Photo: Amber Gress
Public speaking — ugh! Most of us dread having to talk in front of a group of people. Thankfully your big day probably won't involve too much of that, but what about giving a speech at another person's wedding — like a friend or relative? We chatted with Tim Fortescue, a senior coach with Own the Room, for his tips on how to give an engaging toast at someone else's soirée.
How can I warm up the room?
"Stay true to who you are and be authentic about your friendship with the bride. If it's within your personality to use humor, then go for it. If not, then don't force it. Stick with universally understandable stories — there is usually some humor in the story of how you met. Nothing warms up the audience like involving them, and an easy way to do this right away is to shift the spotlight to someone special to the bride or groom and have the audience give them a quick round of applause. Grandma and grandpa, or the mother and father of the bride or groom are both great choices. It allows you the chance to catch your breath and get comfortable in front of the room for a second."
What kinds of jokes should be avoided?
"Stay away from anything involving old relationships — including breakups and even crazy nights out. Remember, half of your audience is a friend or family member of the groom and doesn't want to hear any of that. In general, your stories should place the bride and groom in a positive light — even if it is slightly embarrassing for them."
What about the more heartfelt stuff like personal stories?
"A good rule of thumb is to tell two short stories: One that is humorous, and one that is heartfelt. Aim for genuine stories that reflect the depth of your friendship with the bride. Grab a notebook and jot down memories from your friendship. Choose the best funny story and the best heartfelt story. Practice how you would tell these two stories to a friend and jot down the ideas as they come to you. You should plan to tell both stories within three minutes, and realize that in the moment you may go longer. One story may be longer than the other, and that is fine."
What about delivery tips?
"Watch your body language (don't fidget, don't slouch), speak slowly, and deliberately and cut out weak language. That means any word or phrase that doesn't help your message. The classic weak language is 'um' or 'uh,' but weak language can also be words ('like' and 'basically') or phrases ('you know?'). Be mindful of keeping weak language low, but if a few of these words sneak into your toast, the audience likely won't notice the difference."
How long should the toast run in total?
"The sweet spot is four minutes, although I've seen successful toasts go longer and shorter. Four minutes allows time to shift the spotlight to the audience (to catch your breath), three minutes to tell your two stories, and a toast at the end."