13 Expert Tips to Help You Give a Stellar Toast at the Wedding

www.lesliebarbarophoto.comDid you know the number one fear people have is public speaking? Not death, not getting a gruesome illness — it’s the anxiety of talking in front of people. That’s pretty intense. Of course, toasts are tradition on the wedding day so we asked Rita Barber, the Immediate Past District 4 Governor at Toastmasters for some expert tips. “My whole thing in life has to do with watching people grow. In Toastmasters, itʼs just amazing to watch that happen. Iʼve learned so many different skills with Toastmasters that itʼs fun to work with people one-on-one or in small groups and know that Iʼm giving them information that absolutely does work and has been working for more than 90 years.” So for all of you maids of honor and best men out there who are kind of freaking out right now in anticipation of the big day, you can exhale and breathe a sigh of relief — we’ve got your speech style covered.

1. Realize that the audience wants to see you succeed.

Whenever we have to do something in front of people, regardless of what that may be, our first instinct is that our spectators can’t wait to be entertained by us falling flat on our face (figuratively and literally). Unfortunately, it’s just human nature to throw our defenses up by assuming the worst. So what can we do to remedy this? Well, Rita lets us in on a little secret, and it has everything to do with mindset. “People tend to think that others will look at them trying to find something wrong with what they have to say. On the other hand, they need to consider the fact that anybody who watches you speak is looking for you to succeed, if for no other reason so that they donʼt feel that their time has been wasted. So if you have something like a toast to do, you think of it in terms of just delivering that message to who the toast is for. If youʼre the Maid of Honor, just consider the fact that you are doing this toast mainly to honor your best friend or the couple thatʼs there, and donʼt worry about everybody else. If you know that everybody out there wants to see you succeed, then you will realize that they are your fans and your friends. You’re all in this together.” Mind over matter, folks!

2. Getting drunk beforehand is a bad idea.

Honestly, I don’t know a single person who is more articulate and coherent when they’re sloshed. Yes, I can understand that alcohol “loosens you up,” causing you to lose all inhibition … but let’s consider the fact that loss of inhibition may not be ideal in this scenario. Blurry vision, impaired motor skills, slurred speech…sounds like a recipe for disaster. But it’s understandable as to why someone would think a few shots before they get up to make their toast is acceptable. After all, the wedding day is highly emotional, so numbing your emotions with a bit of booze sounds enticing. However, our expert has to disagree. “When youʼre doing a toast at a wedding, this is a huge transition in a personʼs life; not only a huge transition in the lives of the people that are getting married, but if you’re the Maid of Honor or Best Man, itʼs a big shift in your life, too, because your relationship is definitely going to change, at least somewhat. When weʼre talking about this scenario, weʼre talking about something that is definitely much more emotional, and that makes a big difference. So, people need to not drink before they do it. Really. Just trust that you donʼt really need the alcohol to keep your emotions stable. Itʼs okay that the real you comes through, and if itʼs a little bit emotional, thatʼs fine, too.”

3. Be prepared!

You may think to yourself that on the day of the wedding, at that big moment where you get up before everyone, your words will just flow freely and spontaneously, full of love, adoration and confidence. It will be so natural! Your heart will do the talking! The guests will be melting over your words! While this may be true for some, it is extremely rare (unless you are an improvisation artist or something). Trust me, as soon as your heart starts palpitating or you get a nervous cramp, all those bullet points you had perfectly aligned in your head will be as scattered in your brain as the rice you threw on the lovebirds as they exited the ceremony. “Preparing ahead of time is key. Don’t wait until the last minute,” Rita encourages adamantly. “Part of the reason why someone has been selected to be the Maid of Honor or Best Man is knowing that person is going to give a speech. So make it a point to know that youʼre going to prepare ahead of time.” And what’s an excellent way to do this? Index cards! “Itʼs especially great to have an index card because you can put it in your pocket, you can flip it into your purse, etc. Hopefully, you wonʼt really need to use those notes when you do the toast, but theyʼre more or less your security blanket. So if you do need them, theyʼre right there and you can feel a little more secure about it.” So just take a few minutes and write out a general outline on an index card. If everything is as free-flowing as it was in your fantasies, then that’s amazing! But if not, at least you have that safety net.

