As we find ourselves in the midst of wedding season, we will all, no doubt, encounter some memorable wedding toasts and also be subject to some painful ones. While being asked to speak at your friend’s wedding is an incredible honor, it may also raise your anxiety level of speaking in front of a large group of people. Here’s a quick guide to help you give a great wedding toast.
- Make it heartfelt. Find the strongest positive emotions you have about your friend getting married, and use that as a starting point. In general, you want your wedding toast to be light and relevant to the two people getting married (this is not the time for your soapbox on the latest political issue!). A little roasting is fine, but make sure your friend has a good enough sense of humor to handle it. After all, it is your friend’s special day, so picking a topic that he or she is overly sensitive about may put a damper on the mood.
- Keep it short. A good wedding speech will typically last between 1-3 minutes. Many weddings run on a tight schedule, so if you don’t know what your time allocation is, be sure to ask your friend ahead of time. Keep in mind you will have two audiences at the wedding: 1) the two people getting married, and 2) the wedding guests. While a laundry list of inside jokes may be fun for you and your friend, it can leave the new spouse feeling left out and bore the wedding guests to tears. It is a rare speaker who can captivate his audience for more than 3 minutes at a time. If you’re still speaking after 5 minutes, understand that no one is listening anymore, and instead, they’re probably praying for you to relinquish the microphone so that they can get back to eating, drinking and dancing.
- Structure your speech. Even in a short speech, people want to know that you have a point. Perhaps you’d like to give the spouse (or the audience) an idea of what your friend was like before the couple met. Maybe you have a funny, relevant story from childhood. Or you could be emphasizing what a great match the two are for each other. Whatever direction your speech takes, make sure the speech is held together by a common theme and effective transitions from one point to the next.
- Practice! You don’t need to over-rehearse, but don’t wing it either. Run through your whole speech a few times while recording yourself, having a friend record you, or standing in front of a mirror. Pay particular attention to your movement, eye contact and yes, your filler words. Beware that any words or phrases that you use repetitively – “um,” “uh,” “so,” “basically,” “kinda,” “I think,” “actually,” “you know,” “I mean,” “really,” and even phrases like “thank you” – will distract your audience and detract from your message. Moreover, do you really want the audience to start playing a drinking game based on your filler words? Instead of using a filler word, take a breath and pause – the split second silence will give your audience a break so they can stay with you and keep listening.
- Don’t drink excessively. It’s fine to have a glass of your favorite beverage if that helps you loosen the nerves, but keep it to one and save the rest of the drinks for after your speech. Drinking excessively before your toast may make you feel confident, but it will make you far more likely to go off script, say something embarrassing, or slur your words. Remember that many couples will have a videographer to capture their precious moments, including the wedding toasts, so make sure yours is memorable for the right reasons!
Cheers to a Great Wedding Toast!