Most blind dates never work out, but we were lucky. Our first date led to a second and then a third, and before we knew it, we were getting married. Relieved to have the dating scene behind us, we asked the person responsible for bringing us together to make a toast at our wedding. Like most of these tributes, it had a theme—in this case, the "landmark moments" in life.
I confess his words seemed a bit canned and made me think more of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building than milestones, but he sounded warm and, in the excitement of the day, I didn't think of the speech again. Until a few months later, that is, when at a friend's wedding, the words of the toast, given by one of the fathers, suddenly found their way to my astonished ears. Unbelievable, I thought, this is the same speech I heard at my wedding, complete with matching landmark moments: learning to ride a bicycle, throwing a graduation cap high into the air. Even the ending had the same trite ring— "and in celebrating their happiness, we might just make this one of the landmark moments of our own lives."
My husband and I were stunned. How could two people who had never met give exactly the same toast? We were incredulous, but Howard and I kept our discovery to ourselves. "Could it have come from the Web?" he mused when we returned home. "Let's look." So after typing a few key phrases into a search engine, we found the magic words—posted on a discussion board.
Howard began to think the entire incident was funny. I did not. Nonetheless, I understood how the pressure to be perfect could impel someone to resort to a ready-made tribute instead of writing his own. If only these toast-makers would realize that a wedding tribute is not about being polished, they might relax a bit. As Florence Isaacs, author of Here's to You!: Creating Your Own Meaningful Toast or Tribute for Any Occasion, points out, "No one is expecting a virtuoso performance. They just want to hear heartfelt words."
Granted, all toasts are similar in tone. But that doesn't mean they can't be unique, says Isaacs. Any speaker (and increasingly, that means women) can make it special. "Just keep in mind what this day means to the couple," she says. "The bride has probably been dreaming of her wedding since she was a child. If you know her thoughts, incorporate them into the speech. A memorable toast is personal. If you say some things that pertain only to this bride and groom, there is no way your toast will be like anyone else's."
Speech-givers should also tap into their own emotions, Isaacs believes. "Think long and hard about the couple and don't censor yourself. We all have a tendency to block what we feel because we worry we'll make a fool of ourselves. Remember that you are talking to an audience that loves this couple as much as you do."
Being thoroughly prepared is crucial. "Don't ever wing it," says Leah Ingram, author of The Complete Guide for the Anxious Bride: How to Avoid Everything That Could Go Wrong on Your Big Day. "A couple of days or weeks before the wedding, jot down anecdotes and practice saying them aloud. Make notes on index cards or even write the entire speech on a sheet of paper you take to the reception. Just don't show up at the wedding and blurt out whatever comes to mind. That is a recipe for a bumbling, boring and bad-taste toast."
If you as the bride are worried what the toast-maker will say, should you speak up? Isaacs and Ingram both say no, believing such behavior is too controlling. But David Pitlik, founder of ThePerfectToast.com—a custom speech-writing business—disagrees. "I don't think a bride who expresses concern is being pushy so long as she is tactful. Many people who have to give a speech are panicked and would probably appreciate some input," he says.
Don't forget to inject some humor into the proceedings, Pitlik adds. Relating a funny anecdote is effective, telling a joke is not—"jokes can backfire." He also reminds prospective speakers to say something about both the bride and groom, even if they know one of them only. "If you want to make a toast meaningful, speak from the heart."