It’s one of the best questions that someone can ask you. Right up there with, “Can I cook for you?” and “Would you like a free massage?”
“Will you speak at my wedding?” is a humbling, powerful request from someone that you love and trust. It is a request indicating that your relationship, your character, and your personality are highly valued.
So it is a wonder why so many times, this request receives a response that could best be described as hackneyed, reactive, and poorly executed. There are so many bad wedding toasts out there in the world. So, so many. And the worst part is that it not only makes you look bad, but it makes everyone wonder why the bride and/or groom have you the precious moments of their wedding day to ruin it with horrible jokes.
This is a quick article about how to make sure that you nail your next toast.
You have a job to do.
This, I think, is the most overlooked aspect of giving a wedding toast. The person asking you is, ostensibly, giving you a job to do on the most important day of her life. She is asking you to share words that will be deeply meaningful to her and that will add to the collection of memories that make this the best day of her life. When you think about that, sharing the story about the time you got wasted and vomited in the back of an uber don’t seem as fitting, do they? There are many stories that you could tell. There are many creative styles and ideas that you could share. But they must be in service of the job you were given.
10 minutes, tops.
You do not need to give a speech longer than 10 minutes. You may want to. Other people may do so. Do not do it. 10 minutes is PLENTY of time to develop a few stories, share some feelings, wish happiness to the new couple, and give a few concluding sentences.
Paint people in the best light
There is an adage in comedy that it is acceptable to tear down those who are of obvious fame or stature, because they seem unrelatable to the general public or the audience to whom you are speaking. Otherwise, the wisdom states, you should try to make people look good, even when they make mistakes. At a wedding, nobody fits into the former category. No one is so famous or important that your mockery of them will age well. Keep it positive and focus on what makes people great, not where they are limited.
Speak how you speak.
In an ideal world, you toast would be memorized. It allows you to connect more deeply with the audience, to read the room, and to worry less about getting every word right, which does not matter at all to the audience. However, given that you may not be a public speaker at heart, and working with a limited time frame, reading your speech is 100% OK. That said, you need to take the time to transcribe your written words into spoken words. If you wouldn’t normally say a sentence outloud the way that you write it, why would you do so in this most crucial of moment. Speeches are not meant to be read like passages from a book, with weird comma pauses and forced voice modulation. The tone should be friendly and conversational, you know, like how you speak to this person 99.99999999% of the time. Before getting up, read your speech outloud and change any phrases or sentences that are meant for reading, not speaking. Here’s a hint: any sentence that starts with a conditional clause i.e “Ever since we were best friends,” or “Though it may not seem like a lot…” Those sound weird when you read them aloud.
Focus on the feeling, not the story
Wedding speeches are NOTORIOUS for featuring “you had to be there” stories. For those who are unfamiliar, you had to be there stories require tremendous context to understand why something is funny, or significant, or memorable. You will, like all of us, likely fail if you try to get us to understand why something is important in a 10-minutes or less speech. However, what you can convey, is the feeling that the story left you with–everyone can understand that. Said differently, if something was completely hilarious to you, focus less on making it hilarious to the audience, and focus more on how happy it made you to share this hilarious moment with your best friend (or sibling, or whatever the relationship may be). Focus on how the other person makes you feel inside. Get all squishy about it. Feelings are easy for us to understand and latch onto. They are powerful. Use them wisely.
For more tricks and tips about the full writing process, check out my series here on nailing your next public speaking opportunity.
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