Toasts can be the best part of a wedding reception, or they can be the worst part. The great wedding toasts are truly memorable, bring tears to guests’ eyes, and talked about for days after the event. They become one of the greatest gifts you can give to the newlyweds because they honor them and provide their guests a window into their lives. The bad ones? Well, those go down in history, too. They can be embarrassing and uncomfortable—or might just be downright boring. The best way to handle this situation is to adequately prepare yourself ahead of time. And maybe rethink some of those celebratory shots—at least until after you've delivered your speech.
Want to make sure your wedding toasts are forever heralded for sheer brilliance, instead of going down the doomed path to infamy? Here are some expert tips and advice from Colin (last name withheld for anonymity) a screenwriter and founder of Tinseltown Toasts, a professional speech-writing service operated by award-winning screenwriters.
Wedding Toast Template
In the words of our speech-writing expert, "the goal is never one perfect sentence or paragraph, it's always a whole that becomes greater than the sum of its parts." Here are some of the key features a toast should include.
1. Identify yourself. Chances are there are a few people in attendance that have no idea who you are. Take a second to briefly introduce yourself and explain your relationship to the couple.
2. Thank the hosts. Let's not forget who actually made it possible (aka footed the bill) for this whole shindig in the first place. Your first thoughts should be an expression of gratitude to whoever is hosting this event. "When you begin, be grateful, be gracious, and then be grandiose," says Colin. "Being grateful and gracious shows you’re being thoughtful so that when you make your next statement, the audience is ready and willing to lean in to see where you’re going with it."
3. Introduce the theme. This is going to be the defining aspect of your toast. If you're at a loss for words, Colin advises simply ruminating on the person you're toasting and noting the first word that comes to mind. Whatever that word is will become the theme or thesis.
4. Add supporting memories. Your value as a toast-maker is your first-hand experiences with the newlyweds. These memories will serve as the supporting evidence your theme needs. "In doing this, you’re inviting the audience into your personal experience of the toastee and giving them a view of that person, or couple, that they’ve probably never gotten to have before," explains Colin.
5. Bring it all together. Conclude by clarifying how everything you just mentioned led up to the current moment and leave the guests feeling like they know the couple even better than before. "Simply put: Talk about how the person you are toasting is a better, happier, more full human being because of the person sitting next to them, which should be entirely thanks to the trait your thesis states," says Colin. "Extra points go to the speaker who can make that growth due to the trait in an unexpected way."
6. Congratulate the newlyweds. This is the whole reason why you're here, so don't let the seemingly obvious slip your mind. Make sure to applaud the union of the couple and provide a few words and well wishes for their future.
7. End with a toast. Wrap things up with your closing remarks and ask everyone to join you in toasting the newlyweds. "If you want to get a little fancy, find a way to incorporate an echo of your thesis statement within the toast portion (without it getting too wordy)," suggests Colin. "You’ll look brilliant but all you did was throw out a callback for the audience to latch onto."
Wedding Toast Tips
Once you've found your personal rhythm, follow some of these tips to ensure you nail the delivery of your wedding toast.
1. Speak to both halves of the couple. Even if you know one much better than the other, it's important to remember that you are celebrating their relationship together. Not your relationship with one of them. If you only talk about one entity, you'll be alienating at least half of the guests in attendance who may only know their counterpart.
2. Keep personal stories in good taste. Keep in mind who your audience is. It is usually comprised of multiple generations of family, friends, and work colleagues. Don't tell any stories that may come across as inappropriate or mention exes. Your friend's boss really doesn't need to know details about how the bachelor party went down or how bad a previous flame was. Keep your tone light and positive, always bringing it back to the newlyweds and the present moment.
3. Be mindful of inside jokes. "There’s nothing wrong with an inside joke, but only if you make sure the audience finds themselves on the inside through your telling of it," explains Colin. "Otherwise, inside jokes for the sake of inside jokes tell an audience it’s okay to tune out because you aren’t talking to them. Once you go down that road it’s tough to get their attention back." He adds that if you're going to be using humor in the toast, be sure to balance it with emotional undercurrents to provide depth.
4. Be yourself. "A fancy, polished, well-rehearsed version of yourself," adds Colin. "If you’re not a comedian, don’t be a comedian. But know that a light touch of humor will go a long way because it’s unexpected, and that can be a lot of fun." The same goes for sentimentality, it's all about striking the right harmony. And remember: Your friends know who you are, and they'll definitely be able to tell if you're just putting on a show for the crowd. Stay true to you and be genuine.
5. Time it. Toasts are usually around five minutes long—enough time to share a few sweet memories or sentiments, but not so long that guests lose interest.
6. Deliver. A great speech isn't just a witty compilation of words, it's also about the delivery. Make sure you're standing tall—never, ever remain seated—and exuding confidence, in a location where everyone can see you (otherwise they will tune you out). "It’s perfectly appropriate to use flash cards or even read from a piece of paper if you’re nervous," notes Colin. "Just not a phone, and my god, not an iPad. A glowing face is bad for photos and what happens if the power drains? Or you get a call?"