4. Practice aloud ahead of time…especially in front of a friend.

Again, preparation is key. Practicing in front of a mirror alone is great, but it can only provide you with a reflection, and what you really need is feedback (and unless you are the Evil Queen from Snow White, I highly doubt you are getting any helpful advice from your “mirror, mirror on the wall”). You may have it down pat in solitude, but just one pair of eyes on you will be a game-changer. “Practicing gives you an opportunity to figure out where your weak spots might be in terms of breath. I always suggest put more breathing pauses in than you may actually need because when youʼre actually up there, you may get very nervous, have a case of the butterflies and your whole breathing may become much more shallow. So having more spots where you can breathe not only will give you more security, but it will also help you if you do get that last case of the nerves.” Seriously, do not put the kibosh on practicing in front of your friend, even if you may be afraid of harsh criticism. Not only will they give you helpful suggestions, but they may actually tell you they really liked something you said in your toast, giving you that extra boost of confidence you need to make an impression at the wedding. “In Toastmasters, we have this thing called the Toastmasters Sandwich, where we teach people how to share something about someone that they did that was good, then share something that could be an opportunity for improvement, and then to finish up with the thing that you liked the most about what someone did or said.”

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5. Think (and think again) about your word choice.

There is nothing worse than something you thought was sweet and endearing in your toast being misinterpreted as offensive and ballsy. You do not want to catch yourself saying “Wait, but that’s not what I meant!” to any guests after you deliver your toast, especially the couple of the hour. So, phrasing and word choice is extremely important when presenting your toast. Don’t think so? Rita shares an anecdote with us that will change your mind. “I remember one time somebody said something at a woman’s wedding, she was about 39-years-old. Her sister who was doing the speech said, ‘and now, finally …’ and when I heard that I thought ‘ouch … finally?’, thatʼs not a good word to use! So you want to think about some of the phrasing that you use so that it doesnʼt make the couple look shoddy.” Amen, Rita! Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the couple.

6. Steer clear of inside jokes.

Inside jokes are okay if you and the people on the inside are the only ones at the wedding. However, I think it’s safe to say that most guests there will be on the outside of your joke, and who likes to feel ostracized? Not I. Not the guests. There are plenty of opportunities for inside jokes other than in your toast (in the sentimental gifts you give the couple, the card, etc.). “You donʼt want to share inside jokes that nobody else is going to understand, because thatʼs kind of a poor thing to do,” Rita concurs. On the wedding day, the point is to include everyone in the couple’s happiness, creating one entity of love, support and togetherness. So, your toast should maintain that uplifting feeling!

7. Never, EVER bring up exes! (Ever!!!)

You may think this goes without saying, but you’d be surprised. If you’re one of those people who is shocked that this tip is even in here, then congratulations — you are already well on your way to giving an incredible toast! “Donʼt ever bring up ex-beaus or girlfriends or anything … donʼt do that. It just doesn’t belong there. Think more in terms of how you can speak in a way where youʼre honoring those two right there.” Yes. The day is about this couple, not the couple back in high school. Plus, if you slip and say something about an ex that you think is common knowledge and then find out later that it certainly is not (and furthermore, embarrassed one of the newlyweds), well, then “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!” 

8. Don’t feel pressured to be funny. 

It’s really staggering how many people think that the Maid of Honor/Best Man toast is a comedy act. Of course, everyone loves to laugh, but there will be plenty of instances throughout the joy-filled day when you will have hysterical, memorable moments. If on-cue humor is not your niche, take the opportunity to just do you. “It’s not easy to be funny,” Rita assures us. “If funny is not your thing, then be sweet instead. Be nice. Be kind. If you are funny, thatʼs wonderful, but be sure that youʼre thinking about it in terms of it being well-mannered and in good taste.” Let Rita’s pearl of wisdom forever ring loudly in your ear: “If you wouldnʼt share this with your friendʼs grandmother, then donʼt share it at the wedding.” Good rule to live by, in general. “Donʼt feel like you have to open with a joke…thatʼs a big one too. Itʼs better just to lead with some warm thought and make it heartfelt. You just have to be sincere.”

