Wedding Toast 101

A few years ago my two best friends got married six weeks apart, and I was the maid of honor in both. So I spent a lot of time giving toasts. As the bridal party ringleader, I shared a devotional at the bridal showers. I gave a toast at the rehearsal dinners. And then the crème del al crème — the toast at the main event: the wedding reception. At the time I was 28, so to say that I had heard lots and lots of wedding toasts is an understatement. The good thing about that is that I had heard some really good best man and maid of honor toasts, and I had heard some really bad ones. So when the time came for me to sum up almost 20 years of friendship in a just a few paragraphs that I would share in front of hundreds of people, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

And honestly, I killed it with those speeches. I totally nailed it. Finally, attending countless weddings (seriously, I have lost count of the number of weddings I’ve attended. This is what happens when you go to a Christian college and the majority of your friends subscribe to the “Ring by Spring” philosophy) had paid off. At one point I seriously thought of how I might turn my wedding toast success into a new career option (like a presidential speech writer, except for weddings).

And since we are in the thick of wedding season, let me offer a few words of advice for those of you who are crafting your own wedding speeches to toast the happy couple.

1. Keep it short and sweet. “That speech was so short; I just really wish it had been longer,” said no one ever at a wedding reception. Especially if the toasts are before the meal and the crowd is staring at you with hungry eyes, it’s best to keep it short. I can still remember a wedding I attended in 2004 where the best man went on and on and on. I’m pretty sure he recapped every year he had known the groom, which was a lot of years. Once you start to go longer then three to four minutes, you’re venturing into dangerous territory. Stay out of the danger zone, friends.

2. Avoid inside jokes. I know, I know, you really want to share about that one time on that one trip you took in college where the one thing happened that was soooo funny. But please avoid the temptation to share an inside joke that only you and the bride or groom will actually think is funny, leaving the other 99 percent of the wedding guests laughing awkwardly, pretending to be in on the joke. Instead, share a quick story or funny tradition that explains some aspect of your friendship or relationship. It can still be funny or humorous (without being embarrassing or inappropriate. Remember Aunt Edna is listening!) but explain why it’s funny or share a universal experience that at least the majority of the guests will understand.

 3. Practice, but not too much. Given the abundance of smart phones and Instagram video capabilities, there’s a very high probability that someone will record your toast and post it on social media somewhere. So practice enough that you don’t sound like you’re reading off a piece of paper. But as you might remember from your Public Speaking 101 class, don’t sound so rehearsed that you might be mistaken for a tuxedo or taffeta-clad robot.  Know your speech well enough that even if your hands are shaking, you won’t lose your place, but leave room for a little bit of improvisation. There is a time to fly by the seat of your pants, but a wedding toast is not of those times.

4. Beware the ugly cry. OK, this one might be mostly for the girls, but I’m sure that I’ve seen at least a few best men get a little choked up during their toast. Shedding a tear or two is appropriate and can even enhance the sincerity of your words, but when you start to do the ugly cry and can’t stop, it gets really difficult to understand what you’re saying (even more so if Aunt Edna doesn’t have her hearing aid turned up). Remember that you’ve probably been up early doing the wedding beauty regime and taking endless rounds of photos, and it can be an emotional day to watch a friend or sibling commit his/her life to another. At some point all of that will catch up with you, but ideally it won’t be during your toast. So share the things that will make you cry during the rehearsal dinner or before the ceremony. That way you’ll have already shed your tears before the actual toast.

OK, your turn! What wedding toast tips would you include? What makes for a memorable toast?