The holiday season is finally here. Along with Christmas trees, so too come holiday parties and family meals where raising a glass is customary. But if you’re like me, speaking in public (even if it’s my extended family) makes my stomach flip and my mind go blank. So how does one tackle the toast and deliver a speech to remember? We went straight to the experts for advice.
“Great toasts are customized for the occasion, brief, and emotionally stirring,” says Michael Notaro, president of Toastmasters International. Nor is the ability to deliver the perfect toast going to come to you overnight, in your sleep. “Giving a toast is like any art form — the more you do it, the better you get,” says celebrity restaurateur and hosting expert Liza Utter.
Whether you’re hosting a dinner for 30 of your family members or ringing in the New Year with a group of friends and plenty of bubbly, take a minute to brush up on your toasting expertise with our tips below.
1. Know When to Talk
As the host of the party, you don’t always have to be the first to raise a glass. “The host may prefer someone else to lift the first glass,” notes Notaro. If you’re in doubt, ask the host beforehand. Before you raise your glass, ensure that everyone’s glasses are full. “Once you stand, wait until the chatter subsides,” adds Utter. It gives you a chance to take a breath and ensure everyone is listening.
2. Keep It Brief
A toast doesn’t have to be long or overly formal, as long as it is sincere and original. Notaro suggests talking for no more than two to three minutes, thanking the host early, and identifying an appealing and unifying theme — perhaps what makes the holiday meaningful for those in the room, or expressing gratitude for a past event that has allowed for some growth and new perspective on the future. “Speak from the heart,” adds Utter. “Your words are better than anyone else's to express why this evening has meaning to you.”
3. Know Your Audience
According to Notaro, a good toast comes from knowing your audience and customizing what you say. “Research those attending the event — what is the age, gender, religion, ethnicity, and educational level of those around you? Will there be children?” A little humor is generally fine. Make it tasteful, and avoid offending those around you by steering clear of anything too sarcastic.
4. Practice Makes Perfect
Like Utter said, delivering the perfect toast is an art form, only possible through practice (and of course, making mistakes). If time allows, Notaro suggests practicing your toast two or three times in advance. Deliver it in front of friends and ask for honest feedback, or film it and critique yourself.
5. A Cheat Sheet Is OK
No one is perfect. “While it’s best to memorize your main ideas and speak in a conversational tone,” says Notaro, “it’s OK to have your entire speech written on a three-by-five index card should you need a crutch.” Just remember to look everyone in the eye.
6. Say Thank You
Be it the host, special guests, those who traveled from far away, or even your spouse/partner, Utter reminds that the person giving the toast should always acknowledge and express thanks for those who are a part of the day.