Evaluate if and why you want to speak.
Assess how comfortable you feel with public speaking, advises Sharon Naylor, author of Your Special Wedding Toasts. Think about what you want to share: Even if the thought of holding a microphone makes you quiver, you may find the momentous occasion inspiring enough to help you overcome your nerves. "A toast is a great way to convey your emotions," Naylor says. "But it should not be considered a replacement for greeting your guests at their tables or in a receiving line."
Write out your speech before the wedding festivities begin, and get an objective opinion about it. If you try to wing it, your nerves may get in the way, says Naylor. Practice, practice, practice. And, on the wedding day, try to not have more than one or two drinks before toast time so you’re as clear-headed as possible.
Time it right.
NYC-based event planner Marcy Blum recommends making a toast at the cake cut-ting. But, if the anticipation of giving the toast will distract you all night, you may want to do it at the beginning of the wedding meal. Blum has seen brides tweak the bouquet-toss tradition by making a toast instead, and closing by offering the bouquet to a special guest, like the friend who introduced them or a treasured family member, and explaining why.
Keep it short and sweet.
Your toast should be two minutes, maximum. Speak slowly, breathe between sentences and make eye contact with your guests. Don’t panic if you lose your train of thought, Naylor says. Just make a joke like, "Now I know how Oscar winners feel... Whew!" Guests will understand. Blum suggests writing down important phrases on an index card. Or, you can write out the toast word for word, but you may appear stiff reading it that way.
Acknowledge the people who made it happen.
Thank your parents, in-laws and anyone who traveled from far away or made a special effort to be there. Don’t spend the whole time thanking your best friends or bridal party members individually, says Naylor. The rehearsal dinner is a more appropriate time to highlight their contributions.
Not everyone knows you and the groom as a couple, so share an anecdote about your relationship. If you don’t consider yourself a comedian, don’t try to bring the house down. Express what the day has meant to you, but skip superlatives—being gushy and overly intimate can make guests uncomfortable. Stay positive, but don’t worry about getting emotional. "Wedding guests would rather see real feelings than a beauty-pageant speech," Naylor says.
Be thoughtful and creative.
Consider delivering your toast with your groom. Read from old letters you wrote each other, or prerecord a video message. Blum recounts a wedding of a Chinese bride and an American groom where he learned to speak Chinese and gave the toast in her native tongue, which she translated into English. For a similar effect, give the salutation or final words of the speech in one or your families’ native languages.