Colin recommends printing your words on folded card stock as it's thick and won't shake if you get nervous. "Take the time to make sure the speech prints out on it in a way that any page-breaks land where you’d naturally take a breath between thoughts," he adds. "It’ll help keep you from feeling off-balance."
7. Embrace the jitters. Nerves are not the enemy, they're an energizing jolt of energy that you can harness. "Jack wasn’t nimble or quick because of the candlestick, it was because of the fire," says Colin. "Being on your toes is a totally legal performance enhancer. Try to embrace the idea that the butterflies in your stomach might just use their wings to help you fly over the flame before you."
8. Don't forget to smile! Make sure that your face reflects the love in your heart with a great, big grin. "Smiling triggers a release of feel good neurotransmitters that help temper any excess nervousness you might be feeling—even when the smile is fake," says Colin. If you feel your nerves getting the better of you, look at the subject of your toast (aka the newlyweds) while you recite your speech and forget about the crowd.
9. Keep drinks to a minimum. A glass of bubbly before giving a toast can do wonders to loosen you up a bit. But try to stick to one glass, and remember this throughout the day (hello, pre-ceremony shots and getting-ready drinks), too much alcohol can turn your carefully-crafted sentiments into a big, slurred mess.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to start brainstorming ideas for your speech.
- Who is speaking immediately before or after you, and how will this affect the content of your speech? (Perhaps you would want to include a reference to their toast.)
- What is the general tone you want your words to reflect? Joyful? Funny? Sentimental?
- What's a memory of the newlyweds that instantly comes to mind and always makes you smile?
- When you picture the couple's life together in a few years (or from this moment forward) what do you see? Do you have any advice for them?
1. Who speaks? Wedding toasts are usually given by three important parties: The hosts, the maid of honor and best man, and the newlyweds. If the parents of one party are hosting, they’ll give a speech at the reception, while the other set will usually speak at the rehearsal dinner. Alternately, both may speak during the reception as well.
2. Does the bride speak? Traditionally, the bride does not formally address the wedding guests and it is the responsibility of the groom to deliver their sentiments as a couple. Of course, many a modern woman has taken the mic into her own hands (literally) and spoken a few words. However, it does provide a great excuse for any public speaking averse brides out there.
3. When should they speak? The order and timing of toasts can vary widely. Often, the father of the bride or the hosts will give a toast as soon as guests have seated for dinner. The best man and maid of honor may speak immediately after or later during dinner service. The final toast is by the newlyweds, who can follow directly after or save their toast until the end of the meal. If both sets of parents are speaking during the reception, they would speak immediately after the other.
A Wedding Toast Example to Make Your Own
While unable to provide any real examples of previous toasts due to client confidentiality, Colin did write the following hypothetical speech (just for us!) to illustrate how all the above tips and guidelines can come together.
"Hi everyone, I’m Caroline, and I’m honored to serve as a bridesmaid for Elena. It’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of love and support for Elena and Jay from all their family and friends as this celebration approached. And it’s been great fun to meet so many of you already, hopefully all of you by the end of the weekend. I know we are all grateful to Elena’s parents, Sasha and Hamilton, for making this incredible wedding a reality.
Of course, our gratitude assumes they had a choice in the matter. All of us here know Elena well, which means we know that’s not true. Plenty of words can be used to describe Elena: brilliant, beautiful and beneficent among them—but those aren’t the descriptors at the very top of the list, are they?
Some might say: tunnel-visioned. Some might even say obstinate, or difficult. But I would never say that...in front of her. Instead, I’ll say what I believe: Elena personifies persistence. And I pity the fool who stands between her and whatever she wants. While obstinance is not always synonymous with charm, Elena’s absolutely is. Because what Elena wants—what she's stubborn about—is so rarely for Elena.
At the end of our Freshman year, Elena got a B-minus on a term paper. It was in the philosophy class in which we met when we were randomly paired in a working group. Elena didn’t mind the grade, but when she saw how upset I was with it, she went to work. I know for a fact that our professor made the argument that grading philosophy is subjective. At least until Elena had exhausted his efforts and possibly changed his entire philosophy. And then magically, an A-minus appeared! What also appeared was a friendship that shows no sign of ending in this lifetime.
We all know how Elena and Jay’s third date was sort of an epic disaster between the al-fresco downpour and the food poisoning from the dinner he cooked. But I don’t think a single one of us, including Jay, has ever heard Elena describe it that way. Because she already knew that Jay was the one—whether he liked it or not. Happily, he came around—Jay, blink twice if you’re here of your own volition. Okay, folks, looks like we’re good. Jay and I have realized that Elena isn’t the person you want on your team; she's the whole damn team.
People like Elena are the only reason why the road between the impossible and the possible is ever paved.
Which is why I’m certain we will all be very proud of the life she and Jay are building together. So, please join me in toasting these nauseatingly adorable lovebirds; Elena and Jay: may your love forever remain as stubborn, obstinate, pig-headed…and beautiful as it is today. Cheers!"