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A few years ago my two best friends got married six weeks apart, and I was the maid of honor in both. So I spent a lot of time giving toasts. As the bridal party ringleader, I shared a devotional at the bridal showers. I gave a toast at the rehearsal dinners. And then the crème del al crème — the toast at the main event: the wedding reception. At the time I was 28, so to say that I had heard lots and lots of wedding toasts is an understatement. The good thing about that is that I had heard some really good best man and maid of honor toasts, and I had heard some really bad ones. So when the time came for me to sum up almost 20 years of friendship in a just a few paragraphs that I would share in front of hundreds of people, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
And honestly, I killed it with those speeches. I totally nailed it. Finally, attending countless weddings (seriously, I have lost count of the number of weddings I’ve attended. This is what happens when you go to a Christian college and the majority of your friends subscribe to the “Ring by Spring” philosophy) had paid off. At one point I seriously thought of how I might turn my wedding toast success into a new career option (like a presidential speech writer, except for weddings).
And since we are in the thick of wedding season, let me offer a few words of advice for those of you who are crafting your own wedding speeches to toast the happy couple.
1. Keep it short and sweet. “That speech was so short; I just really wish it had been longer,” said no one ever at a wedding reception. Especially if the toasts are before the meal and the crowd is staring at you with hungry eyes, it’s best to keep it short. I can still remember a wedding I attended in 2004 where the best man went on and on and on. I’m pretty sure he recapped every year he had known the groom, which was a lot of years. Once you start to go longer then three to four minutes, you’re venturing into dangerous territory. Stay out of the danger zone, friends.
2. Avoid inside jokes. I know, I know, you really want to share about that one time on that one trip you took in college where the one thing happened that was soooo funny. But please avoid the temptation to share an inside joke that only you and the bride or groom will actually think is funny, leaving the other 99 percent of the wedding guests laughing awkwardly, pretending to be in on the joke. Instead, share a quick story or funny tradition that explains some aspect of your friendship or relationship. It can still be funny or humorous (without being embarrassing or inappropriate. Remember Aunt Edna is listening!) but explain why it’s funny or share a universal experience that at least the majority of the guests will understand.
3. Practice, but not too much. Given the abundance of smart phones and Instagram video capabilities, there’s a very high probability that someone will record your toast and post it on social media somewhere. So practice enough that you don’t sound like you’re reading off a piece of paper. But as you might remember from your Public Speaking 101 class, don’t sound so rehearsed that you might be mistaken for a tuxedo or taffeta-clad robot. Know your speech well enough that even if your hands are shaking, you won’t lose your place, but leave room for a little bit of improvisation. There is a time to fly by the seat of your pants, but a wedding toast is not of those times.
4. Beware the ugly cry. OK, this one might be mostly for the girls, but I’m sure that I’ve seen at least a few best men get a little choked up during their toast. Shedding a tear or two is appropriate and can even enhance the sincerity of your words, but when you start to do the ugly cry and can’t stop, it gets really difficult to understand what you’re saying (even more so if Aunt Edna doesn’t have her hearing aid turned up). Remember that you’ve probably been up early doing the wedding beauty regime and taking endless rounds of photos, and it can be an emotional day to watch a friend or sibling commit his/her life to another. At some point all of that will catch up with you, but ideally it won’t be during your toast. So share the things that will make you cry during the rehearsal dinner or before the ceremony. That way you’ll have already shed your tears before the actual toast.
OK, your turn! What wedding toast tips would you include? What makes for a memorable toast?
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--I haven't been to too many weddings, but I do love the advice of "Beware the ugly cry!" As uncomfortable as that might be if ever experienced in person, it's hilarious to imagine!
--I've been to too many weddings where someone has stood up and made comments about the bride and groom "remaining pure," or "waiting for each other." So. Awkward. I get that it's a good and honorable thing, but in front of the whole flipping audience? No one needs to know about the couple's sex life unless the couple tells them personally.
--Every time you start your toast (or any speech, for that matter) with, "Webster's defines [some word] as...," it makes me want to club a baby seal. Dictionary definitions have to be the laziest introduction to any speech ever.
