say it right
How to raise the glass with class.
How to raise the glass with class.
WHEN Kevin Leu stood up to give a toast at his sister’s wedding, he had prepared what he was going to say the night before. The toast, a loving tribute from the young screenwriter and blogger to his dedicated sister, turned out to be one of the highlights of the event.
“Afterward, a lot of my cousins and different other people told me they teared up,” he says. “I really just wanted to speak to my sister and brother-in-law and let them know how important their union was to me. It came from the heart because she means so much to me.”
Leu did it right, but not everyone is comfortable speaking to crowds. Usually given by the couple’s best man, maid of honour or close friend, it can set the tone of a wedding reception. If you aren’t prepared, it can be one of the worst moments of your life – and awkward for the newlyweds, too. But if you are, your speech can become something the couple will cherish for the rest of their lives.
The wedding toast at Sue and Daniel Spencer’s 2003 union isn’t a memory the bride cherishes. The couple from California asked Daniel’s brother to say something special during their big day. Sue even gave her future brother-in-law an article about wedding toasts – what to say and how to give one – before the event.
What came out of his mouth, however, was more than disappointing. It was a nightmare, Sue says. “He began the toast by introducing his family members that were present,” she says. “What I did not expect was that his ‘toast’ would not mention his brother or his new wife at all. Instead, he shared that it was OK with him that his nieces and their boyfriends were not married, but they lived together anyway. This wasn’t a toast for us. It left an impression on me, and I won’t forget it.”
Author Tom Haibeck won’t forget the toast his best man gave at his wedding either. His friend told kid stories and flatulence jokes, none of which went over well.
But that’s nothing compared to Haibeck’s first experience giving a wedding toast. When he was 15, his brother asked him to speak at his wedding. Nervous and unprepared, Haibeck nearly cried as he stood up in front of the audience to address them. He forgot the bride’s name.
“It was pretty traumatic,” Haibeck says. Since that fateful day, Haibeck’s life has taken a dramatic turn in the public speaking field. He is an accomplished speaker and writer, penning the book Wedding Toasts Made Easy: The Complete Guide.
Top 10 tips for a great toast.
Speaking for all
A wedding toast is for the bride and the groom. The person giving the toast is speaking for the entire audience, wishing them love and happiness ‘til death do them part, Haibeck stresses.
“The people asked to make these toasts really do have a big responsibility to articulate everyone’s joy,” Haibeck says. “It can be daunting, but it can also be empowering. You have all those people behind you.”
For some, public speaking is one of the most terrifying experiences they can face. Both Haibeck and Toastmasters International say the most important present a speaker can give themselves is the gift of preparation.
“Most people asked to give a wedding toast don’t take the time that is necessary to do a great job,” Haibeck says. “Disaster can ensue. It’s one thing to stand up at a dinner party and say something, and it’s quite another to do that in front of 200 or 300 people. There are all kinds of pitfalls.”
Haibeck says one way a speaker can prepare for a wedding toast is by talking to the bride and groom and asking them for anecdotes about their families, their relationship and their hopes for the future. Little stories, like the time the ants got into the picnic basket or the fateful day trying out snowboarding as a couple, can liven up a speech and help the audience get to know the couple even better, he says.
“Say a toast in your own words but draw upon the experiences of the bride and groom,” he says. “The back stories on the bride and groom are always of interest to the people at the wedding. They want to know how they met, their courtship and what they do now. It’s that kind of human interest stuff that people can draw on to effectively add colour to a wedding toast.”
He cautions, however, that the back stories should be family appropriate. Little kids, grandma, even mom and dad don’t want to hear about indiscretions during a road trip or at the stag party.
“Imagine your grandmother,” he says. “If it would offend her, don’t say it.”
Amy Patel, a wedding planner and owner of
Loud and clear
Lindy Sinclair, a Distinguished Toastmaster who has been practising public speaking since 1990, says that no matter what the toast says or how much you prepare, the speech will fall flat if it is whispered with shyness rather than spoken in confidence.
“Speak slowly and clearly enough and loudly enough so that everybody can hear, even the elderly and the infirm,” she says. “You can have the cleverest thing to say, but if people can’t hear it, they’ll miss the next thing as well. They’ll be asking others what you just said.”
A person asked to give a wedding toast can drop by a meeting at Toastmasters, a nonprofit international organization that helps people improve their speaking skills, and practice on the members of the club, Sinclair says. Visit www.toastmasters.org to find a club in your area and contact the club leader before the meeting, she adds.
Haibeck also suggests rehearsing the speech as much as possible. Do it in the shower, in the car on your way to work, while jogging or exercising. And on the day of the speech, if you can, try to stand in the reception hall where you will be speaking and practise there.
“You get a feel for the room, you get a sense of where you are,” he says.
And, the experts agree, don’t try to soothe fears of speaking with alcohol before the toast.
“Liquid courage is a really bad idea,” Haibeck says. “I recommend that people don’t drink at all until after they’ve done their toast speech. Go for a run or a bike ride to burn off some of that nervous energy. Do relaxation exercises, visualisation. Because for some people that glass of wine to calm down becomes three or four.” – Contra Costa Times/ McClatchy-Tribune Information Services