Whether you want to give a speech at a wedding or you’ve been asked to, the idea of performing a wedding speech properly can be a nerve-wracking process. It doesn’t have to be. Learning to find a good theme for your speech, write it out clearly, and perform your speech well can take the stress out of the equation and ensure that you’ll give the best speech you can.
Finding a Theme
Start brainstorming the toast early. This is your chance to honor the couple, so don’t wait until the night before the wedding to think of what you’re going to say. Even if you want to be spontaneous in part, it’s good to have a toast written out in note form in case your mind goes blank. Start by brainstorming different anecdotes, stories, or themes that your speech might take on. What do you think of immediately when you think of your friend or relative who is getting married?
What do you want to say about your friend? What do you want to emphasize? Start thinking of the major ideas that you’d like to include in your speech. What’s important about this union of two people?
Alternatively, don’t worry about themes or abstract concepts and just start writing. Put pen to paper and free-write about the person who you’re toasting. Aim to write for 10 minutes without stopping. Just keep your pencil moving. See what comes up.
Keep it short, sweet, and personal. The best wedding toasts are sincere stories that come straight from the heart. While some may be funny and others may be sad, all wedding toasts should have one thing in common: paying tribute to the couple, or one member of the couple, and celebrating their union in a personal way.
You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian. A humorous quote or story can add a nice touch, just keep it tasteful. Anecdotes that involve nakedness, drunkenness, or ex-significant others could make the moment awkward if the story falls flat. Err on the side of sincerity.
Make the toast about the couple. Giving a toast isn’t an opportunity to show off. It isn’t your day and the toast shouldn’t be about you, even if you’re a central character in one of those stories you’re telling. Whether you’re telling an anecdote or reciting a poem, the toast should connect with the couple, pay tribute to them, and come from the heart. To do a double-check, count up all the uses of “I” in your speech and all the uses of the newlyweds’ names. If you show up more than them, you might need to revise the speech.
Speeches that dwell on how difficult marriage is, however realistic, can make it sound like the couple is doomed to fail. It’s usually best to avoid cold or intellectual speeches. Just go for sincere emotion.
Treat the bride and groom as a single unit, even if you’ve known only one of them for a long time. Also, remember, you’re not toasting to the “good old days,” you’re toasting to their future.
Find your “in.” All a toast needs to get going is one little anecdote, moment, or theme to get you up and running. That’s your “in.” Typical wedding toasts will revolve around the first time you heard about your friend’s new partner, or the first time you realized the couple was an important part of your life, and those are perfect ways to open up the toast and make it personal. It’ll be unique because it’s your story. You can also think of creative ways to find your in:
Start your toast with a story about a challenge the couple faced together, or how one member of the couple used the other for support in a time of need.
Start your toast with observations about the way a member of the couple has changed since they started seeing each other.
When you’re old and gray, what will you remember most about the couple? What one thing will you think of?
Start your toast by celebrating an unheralded character trait in one or both members of the couple. If the groom is an astrophysicist, but you’ve seen him do something no one else has, consider starting there. Keep it clean.
Writing the Speech
Outline the speech. Once you’ve found some themes, stories, or ideas that you want to cover in your speech, you can go one of two ways: writing out the speech word-for-word, or outlining the major points. Both are equally effective methods of writing a speech for a wedding.
If you want to be more spontaneous and conversational, jot down the major talking points to jog your memory and keep your speech moving forward in a casual manner. Include short quotes or key phrases like “Talk about meeting bride for first time, mention how comfortable they were with each other.” The idea is for the note to jog your memory, but the actual wording should be off the top of your head, provided you follow the next step.
If the idea of going freestyle freaks you out, write it out word for word and take special care to bring yourself back to the audience. Script out everything, down to the gestures, pauses, and glances up. Don’t give yourself any chance to mess up. Practice to make sure your speech isn’t robotic.
Write your speech on index cards. You might get flashbacks of making presentations in school, but that’s a good thing. You want this to be good. Putting notes on index cards is a good way of keeping yourself organized and concise, especially if you’re not confident in your public speaking abilities.
If you’re writing out your speech word-for-word, keep the speech big enough so that you’ll be able to read it easily. Don’t cram everything onto one card. Still, it’s important to keep your cards manageable, so aim to have no more than three or four cards. Number your cards to make sure they’re in order.
If you’re writing out your major speech points only, write them clearly and concisely. You should know your own shorthand: make sure that you don’t write “Talk about that party” on a card and go blank in the moment.
Include an ending for the toast. Include a formal indication to inform them of the ending of the toast and what to say next. For example: “Let us now toast the happiness of Jill and Jack. To Jill and Jack!” As you say this, wave your glass to all, then tip it towards the person you are toasting to, or clink their glass if you’re close enough.
