How to give a great wedding toast…and NOT ruin the ceremony!

A few years ago, I was approached by some good friends who were planning their wedding and asked if I would do them the honor of officiating the ceremony.  Not being a man of the cloth or having ever captained a ship I was a little shocked.

They went on to explain that in the state they were planning to have the ceremony the Governor can designate non-clergy individuals to solemnize a marriage, such as a friend or a family member and it was a common practice.   Additionally, they were going to write their own vows so I would just need to follow the script on the day of the wedding.  Of course, I accepted and was honored to be asked.  I was also relieved that I would not have to write some eloquent remarks to encapsulate their love for each other in a ceremony that I had no experience with. 

There was one catch, I would need to come up with a toast for the reception.  This is where I, along with countless people before me started to get a little flop sweat.  I could feel mom’s spaghetti rumbling in my stomach as I pondered the big question “How do you give a great wedding toast...and not ruin the ceremony!

Fortunately, there is lots of information out there.  As always, I started at the library and found a number of helpful books which I have listed below.  I also consulted with anyone and everyone I could find who had served up a toast at a wedding to try and learn from their successes or failures.  This led to a very surprising realization which I have listed as number “10” in my “Ten Tips on How to Give a Great Toast” below. 

In the end, the ceremony and toast went off without a hitch.  It was a beautiful day, and my friends have since added two lovely daughters to their family.  Should I take any credit for their happiness?  Of course not, but I do every chance I get!  At the very least, I didn’t ruin their wedding and I attribute that to my ten tips below. 

Ten Tips on How to give a Great Toast

  1. Start your preparations early.  As soon as you know you are going to make a toast, start thinking of what you want to say and make notes when you get ideas.  I used a voice memo app on my phone which helped a lot and despite the embarrassment of leaving it on record one night as I was falling asleep, I now know that I might need to get tested for sleep apnea at some point. 
  2. It’s not about you.  This is not your audition to host the Tonight Show, nor is it a chance to “Get a few things off your chest.”  Being funny is great, but being sincere is way more important and if humor is not your thing that’s okay.  Nobody expects you to magically become Jerry Seinfeld or Kevin Hart all of the sudden.  Keep it honest and sincere and make it about the couple – it's their day, not yours. 
  3. Do NOT “wing it” I know some people love the idea of just shooting from the hip and trusting that the muse will find them when they hand you the microphone but trust me on this; PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!  Stage fright and nerves can get the best of any of us and the only thing to minimize a full-fledged choke is practice.  Try your toast out on actual people and not just your pets.  Pets love you unconditionally and rely on you for food.  Co-workers, neighbors and probably even some of your friends care much less about you than your pets and their honest input can help you hone your toast.  Practice is how to get to Carnegie Hall and how things are made perfect. 
  4. Always introduce yourself and thank the hosts at the beginning of your toast.  Between the noise of “chicken or fish” discussions, the guests might have missed the introductions.  And a sincere Thank You to the people footing the bill for this shindig is just San Diego classy. 
  5. And while we’re keeping it classy – Absolutely no “f-bombs!”  In fact, save all the racy stories and locker-room talk for the bachelor or bachelorette party.  For this ceremony you live in a Disney, “G-Rated” world.  Every wedding has Grandmas and children, and no one wants to see either of them cry. 
  6. Write the toast in your “voice.”  It should sound like you so use words that you use every day.  “Methinks thine union is perchance the fairest of all.”  #CRINGE! 
  7. Absolutely no PowerPoint presentations – just No. Not ever. 
  8. Stay sober!  I know this is a celebration and the libations will be flowing, but at least hold off on the loudmouth soup until after your toast.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need some liquid courage to loosen you up.  This is why you practice and prepare.  A few deep breaths before you start will be worth their weight in Goldschlager.
  9. Keep it brief.  Unfortunately, there is no Academy Award’s orchestra that's going to start playing music, so you know when it’s time to wrap it up.  When it comes to public speaking, five minutes can feel like an eternity; for the speaker, and especially the listener.  No one wants to hear a rambling, long-winded account of the time you got lost on the way to the food court at the mall.  Keep it positive and keep it brief, it’s no accident that the first rule of show business is “Leave them wanting more.”
  10. And finally, know that most people won’t even remember what you saidI know most ceremonies are videoed and that things live forever on the internet, but ask yourself how many wedding reception videos you’ve ever searched for on YouTubeUnless your toast is unbelievably good or horrifically bad, most people will only remember that you showed up, and that you said nice thingsThat’s the most surprising thing I discovered when I asked people about the weddings they attended or were a part of - 99% of the time, they only remembered the emotion of the moment and that it happened – not the text of any toast.   So just have fun and speak from the heart.

Diane Warner's Complete Book of Wedding Toasts

How to Write your Own Wedding Vows and Toasts

The Complete Book of Wedding Toasts

Wedding Speeches & Toasts

Words for the Wedding

Wedding Speeches