In your entire life there are only a handful of times when all the family and friends you love most come together in one location to celebrate you. Your wedding is one of those times, and considering that we don’t really have retirement parties anymore, and you won’t be at your funeral (depending on how you look at it), this is really the only time. So, you can probably see why I think toasts are one of the best parts of a wedding.
And while I definitely feel that way as a filmmaker who uses these toasts to drive the stories in our films, I also know that toasts are not always the guests’ favorite part of a wedding. Why, you might ask? Well, to be totally honest, they’re not always good.
After 7 years of filming weddings I’ve seen incredible toasts that bring the guests to both fits of laughter and tears of emotions, and I’ve seen toasts that leave guests looking around at each other like ‘Did they just say that?!’ So we decided it’s time we put some of our wisdom down on paper. Whether you’re a future toaster or a future listener, here are our top 10 tips for writing and delivering a great wedding toast.
PLAN IT. I know, you’re great at ‘winging it’. I’ve heard this before, and you’re probably not as great as you think. And if you really are great at winging it, you’ll be even better with a little bit of extra thought put in ahead of time. This an important moment for that couple- don’t waste the opportunity to say something meaningful that will stick with them for years to come.
KEEP IT SHORT. 5-7 minutes is perfect. It doesn’t need to be too short, but too long is problematic for several reasons. It can bore the other guests, who are typically waiting for the toasts to be over in order to eat, drink or dance. It can throw off the timeline, which the planner and couple have spent months meticulously designing. And, it can cut the party short. If toasts are supposed to last 20 minutes and they last an hour, that’s 40 minutes the couple doesn’t get to enjoy the dance floor at the end of the night. Be respectful, and cut yourself off at 7.
TOAST, DON’T ROAST. It’s their wedding day. Funny stories are okay (though reference #4 before deciding which make the cut), but don’t spend too much (or any) time tearing anyone down. The point of a toast is to share your favorite parts of them as individuals, and as a couple, with all the guests who are there.
USE STORIES INTENTIONALLY. Develop your theme and your key points first and then select stories based on which best illustrate those points. Don’t just tell the funniest, craziest, silliest stories you have because it’ll make you laugh. Those stories usually don’t go over very well, and they certainly don’t strengthen the overall message. Hand in hand with this…
AVOID INSIDE JOKES. I’m sure if you are best friends with the couple you have lots of shared experiences and inside jokes. It’s okay to tell stories (again, reference #4), but if everyone in the room except for you and them is going to look around confused, leave that one out. You don’t want to alienate the audience mid-toast. They’re easy to lose but hard to win back.
SPEAK TO THE INDIVIDUALS, BUT ALSO THE COUPLE. If you are giving a toast you likely know one half of the couple better than the other half. Don’t hesitate to share what you love most about the person you’re closest with. In fact, that should probably be your focus. But it’s always nice when you go from there to comment on them as a couple, or how you saw them change when they first met their significant other.
AVOID GENERALITIES. Unless you can ground them in specific stories. There are lots of clichés and quotes about love, and anyone can string them together to make a 5 minute speech. But it won’t mean anything to the couple, and it certainly won’t help the guests get to know the couple any better. Focus on their story as individuals and as a couple, and only use generalities if you can follow it up with a specific story about them.
Don’t talk about yourself too much. You’re giving the toast, but the toast isn’t about you. Keep the focus on the couple.
PRINT IT. Or use notecards. Call us old fashioned, but reading from a cellphone is problematic for several reasons. First, the print is often small and it can be hard to read, making the toast less natural and more scripted. Secondly, and this is a big one for us videographers, the light from the phone is going to cast a weird light on your face. The room is likely going to be a bit darker, and this contrasting bright light on your face isn’t going to look good on camera (or in real life).
PRACTICE. Even if you’re planning to read from a paper, or reference notes, reading through it out loud, standing up in front of a mirror or a friend can make a big difference in your comfort level.