The wedding toast is an interesting beast and it can be hard to know what tone to set. With a mix of formal and casual atmospheres, a wedding reception doesn’t really have any comparable equivalents. This means that it is easy to accidentally go too far down either path and end up being inappropriate or boring. No need to fret. As the owner of a professional wedding reception venue, I have witnessed literally thousands of wedding reception toasts – the good, the bad and the awkward. So, if you’re putting pen to paper for someone’s special day, here is a quick and easy guide to getting it right every time:
DO - Size up your Subjects (and your audience)
You’ve been asked to make an important speech and you want to make it great. Before you do anything, think about who has asked you to make this speech. Think about the person they are marrying. Think about the dynamics of their relationship and think about the audience – who will be in attendance.
Ask yourself - is the bride’s family super traditional? If so, maybe this is not the time to share those embarrassing stories about their relationship. Is one of the two a tad jealous? Don’t mention any past relationships (pretty solid tip across the board, actually). If you have doubts about any points you’re going to cover, run it by the bride and/or groom. You never know what could be a sore spot, and those are areas you want to avoid at all costs.
DON’T - Tell stories just because they are funny
All friendships have those stories that when reminisced upon, they end up in hysterical fits. A wedding reception is not the time for these stories. Inject humor into the toast and share a funny story or two, but make it relevant to the happy couple’s relationship. Sure, you may receive plenty of laughs from your friends and family, but you’ve been asked to make a speech at a celebration of two people's relationship. Try and make what you say more aligned with that, rather than a string of funny anecdotes.
DO - Stay sober
Sounds a bit obvious? You wouldn’t think so if you had seen as many intoxicated wedding parties as I have. The main concern for most people is that public speaking is intimidating. And the compounding issue is, at most weddings, alcohol is free. While one or two drinks might ease your fears, there is a delicate line between that and slurring, rambling, repeating yourself and forgetting what you were saying. In most of the big train wreck speeches I have seen, alcohol is the main culprit. There is plenty of celebrating to be had once the formalities are over. Save yourself for then.
DON’T - Go on for too long
Remember, quality over quantity. You don’t have to talk long in order to have an impact. Some of the most memorable wedding toasts I’ve ever heard have been under two minutes. However, that is not a timeframe suggestion - in fact unless you are really confident, try and shoot for five minutes. Once you start hitting the 10-15 minute mark, you’re going to have lost most of your audience.
It’s very possible that the bride and groom are still wrapped up in everything you are saying (most people are when you’re speaking exclusively about them) but they also want to be hosting a wedding reception people remember as fun. Long speeches are a surefire way to make the fun fizzle. A tip - make sure your speech has an arc with a beginning, middle and end that everyone can follow. Time yourself a couple of times the night before. For more information on timing, check out this great resource.
DO - Pay attention to structure
As mentioned: a beginning, middle and an end are essential for a speech to have an impact. This may sound a little intimidating but when you understand it, writing a toast with structure can be an easy task to accomplish. Just decide - what do you want it to be about. Some ideas to keep in mind:
- How the bride and groom have become better since being together
- How you could tell this relationship was different from all the others
- What you admire about the bride and groom’s relationship
Whatever you decide, adding structure to that idea is simple:
- Beginning: Introduce the idea
- Middle: Give context to the idea in the form of events and conversations
- End: Tie it all together with a simple conclusion
You’ll be surprised at how effective this technique can be. For a bit more information check out Nancy Duarte’s TED Talk on the subject. This technique is not the only way to prepare a great reception toast, but it is a proven method that can really bring the house down.
DON’T - Take it too seriously
Despite all I’ve said above, this day is a day of celebration. People want to dance, drink and be merry, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Unless you feel it conflicts too much with the first ‘DO’ in this article, be lighthearted. But also be heartfelt. In the end, make sure you are having a good time - because that’s when you are most likely to do your best work.
So there you have it – six foolproof do’s and dont’s to get any first timer through their first wedding reception toast. Write them down on a piece of paper in big capital letters, lock yourself in a room, start your first draft and I’m sure you’ll come away with a memorable speech in no time.