How to Make a Great Toast for a Wedding, Gala and Other Special Occasions

Congratulations for being a part of the wedding party! Or for being asked to propose a toast to a retiring colleague, to your boss, the president your club, a big donor. No matter what your role—whether you’re getting married yourself or you’ve been asked to put together a talk to honor the bride and the groom, or you’re expected to lead a toast at a special event-you may feel one of two extremes:

  1.  You have way too much you could say, and nobody wants you to talk too long.
  2. Or, you might not have a clue of what to include in your remarks, or how to get started.

Either way, the thought of having to say a toast has filled you with dread, wishing that you could suddenly develop severe laryngitis so you wouldn’t have to do it on the big day.

Why Does a Toast often Create Fear and Anxiety?

I’ve found that worries about public speaking at weddings and other important events happen because most of us have never been asked to deliver what is called a toast—and some of us have never had to talk before such a big group.

A toast is a traditional way to honor someone, without the formal presentation of a trophy or award. Usually, you’re expected to say a few words and then invite fellow guests to raise up a glass toward the person or persons being recognized. During a wedding celebration, these toasts are given at the engagement reception, the bachelor or bachelorette party, the rehearsal dinner, and at the wedding itself.

You encounter other toasts most often at formal dinners and fundraisers, but you may find yourself being expected to toast a deserving person when you least expect it.

Why Do We Click Glasses in a Toast?

The tradition of clicking glasses in a toast came from medieval Europe where a knight demonstrated he hadn’t poisoned an enemy’s wine by pouring it directly from his own glass into another’s, and they “clicked together” in the process. And the toast evolved.

If the toast is directed at you, tradition suggests that you not take a sip with the others. Good manners require that you smile at the group and say thank you while they drink in your honor. Once the toast is done, you can, of course, imbibe as you please.

How to Gather the Content for a Toast

Do a “brain dump” to gather personal stories from your own recollections along with other relevant information you could weave into your toast.

Invite others who are close to the honorees to share their remembrances, too. It could be you interview the bride and groom about each other, their parents, siblings or good friends. Or, you ask the boss’s long-time assistant, his or her spouse, alumni, or close friends to give you some background stories.

Use Memory Joggers to Generate Toast Content

For wedding toasts:

  • Remember the time in first grade when you and the bride or groom did …
  • Remember what happened in your freshman year of college …
  • When he fell off the bike and something happened …  When you and she got lost …
  • What they told you about their first date … or how they met?
  • When you got that flat tire …  
  • Got locked out of the house and crawled in through a window …
  • Discovered for the first time that she really did like going to football games or watching hockey on television … 
  • Realized he really did not like chicken, but he ate it anyway …
  • When you got the job… or took a special trip together …

To gather anecdotes to include in other types of toasts, here are a few memory joggers to help you along:

  • Your first impression of meeting the person compared to what you eventually learned.
  • What happened on a trip you took together or a meeting you both attended?
  • A behind-the-scenes experience (funny or nerve-wracking) before a big presentation
  • Something they did that was exceptional.

To help ensure you wind up with the most enjoyable and moving stories for your toast, try to assemble at least three or four especially memorable episodes. Then, depending on the time frame and which ones you find you can tell the best, make a final selection of one or two to include in your toast.

I am lifting a glass to your toasting success!!