5 ways to slay your wedding toast
David Litt, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, spills his best hacks. Cheers to that!
1 INTRODUCE YOURSELF Any speech begins with a simple question: Why are you the one holding the mic? When I was writing for President Obama, the answer was obvious. Don’t tell us about every class you took with the bride or the year you had a friends-with-benefits situation going on with the groom. Instead, let us know, in just one sentence, who you are and how you know the newlyweds.
2 SHARE A STORY ONLY YOU CAN SHARE
A former boss of mine used to tell me, “Speeches are won or lost in the research.” And that’s as true of weddings as it is with addresses on housing policy (although housing policy addresses would be way more fun with a DJ and an open bar). Make a list of your favourite moments with the person you’re celebrating. Are any of them R-rated? Cross those off immediately. Are any of them really about you instead of her? Cross those off, too. Then sift through the rest for a story that describes what makes your friendship unique. You don’t have to be hilarious, but try to be detailed. What was the model of that beat-up old car she drove at uni? You want to show your audience your favourite side of this person, the one that you know better than anybody else.
3 PINPOINT A BEST QUALITY
“Show, don’t tell.” If you’ve ever taken a writing class, then you’ve almost certainly been given this piece of advice, and it’s almost always worth following… just not for speeches. For your wedding toast, try a show-thentell approach instead. After painting a picture of the bride or groom with your story, tell us all the moral we’re supposed to take away. What’s the One Big Thing we should remember about this person, long after we’ve forgotten the name of the groomsman who had a highly inflated opinion of his own dancing ability? If you’re still stumped, try filling in the blank: “No matter what, I can always count on [insert name] to ____.” Note: If the answer is “have a half-empty bottle of tequila in her handbag”, this little experiment may not be right for you.
4 MAKE THE COUPLE THE STAR OF YOUR STORY
You know the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? Here’s an exception. If you don’t have something nice to say about who your friend is marrying, fake it. Maybe they bring out the best in each other. Maybe they have a nice family. Whatever it is, find something. Better yet, if you actually do like the person who your friend is marrying, tell us why. You’ve already told us about a special person – now tell us about a special couple.
5 FINISH WHERE YOU STARTED
By now, you should be about four minutes into your speech. (An extremely useful wedding rule is that if you’re going to speak for more than five minutes… don’t.) There are lots of ways to finish a speech, but here’s an easy trick: go back to something you said at the very start. Grab one of those details from your story. Repeat your One Big Thing. Remind us of a funny line or a favourite saying that seems even more profound now we know something special about the happy couple. Then raise your glass, wish the newlyweds a lifetime of health and happiness, and take a seat. Or, if that sounds like too much work, you could email the White House and ask President Obama to deliver your wedding toast for you. That guy really knows how to give a speech.