Wedding

The Art of Giving a Good Wedding Toast

June 13, 2016

1. It's a toast, not a roast.

You are not British (unless you are, in which case I'm sorry to hear it). Make your details specific and your feelings transparent, but keep the tone upbeat. No embarrassing stories about ex-girlfriends/boyfriends, the one who got away, etc. No embarrassing stories about things the bride or groom did while under the influence of booze/weed/Bernie Sanders. NO EMBARRASSING STORIES.

2. Have a theme and a landing point firmly in mind.

It's not about you: All the guests need to know is your name and, in the briefest possible way, how you know the bride and/or groom. It's about them: what makes Sue and Joe different from every other couple?

Your central conceit should be easily graspable by two hundred people of varying intellect and sobriety. Joe was always looking for X in his life, as exemplified by stories Y and Z. (The stories you alone can provide. If you don't have singular insight, why stand up?) Then Joe found Sue, whose startup made an app that crowd-sourced X.

Or: Sue once told me the most important thing in a man was X. Then, when she met Joe, she worried that he had too much X. Until she realized that she'd never understood before what X really meant—and that was the night she proposed to him...

Or: Sue was always looking for X. Then she found Joe—who absolutely hated X. But Sue and Joe found happiness together in their mutual love of Y. And the funny thing is, from where I stand today, Y looks an awful lot like X...

3. Practice over and over, till you know the toast by heart.

Time yourself: Keep it to five minutes. Seven, tops, if you're the maid of honor or best man. Nine only if no one else is giving a toast and you have a fatal disease.

Practice once more out back or in the bathroom, just before go time. Then you'll be able to relax, read the mood in the room, slow down, and enjoy yourself. But keep a Post-It with the key beats in your pocket, in case. Nothing worse than grinding to a halt with "Anyway... I just love you guys so much!"

4. Have you learned something from Joe and Sue's relationship?

Some powerful truth about the nature of human fealty? This is your best, and maybe your only, chance to voice that truth. Weddings and funerals are when you need to bring your A game. Your candor will feel so beguiling that everyone at the wedding will fall in love with you, and the happy couple will forget all about how crappy your gift is.

5. Don't buy a crappy gift, though. Shop here.

Tad Friend, who just so happens to be Amanda Hesser's husband, is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. You can find more of his work here.

Tell us about some of your favorite wedding toasts, in the comments.

4 Comments

Leopardie June 20, 2016
I'm British. Why ever would you be sorry to hear that? The best man's speech is traditionally full of funny stories and, if done well, is usually one of the highlights of the wedding.
 
Jo M. June 21, 2016
Hear hear from a fellow Brit! I have heard some wonderful Best Man's/Best Girlfriend's speeches over the years (including the one given at my daughter's wedding 6 yrs ago). Even if the speech is dire - and I've hear those too! - it is a rite of passage and no-one wants some bland blah blah speech.
 
AntoniaJames June 14, 2016
Points 2 and 3 apply whenever anyone needs to make an important point to a group of people -- in business meetings, in courtrooms, at conferences, as well as weddings (and funerals) -- especially the part about practicing over and over what you plan to say. When you are comfortable and at ease delivering your message, you not only command the respect, but also ensure the comfort, of those around you. ;o)
 
AntoniaJames June 15, 2016
And of course, rigorously following #3 inevitably results in a better #2. This is the second most important point I teach the Silicon Valley MBA students in my negotiations / leadership classes. ;o)