Last fall, my bestie, Margie, announced her engagement to her long-time boyfriend, Keven. I was so excited for them– I love him almost as much as I love her. And in the midst of celebrating their Yay! We’re getting married! moment, I was simultaneously having a OMG I’m probably going to have to give a toast! moment.
I actually wanted to give a toast.
It’s an honor, plus Marge killed it at my wedding, so I had to return the favor. However, standing in front of a room of strangers, explaining why Marge is the best person, ever scared the bajeezus out of me. What if I couldn’t stop crying? What if I lost my train of thought? What if I came down with the worst case of the flu the day before the wedding (spoiler alert: this actually happened).
I wasn’t willing to not do an amazing job. So I poured my heart and soul onto paper (or, more accurately, a Microsoft Word doc), and the final result kind of sucked– too long, too about me & Margie (not about her and this guy she was marrying), and included every story about everything we’d ever done together.
I had to seriously retool.
I proverbially ripped my speech to shreds and started anew. And you know what? I think my speech ended up being pretty darn good, and I did it by following these guidelines.
1. Keep it Concise-ish.
We’ve all been at that wedding when somebody gets the mic and won’t stop. A friend’s dad once gave a 27 minute speech… so, so awkward! I poked around on the Internet and it seems the ideal speech length is between three and four minutes. Enough time to get into some details, but not so long that people start getting uncomfortable (most wedding receptions are about five hours; if your speech is 15 minutes long, that’s five percent of the total reception time! NOT COOL.).
Mine was about five minutes, which was more than enough to touch on our relationship, what makes her so awesome, how the bride & groom met & why you think they are a great couple.
2. Know Your Audience
This isn’t a room full of your college buddies. It’s grandparents, aunts and uncles, maybe coworkers, and potentially people who have yet to meet your super-awesome best friend. So how about don’t tell the story about the time you picked them up from jail or had to hose them down after they puked a yard glass worth of Long Island iced tea on themselves in Cancun*. You can be funny, but don’t an a-hole. This is a toast, not a roast.
* completely fabricated scenarios that do not apply to Marge.
3. It’s Not About You.
My first speech was all “remember the time we had to hitch a ride with a pack of bikers when our car broke down… and remember when we went on that one trip to Colorado… and remember when we lived together in that total shit hole apartment with that one roommate?” Well guess what? I wasn’t the one marrying Marge. That was Keven’s job. My job was to honor their lives together. So if you’re going to tell a story, pick just one.
4. Have a Point.
When you do pick a story, pick one that conveys a larger meaning. Maybe you tell a story that showcases your friend’s ability to problem solve, their loyalty or innate ability to make even the worst of situations fun and exciting.
I told about the time Marge & I were so engrossed in conversation on a road trip that we missed our exit by 100 miles (whoops!). I used that story to demonstrate that when I find myself questioning my path in life, I never feel lost because I know she’s right there with me, or a phone call away. I can trust her to get me back on track. See how that all works together?
5. You Don’t need to Say it All.
Your toast is meant to honor the couple, not convey all of the feelings you’ve ever had about them. You can do that later, when you’re drunk off merlot and ordering sliders and fries from room service at 2 am.
6. Find a Cold-hearted Proof Reader.
The key to a good speech is cutting out the crap. Sometimes it’s really hard to know what’s superfluous information in your own writing. So find a cold-hearted snake of an editor and let them trim the fat. PS I love doing this for other people!
7. Inside Jokes Are Kinda Lame.
Inside jokes are exclusive, not inclusive. If most of your audience won’t get it, they’ll be snoozing in no time. Keep those to a minimum.
8. Practice. Maybe Even Memorize.
I absolutely cringe at the idea of practicing a speech aloud, but it helps! Read through it out loud. Time yourself. Make a few edits, then do it again and again. Then, try it without your notes. Time yourself. If you can commit to doing this a few times a day in the week before the wedding, you’ll be in great shape… so long as your speech isn’t 15 minutes long (see item #1).
I like to practice when I’m driving alone in my car OR in the shower. It’s a fairly distraction-free environment where you don’t feel self-conscious. Somehow, even with the flu, I was able to speak at this wedding without relying on my notes, which was possible only because I practiced.
9. Tears are okay.
I cried writing the toast, I cried practicing the toast, I cried thinking about giving the toast. I didn’t cry when I actually gave it, which was kind of a relief because I am an ugly crier. However, I personally think dropping a tear or two actually enhances the speech. So if you start crying, it’ll probably make people enjoy your speech more. Take a deep breath, think of something ridiculous like a squirrel in a Speedo and swim cap, try this tactic, have a sip of water and proceed.
10. Who Cares if It’s Only Okay.
People only remember two kinds of speeches: Amazing ones and terrible ones. If you’re reading this, you probably care enough to not totally blow it. No one will remember if a few of your jokes fall flat or you stumble over your words. The big thing is to honor your friend. They’ll be absolutely touched by the fact that you got up there and did it just ’cause you love them that much.
So grab a glass, march up to that mic and let ‘er rip.
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See the comment section? That’s where I’d love to hear more tips on how to give a great speech. Also, maybe stories of speeches/toasts that have gone horribly wrong.
PS This wasn’t my first scary public speaking experience. One time, I accidentally gave a TEDx talk. Another time, I spoke in front of a class of super successful people. And then there was the time I tried standup comedy. It all gets easier with practice. Promise.