Tips for Toasting Any Occasion

Advice on how to craft a memorable toast — and ideas on what to say

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Great events, both large and small, punctuate our lives. Graduations, engagements, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries are but a few of them. Often these events call for toasts. The following is a guide to crafting the perfect toast for each occasion that will leave the toastee feeling honored, the guests captivated, and the toast-maker above reproach!

 

What Makes a Toast Good?

• Be structured. Introduce yourself and your relationship to person or people being honored. Segue to the meat of your toast and end with the actual raising of the glass and specific language that makes it obvious for other guests to join you in the toast.

• Be gracious. Always thank the host of the event.

• Be brief. No, really. More than three minutes (two for less-formal affairs) is self-indulgent, not flattering, to the toastee.

• Be light-hearted and sincere. Humor is wonderful when used appropriately, but not if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Direct, honest sentiments expressed simply are never inappropriate.

• Be relevant. The toast should focus on the toastee, not the giver.

• Be rehearsed. If you need notecards, your toast is too long. If you can’t deliver it from memory, it’s too long. If you can’t remember the next line, you didn’t rehearse enough!

 

The Perfect Toast For Any Setting (and What to Say)

Graduation

Graduations are about marking the end of an era and looking to the future. A toast to the graduate should include brief highlights of where they’ve been — good grades, honors won, sports achievements, friendships made — as well as words of encouragement and advice on their next chapter. Sincerity and optimism should infuse the toast. Irony and snarkiness do not work in this setting.

Engagement Party

Traditionally, the father of the bride begins with an announcement of the engagement and a toast to the couple. Since engagement parties often include family members and everyone may not know each other well, it is best to focus on your wishes for the future happiness of the couple rather than on overly-personal or insider anecdotes that focus on one half of the couple only.

 

Birthday

Birthday celebrations can run the gamut from informal dinners with only the closest of friends to elaborate parties with both personal and professional acquaintances in attendance. It’s very important to consider who will be in the audience when preparing a birthday toast.

Ribald humor and recollections of madcap escapades are great when the listeners are all friends, but not so when the birthday girl or boy’s boss is among the crowd. When discretion is preferable, focus on an attribute or two of the toastee such as loyalty, perseverance, creativity, or compassion and craft a toast around an illustrative anecdote.

 

Wedding

The three most frequent missteps of those delivering toasts at a wedding are:

1. Being long-winded.

2. Focusing on your relationship with one half of the couple rather than their relationship to each other.

3. And, incredibly, not mentioning one member of the couple at all!

Sad, but true, I once had a father of the bride give a ten minute speech (it’s not a toast after the three minute mark) in which he neglected to mention the incredible man that his daughter had just married, but managed to mention that the bride’s sister had recently received a medical degree from a certain Ivy League school in Boston.

So how to avoid being that person? It’s quite simple actually. Focus on the couple’s relationship and how happy it makes them. Perhaps share a moment in their history as a couple to which you were privy that illustrates how right they are for each other. Or in the case that you don’t know one of them very well, frame your comments around how happy that person makes your friend and how you are looking forward to getting to know him or her better.

 

Anniversary

If you will be toasting your spouse, this is a time to underscore all that you are proud of in your marriage (including the fact that it has made it this long) as well as all that you love about your partner. This can be done with or without humor. This is not a time to embarrass your spouse or overshare details that will make guests shift in their seats.

If you are toasting the couple along with several other people, then it is a good idea to compare notes with the other speakers. You want your toast to be fresh and original, not sharing the same anecdote that everyone else is using.

And now please join me in raising a glass to… well-executed toasts!

 

Soraya Jollon is a New York-based wedding and event planner. Click here to see more of Soraya's advice for planning weddings and special events.

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