Bad News for Best Men and Maids of Honor – How To Give an Amazing Wedding Toast
We all do it.
We comment, we judge, we criticize – friends, food, celebrities, houses, pets, gardens – you name it. We can’t help but share our two cents on, well, just about everything. And weddings? Well they’re the perfect target.
And we’ve all sat through dozens of wedding speeches, but can probably only recall one or two as being truly remarkable. Today people almost expect wedding toasts to be generic and forgettable, so as the best man or maid of honor, the odds are stacked against you. Not exactly a fun thing to have hanging over your head as the wedding day approaches.
The good news is, you don’t have to be the funniest or most charismatic person to give a memorable speech. If you’re anything like me, you abhor the thought of public speaking and avoid it like the plague. But if you approach this process it the right way. (because let’s be honest, there’s no better feeling then getting up there to support your loved ones – and absolutely crushing it), you can absolutely deliver a killer toast.
So here are some things to think about if you want your best man or maid of honor toast to be smooth, entertaining and memorable.
PART 1: CONTENT
Give yourself time to prepare: There’s a reason why people spend months slaving over and rehearsing for TED talks. It’s so hard to craft a talk that’ memorable, impactful and entertaining and cram it into less than 19 minutes. An endeavor like that requires A LOT of writing, rewriting, tweaking, re-tweaking, timing and re-timing the material. In other words, unless you’re a seasoned public speaking veteran, you should probably skip any attempt to speak off the cuff and instead, write your talk out from start to finish. So while you don’t have to plan your talk for months and months, do give yourself a solid couple of weeks to prepare.
Keep it Short: We live in a world where people get their news in 140 characters or less, watch 30 second video soundbites, and hit the back button if a piece of content fails to capture their interest. So it’s no surprise that people’s attention spans are shorter than ever (says the person who is writing a 1000+ word post :-). Keep things short and thoughtful (4-6 minutes is a good target) so that you don’t lose your audience to their neighbor, the bar, or their smartphone.
Start With Your One (or Two) Things That You Want to Get Across: A lot of people don’t know where to begin or what to talk about. It’s hard to boil years of friendship into a few minutes, but if you want this process to go smoothly, think about the one or two themes, qualities, stories or ideas that you want to convey, that you think best represents the bride, groom or their relationship.
Put Yourself in the Audience’s Shoes. Ask yourself -“what would they want to hear about?”. Think about what you’ve liked and disliked about speeches that you’ve heard in the past, and then keep that perspective in mind as you piece together the ideas and things that you want to share.
Lead Off With a Killer Introduction: Your introduction should do two things: 1. Let the audience know who you are and 2. Command their attention. It’s your way of saying to the group “I have something interesting to say and I’d like you to listen”, so make sure your first 3-4 sentences make an impression. Skip lines such as “I’m really nervous”, “I wasn’t sure what to say” or anything to let the audience know that you’re uncomfortable and uncertain. It’ll only make the audience uncomfortable. Introductions are never easy, but if there’s anything you want to really spend time on and think about, it’s the first 30-60 seconds of your speech.
Tell Stories: People respond to stories. They like narratives and characters over facts. As you prepare your toast, start with the qualities you want to share about the bride or groom, and then choose a story or two that conveys them. In other words, instead of saying “Brett is the funniest person I know and we can spend hours and hours talking and laughing”, tell the story about the time he showed up to his 30th birthday party dressed as Elvis.
Talk About the Spouse: Half of your audience will come from the opposite side of the wedding party, so don’t make your toast one-sided. Tell a short story or add a heartfelt comment about the spouse.
Skip the Inside Jokes: All this will do is make the audience feel excluded and disconnected, which is the opposite of what a good speech should accomplish. Do not talk about things that only two people in the room will understand. And it goes without saying, but please leave out anything that guests might take offense to or feel uncomfortable or awkward listening to. That means no drunk or naked stories, tales of ex loves or sneaking out of parents’ houses at 4am.
Use Transitions: You’ll probably have several stories and points that you will want to get across seamlessly. Be sure to make use of effective transitions to move from one idea to the next. Incorporate bridge words (also, however, which reminds me of) or pause for a moment to create that connection between ideas. Don’t be afraid of switching stories or sentences around as you’re working through your draft and seeing what works.
Close with Something Sentimental and Heartfelt: You’ve captivated the audience, delivered a short, narrative-style, entertaining toast, and now you can tie it all together with a tug at the heartstrings conclusion. Go ahead – make them cry, raise your glass and toast to the happy couple.
Note: If you are the type of person who would rather jump off of a building than speak in front of an audience, then by all means, keep your toast ultra brief but sincere. Introduce yourself, perhaps read a poem or a quote, say something sincere and heartfelt, and raise your glass to the bride and groom.
Don’t Read Your Speech: The key to making this all work is practice, practice, and more practice and I can’t emphasize this enough. Rehearse the speech to a point where you are so comfortable with the material that you can deliver it flawlessly without even having to think about. That way, you don’t hang onto that little piece of paper as a crutch and instead, you can make eye contact with the crowd, the bride and the groom and let your personality shine through.
Ask for Help: As difficult and vulnerable as it is to ask for help, or worse yet, feedback, it’s a critical part of making sure that what you have to say can be understood and enjoyed by the audience. Remember, this isn’t a speech for you, it’s a speech for them and the perspective of another person can help you make sure that you’re not just saying things that the audience will resonate with, but saying it in a way that’s entertaining and smooth.
Practice, Practice and Practice. I can’t emphasize this enough. Very few people are able. Watch TED talks. Watch Tony Robbins talk and pay attention to why they’re such great public speakers.
The first step is making the decision to stand out. So rise up to the challenge. You just might surprise even yourself!
Lead image credit: Iloveswmag