Our lives are full of joyous occasions that are appropriately marked by a few words. Toasts are a great cultural tradition that help pay tribute to special people on such occasions. However, giving a toast isn’t as easy as scrawling down a few words in an email. Have you ever been to a rehearsal dinner, or other gathering of celebration, and felt embarrassment, shock, or just general awkwardness in the room because of a toast that was being given? Have you ever found yourself being called upon to give a toast at a gathering only to realize that you were unsure how to express your thoughts or deal with the pressure of being in the spotlight? If so, you’re not alone. However, the truth is that toasting does not have to be painful or difficult.
It is currently wedding season among my friends and I. I know winter time is not traditionally thought of as wedding season, but for many of us in our twenties “wedding season” is a season of life. In the last three years I’ve been a groomsmen in six weddings and attended many more. During the next five weeks, the only weekend that I won’t be attending a wedding is Christmas weekend. I also know many girls who have deemed themselves “perpetual bridesmaids” because they’re going through this same rhythm.
All of this is great because I love weddings and marriage. I love seeing the early phases of my friends’ relationships, watching their love and care for each other grow, being present on the day when they commit themselves to someone for life, and journeying with them through the joys and difficulties of marriage.
Yet, in the midst of all this love and joy there is one thing I dislike: painful rehearsal dinners. Rehearsal dinners are often times when the couple about to be married invites those who are most influential in their lives to share an evening with them. At these dinners, there is usually a time for toasts from those in attendance who would like to raise their glass and offer special words to the couple. I’ve been to dinners where guests were filled with joy as toasts were offered. I’ve been to dinners where guests were teary-eyed because of the special toasts that were shared. And I’ve been to one too many dinners where at least once everyone looked around at each other with that look on their face — that look that silently asks, “Can you believe he just said that?! Someone should go grab the microphone now before it gets worse.”
I’ll likely attend many more weddings in the future. Actually, I’m sure of it, and I want to help prevent the reality of painful rehearsal dinners. Throughout my wedding experiences I’ve learned a number of things — many of them by trial and error — that have helped me move towards confidence while giving a toast. Admittedly, many of these tips are based on personal preferences. However, I want to offer them as advice that may serve you well:
Five things to avoid:
- Speaking when it is not appropriate. “I dated Jessica for three years in high school and she was an amazing part of my life. Then she met her future-groom, Jerry, when we went to different colleges.” Awkward. Often times at gatherings, toasts will be opened up to the room. Be sensitive to the setting and let those closest to the people being celebrated speak first. At weddings, this typically means that the wedding party and family should speak first and if there is time then others may step forward. Just because you’re in attendance doesn’t mean you have to speak.
- “Being led to speak.” “I wasn’t going to speak tonight but….” If you were not planning on speaking before the event and amazingly after a few drinks you are “feeling led” to, then you probably shouldn’t.
- Groups. Girl 1: “I lived with Jessica for three years.” Girl 2: “Me too.” Girl 1: “We had a lot of fun.” Girl 2: “Yeah we had some awesome times!” We’ve all seen the groups of girls who play hot-potato with the microphone and it is often distracting and a bad way to cover up nervousness. If a few people have shared experiences with the person being toasted, they should consider electing one person to speak on behalf of the group.
- No inside jokes, sports analogies, or standup routines.“Jessica, remember that time in Destin?? I hope you don’t do that after you’re married!!” Yes, Jessica may remember that time. But everyone else in the room has no idea what y’all are talking about and now they’ve stopped listening. In Toasts and Tributes, the authors remind people to make sure that everyone will be able to understand and appreciate any stories told.”Jerry, getting married is like the fourth quarter of the SEC championship.” After a line like this everyone immediately cringes. Is he going to compare Jerry’s bride to Cam Newton? No. There is relief because he only compares her to a trophy instead. And that is still horrible.A toast isn’t a time to do a stand up comedy routine or intentionally ridicule someone. The focus should be on the person being toasted, not you.
- Lists of more than three things. “Jerry, there is fifteen things you should know about living with Jessica. First…” Three things is sufficient if you’re going to go this classic wedding toast route. If you have more, there is always email.
Five things to remember:
- Be prepared. If you are a member of the wedding party, or one of the closest friends to the person being celebrated, you should be ready to speak. Think about it before hand, make a few notes, keep them in your pocket, and pull them out if your mind blanks while giving the toast.
- Be concise. A good toast should be concise and to the point. Toasts and Tributes summarizes this well when the authors write that a toast need not be epic in length, for “usually a few well-thought out words are more effective than an extended tribute would be.”
- Think you’ll cry? You will. While preparing, if you think you will probably cry while speaking then you probably will. And that’s okay. Pause, take as much time as you need, and continue on. There is no need to continually apologize for it.
- Grandmother test. “And Jerry, that first time we smoked weed was….” If you don’t think the person being celebrated would appreciate the words or anecdote you share being heard by their grandmother, then you probably shouldn’t offer them in public. This test is one of the easiest ways to determine if what you’re planning to say is appropriate.
- The Formula. There is a formula that I’ve often used when I’ve been unsure of how to organize my thoughts. It is actually a formula that is derived from writing Collect Prayers. However, it works well for toasts:
You- First, the toast should be directed specifically towards the person/people in the room who are being celebrated.
Who- Here, talk briefly about your relationship with the person, their character, and possibly include a brief anecdote.
Do — Given the occasion, what do you hope that the person does in the future? Have a successful marriage, a smooth job transition, or what?
Extend your glass.
You — Jerry and Jessica,
Who — I’ve greatly enjoyed watching your relationship grow throughout our time at college. From your first date until now I’ve seen how y’all care for each other and others so well. I’ll never forget the time I was sick during exams and you both visited me, brought me food, and helped pick up my work packets for me. Y’all helped me get through a rough patch and for that I am ever grateful.
Do — I hope that this care for others continues as you grow closer together in marriage, and that your care and love for each other would grow as well as you grow old.
Extend your glass.
Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect toast. However, my hope is that these general guidelines will help you feel better prepared to celebrate your loved ones and avoid the anxiety often associated with toasts.
Have you heard any painful toasts or toasts that you thought were exceptional? I’d love to hear about them.