Wedding Toasts and Speeches
Hello. My name is Aaron Wheeler. I work for a large company. Because of my job, I’m used to giving presentations and speeches all the time. Somehow, over the course of the last 3 years, I’ve been asked to speak 8 times at weddings, and have attended numerous black tie events on behalf of my company.
I get asked a lot how I’d recommend one do this sort of thing, and friends kept saying “you should put together a book or something on speaking for weddings and other events”. One day I took them seriously, and voila! Here you are. I hope I can provide you with the tips and tricks I use when giving a speech, in hopes that it helps you prepare better for your big event.
The Wedding Toast
You’d be surprised how simple this seems in your head, but how crazy it can be when you actually go to do it. When the subject of how to give wedding toasts and speeches comes up in conversation, I find people often say “it’ll just be a quick thing,” which is true, it is. But, and I stress that I don’t want to worry you here, because I’ll show you soon that there’s nothing to worry about, but I stress you do need to think about it in advance. I have so many colleagues that let the fear of speaking convince them that they’ll put it off until they’re in the car on the way to the wedding, which is not the best place to prepare, because as we’ll see, you can get something out okay if you’re good at speaking, but you won’t likely get it as well as you could have.
A toast is like a farewell and a hello all in one. It’s a recognition of the best of times, and it lets the person you’re toasting, as well as the audience, know that there’s something good in them you appreciate.
Q: What if they don’t laugh?
A: They don’t have to. Some people want their toasts to be funny, and worry that it won’t come across that way. If you’re not a great public speaker, my advice to you is simply not try shoot for this. Really. A wedding toast is just as good if not better when it comes from the heart and is not funny. Only try to get really funny if you’re comfortable about it and that’s how your personality is normally.
My formula for the perfect toast is as follows: It’s a reflection on good times, a look ahead to a bright future, and a salute to the person.
Here’s the details of what I am describing above:
The reflection: This is the easy part. Wedding toasts and speeches start by telling a story. Feel as relaxed as you can, and tell it in your own words, about what happened in the past with you and the person/one of the persons you’re toasting. (If you’re toasting a couple, its perfectly okay to tell a story about a time you had with the person in the couple you know).
The look to the future:
Here’s a key tip that I learned from Dale Carnegie training that I fit to use in wedding toasts and speeches when talking about the person I’m toasting. It’s called a “crowned compliment”. Paint a bright picture of the person’s future by reflecting on one of their personal characteristics revealed in the story you just told about their past. Phrase it beginning with “I appreciate _(name)_ because he/she is _(characteristic) ”.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be something you specifically mentioned in the story, but is usually rather something you infer about them because of their actions in the story. Remember: just like people don’t want to hear about the dark side of humanity in jokes, paint it as bright as you can. For women, make it something feelings based, like loving, caring, selfless. For men, you can throw in a tiny hint of macho, but not too much. Examples might be: vigilant, protector of his family, lifelong friend and selfless father.
Example for a woman: “I love Karen so much because she is someone who is always there for you.”
Example for a man: “I really appreciate Tom because he is a selfless individual and a rare friend.”
This is the final chunk. This is what you usually associate with the actual toast. You typically start out with “So let’s all raise our glasses to…” Now, just fill in the blank with that characteristic from your look to the future, slightly restated.
Another tip: Feel free to word this toast as if came from the behalf of everyone in the room, not just from yourself. The audience wants to express the same great feelings you do to the person, and welcome you articulating them on their behalf.
Example: “Let’s all raise our glasses to one of the best fathers and friends we’ve known.”
Preparation for Wedding Toasts and Speeches
The absolute best way to prepare for wedding toasts and speeches is as follows:
1. Rehearse in your head, using the rules I’ll show you below
2. Keep adding to what you have until you feel you have enough material. (More to come)
3. Practice. Take a step outside your comfort zone…and this is a big step…and do it in front of a friend. If this sounds too much, that’s okay, but try to at a minimum give at least the outline to a friend over the phone. You will be amazed at what you’ll realize you left or need to change when your mindset truly switches to the delivery rather than running it in your head. They are totally different, and to really get it, you need to deliver it to a live human being. If you can’t do that, at least find a mirror and deliver it to yourself.
What’s important here is that you’re not trying to rehearse and memorize word for word. This is impossible, and when tried sounds fumbled and nervous 99.999% of the time. What you’re doing is thinking of the general topics you’ll be bouncing from, one to the other, and in what order, weaving in feelings as required.
Speaking of feelings…a word about jokes:
There is a time and place for humor in a wedding toast, but it is recommended that unless you think of yourself as a good communicator already as you read this, you leave this idea alone.
If you are, or are just really gutsy, here’s what I’d recommend: Little TINY jobs are okay, and usually more acceptable when directed at men. NEVER, under ANY circumstances make a joke about a woman’s physical characteristics, including weight, height, hair color, etc. Don’t talk about her family or personal relationships with friends either. Also, don’t use anything in a joke, no matter how funny it seems in the moment you think of it, that hints that a person may have characteristics from the “dark side” of humanity. Think of the seven deadly sins here. Greed, sloth, obesity, etc. This may sound hilarious when you think it up, but at the wedding, people’s mindset will be on happiness. It will be on love. They will be reflecting very deeply on their own relationships and whatever feelings are tied to them. On this one particular type of day, they DON’T want to be reminded of people’s capacity to be anything less than perfect.