their preparedness is that they know what they’re going to say so well that they can say it without sounding rehearsed. The trick is preparation.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not recommending that you type up your speech up on a piece of paper and bring it up to the microphone with you. Chances are, you know what you want to say; it’s the delivery that needs the practice. If you don’t know what you want to say, start off by writing bullet points of what you hope to cover, not by writing your toast out in long-hand, because spoken word and written word have a vastly different ring to them.
Once you have your list of ideas down, start practicing. Practice in the car on the drive to work, in the bathroom mirror, or in the shower in the morning. Also consider using your cellphone to record your speech, because the benefits of hearing your pace and intonation and your successes and failures far outweigh that awkward feeling of hating the way your own voice sounds. Plus, recording youself will help make you more conscious of your use of filler words (“um,” “uhh,” “you know,” “like” etc.) so you can work on eliminating them from your speech. Start practicing a few weeks before the wedding. This will give you plenty of time to hammer out the kinks. By the time the wedding rolls around, you’ll know exactly what you want to say, but it won’t sound canned like you’re reading it off of a paper. This is because even though you know what you want to talk about and even the order of items you will address, you’ll still have to improvise the actual raw words like you do when you’re in a live conversation.
Consider your Audience, then Prepare your Speech for Them
A mistake that many novice toast-givers make is that they talk about the same things that they would talk about 1 on 1 with the bride or groom, or maybe within a small group of friends that includes the bride or groom. While these types of stories may bring back favorite memories for you and this select group of friends, the vast majority of people attending a wedding reception are not in your group of friends! That’s right, the crowd is made up of predominantly people you don’t know—the couple’s various grandparents and distant aunts and cousins, family friends, former babysitters, and so on. Even if the bride is your sister or the groom is your brother, the other half of the crowd is people who don’t know you very well. Believe it or not, these people probably won’t be as amused about that time the bride had a wardrobe malfunction on the way to your sorority formal, or that time the groom got SO WASTED.
So what’s the solution to this predicament? You must draw the crowd in with stories about the bride or groom that everybody can relate to. Talk about traits about them that everybody can see, or tell stories about what they were like when they were young. This brings even total strangers along for the ride and makes them feel like they are a part of the story. This way, once everybody can relate to you, they can all be a part of your inside jokes, effectively making them “outside jokes.”
Every good public speaker is a master of several important factors—pace, eye contact, confidence, volume, posture and use of gestures. A wedding toast is no different from this, except for that unlike many other venues for public speaking, you will probably not have a podium to use as a crutch. Podiums are the saving grace of many nervous public speakers because it gives them something to hold onto and helps them stop from nervously pacing or hunching over. Without the luxury of the podium, it is especially important that you are conscious of your posture and your nervous movements.
Your own nervousness can turn against you in many ways. If an audience can tell that a speaker is nervous, it makes them uncomfortable themselves. If the audience is uneasy, that makes them less likely to laugh at your jokes. And if the audience isn’t laughing at your jokes, that makes you even more uncomfortable. It’s a vicious cycle.
The trick to breaking this cycle is the microphone. Almost all wedding toasts involve a microphone, because the wedding DJs of the world know that the wedding toast is a part of almost every wedding reception. The microphone can help solve potential volume problems, but it also has another less obvious function as well—nervous hands and body language. Holding a microphone is great because it gives you something to occupy your nervous hands with, and simply focusing on the fact that you’re holding a microphone can often serve the greater purpose of distracting you from the fact that you’re speaking to a room full of people. The trick with the microphone is making sure you’re holding it close enough to your mouth. Gesture freely with your opposite hand, and if you’re feeling really nervous, it’s ok to temporarily grip the mic with both hands. The ability to gesture allows many people to speak more naturally as if they are having a conversation rather than addressing a crowd.
As far as eye contact goes, it is important that you look up and out at the audience but it is not a good idea for you look directly at anybody, because direct eye contact can cause you to lose your train of thought. Instead just look casually around the room, focusing especially on people who are far enough away from you that you can’t make eye contact with them, even if they’re looking right at you. Looking around the room helps put you at ease because you cans see the friendly, smiling faces who want to succeed, and they provide a barometer for the success of what you are saying by judging their reactions and body language. Positive feedback from the crowd can feed the energy of your speech, and negative feedback can let you know that maybe it’s time to shift gears or possibly just wrap things up.
Hit Both Major Genres of Wedding Toast
When most people think of wedding toasts, they think the toast must be either funny or heartfelt. Those focusing on a funny toast take little time to think about the serious side of the toast, and people who want to give a serious, heartfelt toast (or people who fear being unfunny in front of a crowd) think that they should avoid telling any jokes in their toast. The fact of the matter is, it is important to have components of each in your speech! Funny and heartfelt are so far away from each other that use of one can accentuate your use of the other.
For example, just because your story starts off with a funny anecdote about you and your brother dressing up as Batman and Robin as kids doesn’t mean there’s no place to describe how much you admire his relationship with his new wife. Likewise, if your speech is going to be a tear-jerker about remembering how you and your sister used to talk about her wedding day as little girls, don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little humor. Humor will help get the audience emotionally involved in the speech so that when you get to the heartfelt part, they’re going to admire you for being heartfelt all the more. And on the other side of the coin, being heartfelt will help the audience (and perhaps the bride or groom) forgive you for your sarcastic remarks about the way he or she acts or dresses, because the important part is how happy you are for the new couple.
The best man and the maid of honor’s toasts are no doubt one of the most fun parts of a wedding reception—a part that you will want to remember for the rest of your life! Flashbox Films captures all the important momements of a wedding, including the toasts, and puts them together in a cinematic production like you’ve never seen. Click here to learn more about how Flashbox Films departs from average wedding videography and leaves you with a product you will want to watch again and again.