How Do You Give a Great, Personal Toast?
I analyzed toasts when writing Wedding Crashers and realized that, like a movie, a toast needs a character arc and roughly five sections: background, an anecdote, comic relief, a turning point, and a conclusion.
What If You’re Uncomfortable Giving a Toast?
Go for a poem if you don’t know the guest of honor well, you have mixed feelings about the person, or you’re nervous. When a jet fighter is going down, he reaches for the escape hatch. For me, that’s a few lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Should You Speak Directly to the Guest of Honor?
I prefer to look straight ahead. If for some reason the person isn’t smiling, you might panic, thinking that he or she hates what you just said, and there goes your speech. It’s easy to misinterpret reactions when you’re under pressure.
Is Using Notes OK?
Nothing says, “I Googled this last night,” like reading index cards. Try memorizing key phrases, then freestyle the rest.
What About Length?
A 45-second job won’t seem heartfelt; half an hour is painful. Keep it between 5 and 10 minutes.
And If a Joke Tanks?
Own it. Say, “Well, that was supposed to be funny.” you’ll get the sympathy laugh. No one wants you to screw up.
Do Drinking and Toasting Mix?
I usually need liquid courage. But make sure not to overdo it.
Any Other Don’ts?
Audience participation: Don’t put Aunt Debbie on the spot. Also avoid talking about the guest of honor as if you’ve lost your friend in a war. That can get weird.
For more pointers, see how to make a toast.