Congratulations, you scored the coveted title of maid of honor or best man at your best friend's wedding! You've coordinated the bachelor or bachelorette party, selected the perfect wedding day outfit, and maybe even helped with a fair share of DIY projects. Now it's time to prepare for your biggest task yet: the wedding toast! While an absolute honor, wedding toasts are no easy feat. After all, how can you possibly sum up an entire friendship, honor the happy couple, charm the crowd, and maybe even crack a joke or two in just a few minutes? And all while a room of people stares at you?
Enter Pete Honsberger and his new book Wedding Toasts 101, an all-inclusive guide to mastering the art of the wedding toast. Honsberger has been a groomsman seven times (he calls himself a "serial groomsman") and a wedding guest countless more—and admits that he has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of wedding speeches in his time on the circuit. So, he decided to do something about it and put everything he's learned and witnessed over the years to paper in Wedding Toasts 101. His goal? To give toast-givers the tools they need to put their best feet forward...because, at the end of the day, he says that's all the newlyweds can ask for!
We sat down with Honsberger ahead of the book's release to chat about the secrets and wisdom he's sharing, and believe us: He knows what he's talking about! Read on for Honsberger's seven steps to delivering a memorable wedding toast—then, shop Wedding Toasts 101 here before stepping up to the mic yourself. (At $12.99, we'd say it's a worthy investment!)
Recognize the Toast as an Opportunity
First, Honsberger encourages you to view the toast as an opportunity rather than a stressor. "The couple picked you out of everyone in the world to give a toast, so my feeling is that they think that highly of you that they really deserve it in return," he explains. "They deserve your best effort. It’s one of the biggest days of their lives, and you have an opportunity, and I believe a responsibility, to add value to that day." Not to mention: Your speech has the power to stick around with the couple long after their wedding day. "If you give a memorable speech and that's a memory that sticks around with the couple, then that's something they’ll talk about for the rest of their life," he adds.
Give Yourself Time to Write and Prepare
"As soon as you hear [you're giving a toast], the most important thing is that you put together a plan for yourself," he advises. Whether you want to start preparing three weeks or three months out, Honsberger says the choice is up to you—just don't wait any less than three weeks before the wedding day. "Dates come up so fast, especially if you’re in the season of life where you’re going to five to ten weddings a year," he stresses.
Build a Framework—Then, Practice!
Once it's time to dive in, Honsberger says the first step in writing is to build a framework for the speech. Honsberger recommends following what he calls "The Five Critical Cogs," or the Opener, the Past, the Present and Future, the Significant Other, and the Big Finish. If you don't follow Honsberger's structure, he says that's OK, just be sure to put together a framework of the main points that you want to hit. The next step? "Start drilling down the framework into individual stories, walks down memory lane, any intel that you’ve gathered, and start fleshing out some of those pieces," he says.
After your speech is written, it's all about practice. Recite it in the mirror and then call on a friend to be your audience. "If you can, recite it to one person so that you get a second set of ears on it before the wedding," he says.
Nail Your Performance
"Writing it is a big piece of the wedding toast but the presentation is also a big piece of it," Honsberger admits. "I've got a very quick three-part rule of thumb to follow while you’re up there or as you’re about to walk up in front of everybody. Just repeat, 'head, hands, feet!'" The rule refers to the three major points you should consider while delivering your speech. "Head" is a reminder to keep your head held high and maintain eye contact with the audience. You'll also need a plan for your "hands!" While one hand will hold the microphone, you have to consider what you'll be doing with the other hand—will it be holding your speech, resting in your pocket or hanging by your side? "Feet" refers to your posture and serves as a reminder to stand tall, instead of slouched over. "If you can get those three things where you want them to be, then you’re going to present yourself well," he says.
Prepare for a Quick Recovery
After practicing your speech a hundred times over, you'll surely be prepared to grab the mic when the time comes. But what happens when the inevitable occurs and you trip up mid-toast? Honsberger says, "Own it!" "If you’re still in the middle of the toast, I think it’s always good to call it out. Be self-deprecating," he says. "It's OK to admit, 'Hey, I just messed up that line' or 'I completely forgot what I was going to say next.' If you’re the first one to laugh at yourself, then everybody's like, 'OK, this person is self-aware and that's no problem.'"
Honsberger also recommends having a few remarks on-the-ready in case things start to go wrong. "There’s potential to prepare for something like this by having a quick one-liner or something witty in the bag already," he says. "If it goes poorly or you feel like it’s not going the way you wanted, you can say something like, 'You guys mean so much to me that you flustered me and I didn’t think that was possible' or 'I’m clearly flustered by how amazing this entire wedding day is!'"
Learn From Other's Mistakes
As mentioned, Honsberger has seen toasts that are memorable (not in a good way!) and he wants you to learn from the mistakes he's witnessed. One moment that particularly stands out? A maid of honor who read her speech from an iPad that ultimately locked mid-way through, causing her to lose her place and forget her passcode in the process. "There are ways that you can easily prepare if you’re going to use technology," shares Honsberger. "That wasn’t a winning strategy to be doing it like that."
Another uncomfortable moment came from a best man whose toast fell short—literally! "He kept saying, 'I was going to tell this story about college, but the bride told me I wasn’t allowed to,' and then 'I was going to tell this other story about a fraternity party, but the bride told me I wasn’t allowed to,'" Honsberger recalls. "He kept saying things that he was going to say but that the bride told him not to, and his speech ended up being really short. He didn’t make any effort to try to think of other examples of why his friend was important to him."
And Copy Their Wins!
To end, Honsberger reminded us why he wrote his book: He has seen guests, maids of honor, and best men give wedding toasts that left him utterly impressed. So what can you learn from these stars? For one, Honsberger says he gets excited when toast-givers begin with confidence and toss away the traditional "for those of you who don't know me" introduction. "When my cousin gave a toast at her best friend's wedding, she began with, 'If you’re in this room and you don’t know me by now, then you’re probably at the wrong wedding," he adds an example. (It made an impression—so much that Honsberger included the entire toast in his book as an example to copy.)
Honsberger's next tip is directed at the boys, but we'd argue that it can be applied to any speech of honor. His point: Instead of reminiscing on memories spent as a large group, as he says men often do, he loves when the toast-giver gets personal. "If you're a best man, differentiate yourself by talking about some of the one-on-one conversations that you had with the groom and what those meant to you," he says. "I think that’s a unique thing that not a lot of guys are going to say in their toasts."
Overall, Honsberger says it's important to remember: It is your duty as a speaker "to honor, to entertain, and to inform the couple first, the audience second, and yourself third." Perhaps, this is why all three of Honsberger's "toasts to copy" came from others—meaning they not only left a message with the couple; they left a message with him as well. "The one thing I’ve always been impressed by is if the speaker, or speakers, is able to make you feel like you’re part of their friend group in their toast," he says. "If you are inclusive rather than exclusive with your words, you make everyone feel as if they are a part of the friendship."