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9. Make the toast about the couple as an entity … not just one person.

Often times, you may find yourself a bit in the dark about your best friend’s new spouse, or just not really knowing him or her on that deep of a level in general. That’s ok, though — every couple’s love story and journey is unique and different, and you were chosen to be their Maid of Honor/Best Man because you are their number one fan. The key is to direct your toast to both people equally in the couple. “If you donʼt know one of the people in the couple, take the time to get to know a little bit more, or share a little bit more about what you know in regards to both of them, not just one person.” The couple is beginning this next phase in their lifelong journey together, and you should think of your toast as a loving send-off to both of them as a package deal.

10. Start off strong!

There is nothing that will turn people off faster than if the first sentence out of your mouth when you stand up is: “Um, ha! Well, then … anyway … here we are!” You want to start off with a bang! Our expert even recommends to skip the introduction and just dive in to sharing what you want to share about the beloved couple. “I would say that the opening bit that you do, that opening sentence — thatʼs gonna put you in a place where either everyoneʼs going to listen to you right away or theyʼre going to tune you out. From thereafter, you basically created a platform for yourself where theyʼll listen to the entire toast, or theyʼll just wonder when someone is going to give them some more Champagne.” Well, you certainly don’t want the latter, do you? After you put all that effort into preparing ahead of time and writing your bullet points on your index cards? Didn’t think so!

11. Less is more.

Ah, ye olde timeless proverb … so applicable and always true. You want your toast to be a good length. Not too short to the point where it’s lacking in substance, but also not dragging on and on. To reiterate, yes, you are in the spotlight for a few minutes, but it’s not your Broadway debut. It’s about the couple! “Less is definitely more, so go for that, and then finish it up on a high note. Lift that glass up high so that everybody will do the same!” Just have that strong opening line, followed by the sincere, loving and supportive points you want to make. Follow that formula and you will be golden!

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12. If you think you’ve messed up, just let it go.

If you think you have made a mistake during your toast, said something out of line or skipped a bullet point (that was written on your index card), don’t fret. Only you know if you made a mistake. The wedding guests aren’t in your head, and chances are they didn’t even notice your slip-up. “Just move on and complete your toast. Donʼt go backwards on it. If thereʼs something you feel youʼve said accidentally that mightʼve been offensive to someone, most importantly the newlyweds, then go over and say something to them afterwards, but make it a one-on-one kind of thing. I think the biggest thing is that no one is in your brain, so nobody really knows if you skipped a bullet point or if you used a word that you really didnt want to use, so just let it go.” The worst thing you can do is apologize in the middle of your toast for a mistake that is probably not even a big deal. Then you will have guests wondering what it is you apologized for instead of focusing on your heartfelt words.

13. Get away from the misconception that imagining the guests in their underwear is at all soothing.

I have no idea who came up with the tactic that envisioning the audience sans clothing will ease your nerves, but it’s pretty funny how often you hear this in public performance situations. I mean, come on, let’s use common sense here. Just think about the guests who are going to be at this wedding … are these people you really want to imagine in their tighty-whiteys? (Hi, Grandpa!) Rita has to agree with us once again on this one. “I donʼt believe that whatsoever, oh my gosh! I really donʼt. I guess for me, I’d ask myself if I really want to see that image. Well, I just donʼt think so.” Neither do we, Rita. Neither do we.

Photo credits: Photo one from Bradley and Trevor’s Charismatic New Jersey Wedding, photography by Leslie Barbaro Photography; Photo two from Elena and Lindsey’s Catskill Resort Wedding, photography by Alexis June Weddings; Photo three from Chris and Rachel’s Star-Themed Wedding, photography by Suzanne Rothmeyer; Photo four from Kaitlin and Taryn’s Music-Themed Wedding, photography by Justine Johnson; Photo five from Joel and Mike’s Cozy Catskill Wedding, photography by Ali Rosa Photography

 

shannenWith a degree in Vocal Performance from The Hartt School of Music, Shannen is always seeking to infuse her greatest passions together: music, theatre, love, food and writing. She has always been intrigued by human interaction and what ignites that initial, very special spark between two people. Coffee is just as vital to her as water, and her closet is saturated with leopard print clothing and accessories.

 

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