Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of wedding speeches & toasts. Some of them have been truly wonderful, making me laugh and cry. Some of them have been not so fabulous, making me stare at my watch, wondering how I’m going to make up the time, and some have had me cringing due to embarrassment. I really want to help you make sure that the toasts at your wedding are as amazing as you deserve. So, I came up with this handy collection of tips to pass along to your chosen speakers.
It’s an honor and a privilege to be invited to give a toast at a wedding. Here’s how to do it with grace and style.
THE ANATOMY OF A WEDDING SPEECH
1. Introduce yourself & your relationship to the couple.
2.. Provide an anecdote about the couple
(i.e. how they met, how you met them, a challenge they got through, how you knew they were meant to be, etc.). Try to stay away from solely talking about the couple as individuals – even though it’s likely you know one half of the couple much better than the other, this is THEIR wedding – it’s a celebration of their commitment to one another – honor that by speaking about the two of them and their amazing relationship.
3. Tell the couple your wish for them
Whether it’s a traditional blessing or just a wish for many happy years together, here’s where you convey a touching sentiment to the couple. Also, tread lightly when it comes to wishing them a zillion adorable babies – do so only if you know that starting a family is something they’re planning on doing.
4. Cheers! (Here’s the actual toast!)
“L’chaim”, “Salud”, “To the happy couple”, etc. – raise your glass and toast!
That’s it! Go hug the couple who is beaming because you just gave a clear, concise, heartfelt speech that didn’t last an hour or embarrass anyone. Then go have fun!
SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS
DON’T LOSE THE CROWD!
There are two surefire ways to have people paying more attention to their salad than to you.
The first common mistake that speakers make is to run through a ton of inside jokes and stories about the half of the couple that they’re representing. A brief anecdote is fine, but a history of your relationship with the person isn’t. You have to remember, this speech is not about you. It’s not about how well you know the bride/groom. It’s not about that time when you and the groom played on the same soccer team in second grade. It’s not about the bride’s first day of school. Save that stuff for milestone birthdays. This speech is about the couple, their beautiful commitment to one another, and their future happiness. *Parents get a bit of a pass on this one – it’s your baby’s big day, so of course it’s natural for you to want to tell a story about when they were a child – just remember to include his/her spouse in there somewhere! And for the siblings or friends who speak – please keep in mind that the people gathered in front of you are the family, friends, and colleagues of the couple – they’re from all walks of life and they’re all different ages. Don’t give a speech that alienates any of these groups. This takes topics such as sex, past relationships, wild parties, nudity and adult humor off the table.
*Think about your speech and examine whether it will fluster the 80 year olds or be inappropriate for the 8 year olds. If you’re thinking it might, rewrite!
Another way to have everyone staring longingly at the dance floor paying you no mind is to speak for too long. We’ve all been to a wedding where someone or another gets up and turns a simple toast into a one-man/woman show. If Abraham Lincoln was able to deliver The Gettysburg Address in just over 2 minutes – you should be able to give a heartfelt wedding toast in just about the same amount of time. Think about it this way, it’s unlikely that you’re the only person speaking at the reception – most of the couples I work with have about 4-5 speakers (a parent or two from each side, plus an honor attendant a piece). If each of those speakers came in with a 10-15 minute speech, we’re looking at a solid hour of sitting. And sitting. And sitting. Most receptions are only four hours long, and no one wants to spend a quarter of the night on their rear-end listening to speeches – not even the couple! It’s not a corporate seminar – it’s a party, and I guarantee you, everyone wants to eat, drink, and dance!
*Time yourself when rehearsing. If you’re really worried about it, designate someone in the audience to keep an eye on the time and give you a signal when it’s time to wrap it up. I’ve done this for people, and it’s a whole lot nicer than bringing out that big old vaudeville cane to yank someone off the floor.
DON’T BE SNARKY
Often the people doing the speaking are already married (sometimes divorced), and a little jaded, or single and disillusioned with commitment. I can’t tell you how many speeches I’ve seen where the speaker takes a stab at married life… Please! Don’t do that! This marriage is all shiny and new – don’t be the one to put a dent in the glow.
*Save the snark for their ten year anniversary party!
DON’T BE OVERLY ANYTHING! (DRUNK, WEEPY, GIGGLY, DRAMATIC, ETC.)
I always try to have my couples schedule their speeches early in the event, because a drunken speaker is never a good speaker. If you’re speaking at a wedding, please, take it slow during cocktail hour. After your speech, you’ll have several hours to enjoy the champagne and specialty cocktails!
Wedding days are full of seriously strong emotion – not just for the couple but for their friends and family. Odds are you will be running on little sleep and lots of adrenaline mixed with champagne (but hopefully not too much – see above). Don’t let your moment with the microphone be the moment that you break down in tears or an uncontrollable giggle fit. If you’re known to be a crier, keep your speech light – write the mushy stuff in the card! And if you get a case of the “Church Giggles”, think of something sad. And practice! Practice! Practice! Run through your speech as many times as you can – so that you get a little desensitized to the words.
DON’T GO ROGUE
You are not JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, etc. In other words, use notes. You worked hard preparing this speech – you don’t want to forget it. No one will fault you for bringing notes. It’s a wedding – not an open mic night or an audition for anything. Most likely the couple has spent months and months carefully planning and crafting their wedding day. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the speakers to spend a bit of time preparing and practicing his/her remarks. As Mark Twain once said, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” So, make some time in your schedule to write a thoughtful speech and then run through it several times before the big moment.
Try to enjoy your moment in the spotlight! Be confident, and smile! You’re going to nail it!