Wedding toasts can go one of two ways: they’re either hilarious, memorable, and totally sweet, or it’s a train wreck waiting to happen and a moment guests dread. Every couple hopes the toasts at their reception fall into the first category, but there’s no guarantee—until now. To combat those awful speeches, Marisa Polansky and Kristine Keller founded Speech Tank, offering completely custom, one-of-a-kind toasts for any occasion. And what better reason to turn to the experts than for your best friend’s wedding? We sat down with Polansky and Keller to get the inside scoop on writing a totally killer speech. With their help, your audience will be begging for an encore!
Just Get Started
It’s your big moment, but figuring out where to start can be tough. “When we work with our clients, we always start with a stream of consciousness,” says Keller. “We ask them to just start telling us stories. You might not think every anecdote is important, but all of a sudden you’ll land on a real gem.” When you’re doing this at home on your own, Polansky says to just start writing stuff down. “Put it all down on paper. Don’t worry about editing as you’re writing, just get it out and then go back and pick and choose details when you’re done.” This will help you identify a theme, which is what you’ll need to make your toast really memorable.
Tell a (Curated) Story
When you’re writing your speech, make sure it has a beginning, middle, and end. “Choose anecdotes that all fit a theme and support your argument,” says Keller. The theme will help tie it together, making your toast feel intentional instead of random. “If you’re trying to make a point about the bride’s personality—say, that she’s particularly loyal—don’t just say that and move on. Pick a specific moment that proves your point. Have something to back it up!” Polansky adds. Including some proof will make sure your listeners really buy what you’re saying about the couple.
Make It Quick
“The best length for a toast is about three minutes,” says Polansky. “It’s enough time to say what you need to say, but short enough that you’ll still have everyone’s attention when you ask them to raise their glasses to toast the happy couple.” Think you know what three minutes feel like? Think again. “Practice reading your speech out loud (not in your head!) and time yourself,” Polansky continues. “If you’re a fast talker, try to slow yourself down so everyone will understand you.” Better to cut a few lines than to try to fit a 10-minute toast into a three-minute time frame!
Keep It Clean-Ish
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to know your audience. “Cursing and stories about exes are totally off-limits,” says Keller. “Beyond that, ask yourself how each story will present the couple. If it sheds any negative light on either person, avoid it.” Continues Polansky, “Think about how close you are with the family, as well as who you know will be there. Will it make the groom’s great aunt uncomfortable?”
Go for the Crowd-Pleasers
“Anything that’s an inside joke may have been funny at the time, but no one else will understand what you’re talking about,” Keller advises. “Run your stories and jokes by a neutral audience to see if they are as funny as you think.” And remember, a little humor is fine, but this is a toast, not a roast! Says Polansky, “A little humor is fine, but now isn’t the time to really get into all of your friend’s antics at the bachelor party!”
Address Both Partners
You may not know them both well, but you shouldn’t focus all of your attention on your friend and ignore their new spouse. “Even if you’ve only met your friend’s husband once or twice before, find a way to include him in your toast,” says Polansky. “Tell the story of their engagement or share something your friend told you about him that proves what a great partner he is.”
Once you’ve got it all written down, practice, practice, practice! “Don’t wing it, especially if you’re nervous,” says Polansky. “Give yourself time to prepare. Practice with an audience to check your timing, and give yourself time to make edits.” Are you nervous about your big moment? Use this handy mental trick: “Every time you think you’re nervous about it, tell yourself that you’re excited instead,” Keller recommends. And don’t count on your phone, which may lock or turn off mid-speech. Instead, print out your toast or put it on note cards for reference. “It’s your moment to have the floor, so don’t risk forgetting your point!” says Keller.