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

(Author’s Note: It’s that time of year again… wedding season! And many weddings are once again happening live and in-person… what a gift! This also means lots of people are getting ready to give wedding toasts, a muscle we may not have stretched in a while for all the obvious pandemic-related reasons. So I decided this was a good time to dust off a concept I have written about several times in the past. Good luck, and if you are expecting to give a toast in front of a room full of people some time soon, this post is for you. Or, if you want to have a chuckle while thinking about those “train wreck” toasts you have heard in the past… well, this post is also for you. Enjoy! — Dean)

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. Come on… you know what I am talking about. The cringe-worthy toast that makes the room squirm, and a few harsh souls in the room chuckle? The one that runs on forever… the one that shares the super awkward story… the one that includes all sorts of references that no one gets… I know you know what I am talking about.

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 beautiful the bride looks and the toast, good or bad.

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. And I have tons of empathy for that. So, in all honesty, this post is really meant to help spare future toast givers the massive anxiety that often precedes the grabbing of the microphone. It’s really not all that complicated, with a few simple “don’ts” and a few simple “do’s.” So let’s dig into this a bit.

Here are a few key rules:

1. Keep it short. And no matter how short you think it is, it is probably longer than it needs to be. If you are worried about remembering everything, and you resort to writing out your speech, we are are already careening down a 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 speaking is to deliver a message and be understood. And 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.

That’s about it… follow these five 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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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.