How to Give a Great Toast (And Avoid the Train Wreck)

(Author’s Note: This is a topic I have written on many times in the past. But I recently had an acquaintance come to me and ask me for help with an upcoming wedding toast. This made me realize, once again, that there is value in not only using this blog to help you prep for your business communication, but also to help you prep for those personal moments when you may have to stand up in front of the room and be eloquent. So here it goes. Enjoy!)

One of the best ideas I have ever heard is a YouTube channel dedicated to terrible wedding toasts. I think this would be a home run, with millions of hits every year. You know what I am talking about. The cringe-worthy toast that makes the room squirm, and a few harsh souls in the room laugh out loud, or even heckle? Or the toast that runs on forever… or the one that shares the super awkward story… or the one that includes all sorts of references that no one gets… You know what I am talking about. We have all heard these kind of toasts.

Given my line of work, I’m probably not the easiest audience to impress when it comes to giving toasts. But I know I’m not alone, because there are two dominant topics of conversation at most weddings I have been to: how happy we are for the couple, and the toasts, be they good or bad.

This YouTube channel idea would be an instant hit, wouldn’t it? And now let’s make sure that when it is YOUR turn to give the toast, you don’t end up as a candidate for this YouTube channel.

All joking aside, I know and acknowledge that for many people the toast in front of a room full of people is a source of legitimate and understandable tension. I have tons of empathy for that. It isn’t an easy thing to do well. So, in all honesty, this post not really about making fun of bad toasts. Rather, it is meant to help spare future toast givers the massive anxiety that comes with this territory.

And just like many other examples of public communication, doing it well is not really all that complicated. It is not easy to do well. But the ways to do it well are actually quite simple.

Here are a few key rules:

1. Keep it short. Everyone knows it, and yet very few people make it short enough. And no matter how short you think it is, it is probably longer than it needs to be. Now, a few warnings about length: if you are worried about remembering everything you want to say, you are already heading down the wrong path. And if you compensate for that by writing out your speech, we are officially careening down the bad path. It’s a TOAST. It’s not a speech. Pick one theme, or a couple of key words, write them down on an index card if you need to, and that’s it! No speeches. If you really want to put a time limit on it, try for about three minutes. Five minutes is already borderline too long. Anything more than five minutes is like a trip to detention for the audience. (Danger alert… any toast that starts off with “I’ll be brief” absolutely won’t be.)

2. Don’t talk about yourself, or how honored you are to be asked to speak. That’s a backhanded way of saying “I’m more important than you, because, look, they asked me to speak tonight!” Try to avoid using the word “I” too much. Make it all about the person or couple you are toasting. Talk about what you, or others in the room, love about them. Talk about what makes them special. Talk about them.

3. Don’t build it around inside jokes that only a few people will get. It’s annoying to most of the room, it is probably embarrassing to the celebrated guests, and if most people don’t get it, then they don’t get your toast… which means there is ZERO value for the listener, and zero point in you being up there in the first place. The point of the toast is to celebrate the honored couple, in an inclusive way for as many people in the room as possible. So don’t speak in code about things most won’t get. Speak to the entire audience, and build your toast around things that will make sense to the whole room. Here’s a little tip… if you see lots of people in the room nodding and smiling, seemingly in agreement, then you nailed it. If not? Well, then…

4. If you want to include a story, that’s great… just make sure to remember points #1-3 above. And make sure the story has a point. What does it illustrate about the couple? The story is a “means to an end,” and regardless of whether it is a funny story, or a heart tugging one, the story needs to lead to a larger lesson or observation about the honored couple.

5. If you know one person in the couple well, and not the other, make sure to include both of them in your toast. Just because you have known the bride or the groom all your life, and don’t know the partner well, doesn’t mean you are allowed to ignore the one you don’t know. It is their (plural) day. Make the toast about them.

6. Check your attempts at humor. Just because YOU think it is a funny story does not mean others will agree. And if experience is any guide, very few toast stories I have heard have landed the way the toaster thought they would. If you want to use humor, test drive the joke or the story with a few people ahead of time. Make sure you are not going to be the only one laughing at your joke.

That’s about it… follow these rules, and you are well on your way. And finally… practice, practice, practice. Because the more comfortable you are with what you want to say, the more at ease you will be in front of the room, which means the more joy you will bring to the toast, and the day.

Good luck, and happy toasting!

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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One response to “How to Give a Great Toast (And Avoid the Train Wreck)”

  1. Mark Fader says:

    Love this! Perhaps include “don’t be over served prior to giving the toast!”

    Thanks Dean,


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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.