When you offer a toast at a public occasion, it's important to speak from the heart in a manner that suits the occasion and engages the audience. Preparation - but not over practicing - is key to making the perfect, impressive toast.
Anatomy of an Impressive Toast
While your toast can be anything you want it to be, the following outline can help you organize your thoughts into a cohesive toast.
Stand Up and With Your Glass
Whether you've been asked ahead of time to make a toast or have decided to do it in the spur of the moment, the first step to making a toast is to stand up and hold your glass in front of you. You may wish to clink your knife gently on the side of a glass to get people's attention, or you can stand up, project (without shouting), and say, "I'd like to make a toast."
Pause for a Moment
Now, you need to wait for a moment to ensure you have everyone's attention. Give them time to stop their conversations and focus on you.
Make the Toast About the Person or Event
Lead by mentioning the reason for the toast or the focus of the toast. Avoid saying things about you - such as "I'm so happy for..." or "I'm the brother of the bride and I want to..." Some examples of powerful toast lead-ins for different occasions follow.
- Wedding: "Today we're here to share in Amy's and Malik's joy as they begin their life together as husband and wife,"
- Retirement: "Anup may be retiring, but before he goes, I'd like to share a story about his time at our company,"
- Holiday gathering: "Thanksgiving is such a joyous occasion, let's take a moment to reflect on the many blessings our family has received in the past year."
Engage Listeners With a Hook
After stating the purpose of your toast, include a "hook" engage listeners. This may be a joke or a promise of an anecdote about the person or event you are toasting. Make sure it's just a sentence or two. The hook may be the same as your introductory statement, or it may be a follow-up statement to your introductory statement. For example:
- Wedding: "When Amy and I were roommates in college, we would like awake at night discussing her perfect man."
- Retirement: "As everyone who has ever worked with Anup likely knows, he has a very problematic relationship with the copy machine."
- Holiday gathering: "One of the main things that blesses us this year is that dad didn't drop the cooked turkey the garage behind the car on the way to grandma's house."
Offer an Anecdote or Two Appropriate to the Situation
Then, follow your hook with the promised anecdote. Keep it relatively short, but also make it descriptive, sharing the highlights of the anecdote. Your anecdote can be any of the following:
- Something that shows the character of the person you're toasting
Stick to just one or two anecdotes so your toast isn't too long. Between 1 and 5 minutes is ideal for a toast depending on the occasion.
Say Something Nice About the Person/People or Occasion
After your anecdote(s), wind up by saying something nice about the person, people, or occasion you're toasting, tying it into to the rest of the toast. For example:
- Wedding: "Amy's perfect man turned out to be Malik, and he makes her so happy! I wish you many years of love and joy as you enter your new life together as husband and wife."
- Retirement: "So while we will enjoy having a copy machine that doesn't break nearly as often now, we will miss hearing Anup's dad puns and getting caught up in his enthusiasm for his great ideas. Anup, your presence will be deeply missed, but we wish you well as you travel the world in your retirement."
- Holiday gathering: "We're excited to eat turkey this year without any gravel from the garage in it. And we're overjoyed to be blessed with the presence of our loved ones here at this table as we gather for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner."
Then, raise your glass towards the person or people you're toasting and invite everyone else to raise theirs as well. Look at the person and say, "Cheers!" or something similar. For example:
- Wedding: "So raise your glass to Amy and Malik to wish them many years of health, happiness, love, and prosperity. Cheers!"
- Retirement: "Please everyone raise your glass to Anup. We wish you a long, beautiful, and happy retirement. Cheers!"
- Holiday gathering: "I invite you to raise your glass to our family and give thanks for our many blessings. Cheers!"
Tips for Giving Great Toasts
The following tips can help you make a great toast.
Avoid Risqué Jokes and Embarrassing Stories
Toasts are meant to celebrate people and occasions. And while you can tell humorous stories about your subject or event, avoid telling cringeworthy stories that will make listeners or the subject of your toast uncomfortable. Also avoid sharing any information that might be considered private or TMI (too much information), betraying a confidence, or telling risqué or dirty jokes.
Employ Sensory Language to Draw in Listeners
When sharing your anecdote, use sensory language to make the story more interesting. In other words, offer a few details about how things looked, smelled, tasted, sounded, or felt. These small details can make your story more compelling.
Use Family-Friendly Language
Consider your audience when you're giving a toast. It's best to use family-friendly language and avoid swearing or offering overly graphic descriptions or anecdotes.
Make Eye Contact
Making eye contact strengthens your connection with the audience while making you look comfortable and appear more engaging. Make eye contact with both the person or people you're toasting and the people listening to your toast. Try to make brief eye contact with each person or group of people in turn, but don't linger overly long or it can become uncomfortable.
If you're in a large crowd and don't have the benefit of a microphone, you're going to need to project. Stand up straight, take deep breaths, and speak clearly and not too quickly. Be sure you enunciate. It's also okay to ask as you begin to speak, "Can everyone hear me okay?" and then modulate your voice based on the feedback you receive.
Keep It Short
Few people wish to sit through a ten-minute toast, so keep your speech relatively brief. Typically, five minutes or fewer is ideal for a toast, which gives you time for your introduction and hook, one or two anecdotes, your closing statement, and the cheers.
If you have advance notice you'll be making a toast, plan it ahead of time and practice it a few times (without notes) so you know your opening and hook, the broad outline of the anecdote(s) you plan to share, and your final sentiments. Don't read your toast as you give it or over-rehearse so you sound stiff or overly formal. Having the broad strokes of what you are going to say in place will also help you appear more relaxed and confident as you give the toast while allowing you some flexibility to adapt when you're actually giving the toast.
Examples of Good Toasts
One of the best ways to get a feel for a great toast is to find examples of them. The following examples can help as you plan your toast.
- Toasts are common at weddings. These free wedding toasts should give you some ideas.
- You can also bring humor into your wedding toast.
- You may also wish to make a toast at a wedding rehearsal dinner.
- Engagement parties are also toasting occasions.
- Celebrate a pending birth with creative baby shower toasts.
- Give thanks for your blessings with Thanksgiving toasts.
- Celebrate milestone wedding anniversaries with a toast.
- Toast your co-worker upon their retirement.
Raise Your Glass!
Fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is a common phobia. One of the best ways to overcome it is with preparation and experience. Toasting is a great way to gain some practice in public speaking because it's usually for a friendly and familiar audience, and it's a relatively short talk. So the next time someone asks you to give a toast, plan, prepare, and raise your glass to make the perfect impressive toast.