--My only advice: Don't drink too much before giving the toast. You just might say more than you bargained for. Oh, and the world will know of it as well because about half the audience (a conservative estimate for sure) will have their smartphones on filming you while you are doing it and post it for the world to see.
--5. Know the couple, know the audience and know the expectations of your community.
In my community, the best man toasts the beautiful bridesmaids, so I made sure I did that. Do a little checking to make sure you understand what’s expected of you.
In the one best man speech I’ve given, the couple were both the first (and at that time, only) Christians in their family. They first met because he shared the gospel with her, a random stranger at a karaoke night, and she went home, prayed and became a Christian that night. This meant that a) they had a big passion for evangelism, b) very few, if any, Christian blood-relatives, none of whom I knew personally, and so c) relating stories of how they met and their journeys of faith wasn’t going to go so well with the audience, and d) most of the other speeches would have no Christian context at all. So instead I used the concept of love and the old chestnut, 1 Corinthians 13, as context for a blessing and exhortation to them, with 20 seconds worth of gospel basics deliberately layered in. Not bad for what turned out to be a 90 second speech.
Which leads me to an affirmation of point 3. I was asked to limit it to 3 minutes, and so I prepared my text and practiced it, but forgot to time it. It was well received (see point 1 above), but it was a little shorter than I had intended. Don’t forget nerves, which can speed up your delivery like (I think) it did mine.
6. If you’re making a toast away from your seat, don’t forget to take your glass with you to the microphone.
Been there, done that, ‘nuff said.
--Personal preference: Make it interesting don't just quote Proverbs 31 and tell the groom what a great wife he is getting.
My brother's best man didn't think things through and told us a story about how my brother almost broke up with his now wife because he discovered some "issues". LOL and we have the whole reception on dvd.
Catherine--I agree about the comments on purity. It's important and a great testimony but it is a little strange. Hope no one brings it up at my wedding.
--I've been to quite a few weddings, and was a bridesmaid for two close friends (though not the Maid of Honor). Oddly enough, I don't think I've ever been to a wedding where ANYONE had to give a toast! I guess that could have had to do with the fact that I've never been to a wedding where alcohol was served; toasting with fruit punch isn't quite the same, I guess!
--@Catherine, yes, especially when the bride and groom are saving their first kiss for the wedding day and the whole audience knows. I haven't personally seen a wedding like this, but I have heard several people's descriptions, and it sounds incredibly awkward. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want the audience to know so that I wouldn't feel like everyone was staring and evaluating how good the first kiss was, not to mention commenting later.
--yeah... I've been the Maid of Honor for two dear friends and once for my Sister (though I guess I was the "Matron" of honor at hers. ugh. No one wants to be called a Matron!) Although my first couple speeches were pretty forgettable (Sorry Sweeties!) I talked mostly on the wonderfulness of my relationship with the bride and how happy I was to see them get married. I poked a little gentle fun at some sillyness in their early relationships with their now-husbands and talked about how sweet their courtship was. I was pretty young at the time, and fairly inexperienced with public speaking, so I mostly read from a paper.
But with age comes experience, and I nailed the MOH speech at my sister's wedding. :) I love my sister, and I've never been happier to be in a bridal party (which was a party of two, but you know, whatever ;D) I talked about how, as older siblings, we sometimes take for granted that we have so much to teach our younger siblings -- but what often happens is that they end up teaching us valuable lessons, too. I shared some things I've learned from my sister, some silly, some serious. And I got the appropriate amount of verklempt (but not to the ugly cry level ;D) talking about how happy I am to now watch my sister and her husband learn from each other. :)
Just recognise that a good toast is about 40% content and 60% showmanship and you'll be good to go!
--In order to avoid the ugly cry at my sister's wedding toast, I instead read a sweet poem (one that I knew she loved) and ended it by saying "congratulations to the bride and groom. I wish you the very best!" I received compliments for keeping it classy and short. When in doubt, poems, blessings from the couple's culture (I considered reading an Irish blessing at her wedding and ending it with "Slainte!" (which means "cheers!"), or classic prayers, like Puritan prayers, are good options. Just some ideas!
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