No matter what, a toast is hard to forget. It’s either the highlight of an important event, or an awkward mess that people talk about for years after. Whether you’re in the wedding party, or just toasting someone’s success at a nice dinner, here’s how to give a classy toast and look great doing it.
Open With a Decent Joke to Hook the Audience
Once you’ve grabbed your glass, got everyone’s attention, and thanked the hosts (or whoever put on the event), you should start with a carefully chosen joke. Cameron Amigo and Josh Womack, co-founders of the professional joke writing company Laugh Staff, say it’s important to win over your audience immediately. It gets the audience on your side and lets them know that it’s ok to laugh right from the get-go. This is vital because if you want to make more jokes further into your toast, they won’t hesitate to laugh again.
Amigo and Womack also recommend you tailor your joke for your audience. Don’t just google some lame knock-knock jokes, give it some serious thought. This joke is your first impression, so it needs to be a sure thing. That said, it should also be appropriate. The video above, from Toastmasters International, recommends you approach all of your jokes with caution. If you’re 100% certain that your audience doesn’t include children, and the people there won’t be too easily offended, you can make your jokes a little edgier. But if you’re not certain, it’s best to keep your toast clean and avoid saying something that might attack someone. A single joke in bad taste is enough to derail an entire toast.
Explain Who You Are, But Don’t Make It About You
After you’ve hooked them with a joke, Vanessa Van Edwards, professional speaker and founder of Science of People, suggests you give some background information to everyone listening, or explain why you’re the person giving the toast. Who are you? How do you know them? Why is this so special? Remember, it’s possible some people listening don’t know you. Keep it short, but also try to set up a good story for later while you explain who you are.
Keep in mind, however, that while it’s fine and dandy to establish your relationship with the toastee, Van Edwards suggests it’s best to steer clear of talking about yourself too much. Truth be told, nobody really cares about you in this situation — it’s not your moment. Rob Lazebnik, a writer for The Simpsons agrees, noting that your audience is eager to hear about who you’re toasting, not your feelings, musings, or personal achievements. You might be talking, but the spotlight should be on the person you’re toasting.
Tell an Appropriate Story or Two
When it comes to your stories, you want something that’s meaningful, but also proper and respectful. As tempting as it might be to drag out really embarrassing tidbits about the couple or person being honored, don’t. A smidge of cringe is ok in your story, but as Malcolm Fraser at AskMen explains, the point of a toast is to leave everyone with a good feeling, including whoever you’re toasting and their close relations. Now is not the time to roast, reveal secrets, or talk about someone’s dark past.
Your overall tone should should be uplifting, humorous, complimentary, and sprinkled with sentiment to help balance it out. A great toast, and the stories within, should toe the line of comedy routine and heartfelt well-wishing. Of course, Lazebnik recommends you don’t overdo it with the stories either:
Toasters often ramble from one anecdote to the next, turning their speech into a trail mix of stories, frustrating listeners desperate to find an M&M. Choose a single theme about your subject — Shannon looks like the Mona Lisa; Bob would have made a great trapped Chilean miner — and pick a story or two that let you say something amusing or sweet to slam that theme through the hoop.
When in doubt, go with something simple and classy. It’s always better a toast be short and sweet than long and droning. After all, you might not be the only toaster, and if you’re at a wedding, everyone probably wants to get to the bar and dance floor.
Finish Off With a Strong “Clink”
The end of your toast, or the “clink,” is the cherry on top of your speech sundae. It should be emotionally charged, tie everything you’ve said together, and move your audience to raise their glasses and join you in well-wishing the toastee. Van Edwards explains that it’s ok to get a little sappy here, and even show gratitude toward the hosts one more time. She highlights the difference between a decent clink and a great clink you might hear at a wedding:
Only OK Clink: Lift your glasses in a toast to the bride and groom and their family. Awesome Clink: Please lift your glasses as we thank Mr. and Mrs. Jones for hosting this lovely evening. To the beautiful bride and groom, may you have a long, healthy life with just as beautiful children. We love you and are so excited for you. Cheers!
Your whole speech is building to this point, so don’t let the positive energy of your well-crafted toast trail off and turn it into a dud. If you’re worried you can’t pull it off, practice your toast beforehand. Like any other speech, practice makes perfect.