Practice. You should aim to trim your speech into about two minutes of solid-gold stuff that comes straight from the heart. There will likely be lots of toasts and lots of talking at most weddings, and people will be ready to eat and dance at some point, so you don’t want to be the one who rambles on and stumbles over their words. Whatever the tone, the style, or the content of your wedding speech, practice it until you’ve smoothed out all the edges and made it short and sweet.
Do not write a long speech. A whole wedding ceremony is sometimes as short as 15 or 20 minutes. There’s no reason you should give a toast that goes for more than five.
Modify your index cards as needed. If you find yourself rushing during one part of the speech, write “slow down” somewhere on the card where you’ll see it. If you repeatedly stumble over one part, just skip it. If something isn’t working, go with something else.
If you’re very nervous about the speech, try to imagine where the audience is sitting, for example, and pretend to make gestures and eye contact in that direction. If you practice, it’ll be automatic in the moment.
Making the Speech
Find out when toasts will be given. If you’re toasting the happy couple, chances are you’re not the only one. In formal weddings, the toast is usually given after the meal, between cake-cutting and desert, or after the first dances. Always check with the toastmaster or the emcee of the event to find out the schedule and order of the toasts. One traditional order for toasts is as follows:
The father of the bride or an old friend of the family will toast the couple.
The groom will toast the bridesmaids.
The best man will toast the parents of the couple.
Read the room. Before zero-hour, you’ve got a last chance to read the room and determine whether or not your written speech is appropriate. It’s never too late for an audible. If you were expecting college friends and young people and got a room full of over-60, will your toast still be acceptable? Might you cut it short before the Las Vegas story?
If you find yourself in an emergency situation, in which you feel you must throw out your speech, make sure you have something to back it up with. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to go super-short but sincere, saying something like, “There’s nothing to me more thrilling than seeing these two people commit to each other for the rest of their life. Before I get choked up, I’m going to leave it at that.”
Make your first drink the toast itself. Common wedding mistake: calming nerves with a few too many. Don’t risk making your thoughtful toast an awkward scene by slurring your words and stumbling to the microphone. Avoid drinks before you have to give your toast and celebrate with one afterwards. It’ll taste better.
Stand up when it’s your turn. Some toasts are signaled by everyone clinking glasses, while in others the room will be totally silent and the emcee will introduce each toaster with a microphone. Whatever the protocol, follow it. In some cultures, it’s important to make sure that all glasses are filled before giving the toast. Look around and check that all glasses (including yours) are full before making the toast. There should be wine, champagne, or something that looks like wine or champagne in your glass, as toasting with water is offensive in some cultures.
Announce your relationship to the couple. Some people at the wedding might not know who you are, so making this clear at the beginning will avoid any confusion. Bring your glass down as you start to speak, but continue holding it in one hand.
Give the speech as best as you can. Look at the person you’re toasting to, but also shift eye contact towards the guests occasionally. Make a conscious effort to look up and engage with everyone. Watching some read coldly and robotically from a note card is hard to get involved with.
If you find yourself talking quickly, which happens to some people due to nerves, make a conscious effort to slow down. Pause between your sentences and take a breath. Look up, take a sip of your drink, and slow down. Speak clearly and get through it. Then, cheers.
Since weddings are as individual as the couples that have them, feel free to adjust your words and the toasting conventions to suit the occasion.
The toast will certainly be colored by the lens you view the couple through, but check to be sure that the star in the toast is the couple (or at least the half of the couple you know) and not the person giving it.
Usually, the people in the wedding party are more familiar with one half of the newly married couple than the other. Try to get to know that other person as much as possible, and include something that relates to a unique aspect of both the bride and groom – something about their personality or their interests.
It can be tempting to do a short, sweet and generic toast. But the couple would probably like something a little more personal, otherwise it may seem like you didn’t care about this duty, or that the couple isn’t interesting enough to be the subject of a toast.
Bring tissues if you think you may shed a few tears while you’re speaking.
An audience will be very forgiving as long as your toast is heartfelt, decent, and relatively short. A TV commercial is only 30 seconds long. Only confident speakers should go longer than a minute and a half.
Avoid inside jokes as well as other references which might be deemed inappropriate for the occasion. For this reason, you should probably avoid any lines about how this is unfortunately the end of your friends “wild” days, even if the two of you were “partners in crime” so to speak.
Do not use this event as a way to kick-start your comedy career. If you tell a joke and it bombs, finish up as quickly as possible.
Don’t drink before you toast. Your speech should be spoken, not slurred.
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How to Write a Wedding Toast
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How to Make a Hand Tied Wedding Bouquet
How to Choose Flowers for Your Wedding Day
How to Arrange Flowers
How to Give a Father of the Bride Speech
Sources and Citations
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