How to give a toast at a wedding (and get it right)

How to give a toast at a wedding (and get it right)

How to give a toast at a wedding

Wedding toasting can be a complicated dance. Who goes first? When is the right time to stand up? Above all, what do you say when all eyes (and dozens of cameras) are upon you? If you’re not a person with a knack for public speaking, the simple act of toasting the happy couple can become a source of nervousness and stress. Try not to worry, though. Wedding toasts are actually pretty simple when you break them down.

Toasting Tips

If a handful of people have already given toasts, don’t try to tag your toast onto the end of the series. People’s attention will be wandering and many guests will be wondering when they can get back to their interrupted conversation. Instead, wait for a natural break in the rhythm of the evening. Between dinner courses, or immediately after plates are cleared, are perfect times to stand and deliver your best wishes. 

Always keep toasts short. If you’re having trouble deciding which zany anecdote to tell, get some friends’ opinions on your best material before the wedding. A few minutes is more than enough time to convey your message, and if you keep it concise, you won’t risk dragging on past your audience’s attention span. 

Don’t feel obligated to be funny. While a humorous story can garner some chuckles, if you’re not a natural comedian it can come across as forced. Stay well within your comfort range–if you just want to convey a sincere message of love for the couple, that’s a perfectly fine toast on its own. Don’t try to stifle emotions as they come, either. While you may feel embarrassed by misty eyes, it’s a near-guarantee that you’ll have everyone in the room tearing up, too.

If you’re not a great off-the-cuff speaker (and few of us are), the key to giving a great toast is practice. Practice it in front of your mirror as many times as you need, and then practice it in front of your friends. This will not only help you hone your material and get your timing right, but it will help you feel more comfortable in the spotlight. 

Feeling writer’s block? A basic toast begins with introducing yourself and how you know the couple. Thank the people who have made the wedding celebration possible. You may tell a story about how you met the bride or groom, or the first time you knew your friend had found true love. You may want to mention how you have seen your friend’s life improve with the relationship. End by wishing the couple well.

It’s easy to get so preoccupied with giving a great speech that you forget the other basics of toasting. As you speak, be sure to look around the room and make eye contact with your listeners. Even if you’re nervous, smile; the very act of smiling will give you confidence. 

While a glass of wine may help to calm public-speaking jitters, be absolutely certain that you don’t get drunk before it’s your turn to stand. Nothing ruins a good toast like swaying and slurring words. Remain standing for your entire toast, with your glass held in the air. At the end of your toast, gesture toward the people you just honored and take a sip. While toasting usually involves an alcoholic beverage such as champagne, it’s perfectly good etiquette to toast with another type of drink if you avoid alcohol as a matter of course.  

Rehearsal Dinner Toasting Etiquette 

If your palms are sweating too much to hold your champagne flute, take heed: toasts and speeches are not ever mandatory. You’re under no obligation to entertain the dinner table with witty observations or emotional stories that reveal your deepest hopes and fears. That being said, however, the rehearsal dinner is an excellent opportunity to make a toast in a less formal atmosphere than the wedding reception itself. With the pressure off, you may be surprised that the perfect anecdote is springing to your lips. Go ahead, tap the glass in front of you, stand up, and give your story. 

Since the rehearsal dinner is limited to the close friends and family who are most involved with the wedding, it also provides a perfect opportunity to give a roast. If you go this route, only tell light stories that won’t cause actual trauma. The story about the ever-spontaneous groom shaving his eyebrows on a bet is probably fair game; explaining that the bet concerned whether he’d score with the busty brunette in the neighboring dormitory probably isn’t. Give any old dating stories a wide berth and you’ll be in more comfortable territory.

If you’re in the mood for a safer toast, stick to conveying enthusiasm for the wedding to come. With everyone anticipating the big day, your words of encouragement and well-wishes for the happy couple are sure to be well-received. 

Traditionally, the person hosting the rehearsal dinner will give the first toast. The bride’s and groom’s parents will toast next (although they are frequently the hosts themselves). The best man and maid of honor will give the next toasts, followed by the bride and groom toasting each other and their families. After the couple, the table is open for whoever would like to give a toast. Keep in mind that just because this is the traditional toast order, it may not apply for a less formal wedding. Also, no matter what position you hold in the wedding, you are never obligated to toast.

Wedding Reception Toasting Etiquette

The wedding reception toasts are given in front of the entire assembled group, and as such, are a little less playful and more formal than the toasts at the rehearsal dinner. They do, however, follow the same rules, such as telling charming anecdotes about the couple and wishing them the best. 

At the wedding reception, the first person to give a toast is the host (this is traditionally the father of the bride, although in many modern weddings the couple pays for the bulk of the expenses themselves). This is followed by the couple toasting their guests (if they haven’t given toasts already). Next, the best man or maid of honor will toast the couple (usually centering upon the half of the couple who is the closer friend). These toasts usually take place before dinner. While some couples provide an open mic for continued toasting throughout the evening, it’s generally a good idea to avoid this if you suspect some of your guests will visit the open bar too many times and make fools of themselves. 

Great times for toasting at the reception include: cocktail hour, before dinner, between dinner courses, and before dessert (especially right before the cake is cut). In the interest of structuring the wedding speeches, some couples ask that any guests interested in toasting check with the wedding emcee ahead of time. The emcee can then ensure that the guests don’t tell duplicate stories and can invite people to give their toasts in the correct order. While this approach can help curb confusion at the wedding, however, it can also curb spontaneity. 

If you’re still nervous about giving a toast, just remember that no one in the room is looking for you to fail. Unlike a candidate giving a political speech, a wedding toaster is assured of his entire audience being friendly and on his side. If worst comes to worst and your mind goes blank as you stand, just stick to the basics and wish the couple luck in their new life together.

A warm, genuine smile can say more than words, especially in a room where everyone is feeling emotional and celebratory. If the stress you’re feeling over toasting is overshadowing your enjoyment of the wedding, simply skip it. You can always wish the couple well in private later.