7 Tips for avoiding a wedding toast disaster

In theory, giving a wedding toast is easy. Just say a few nice words about the bride and groom. Then ask the assembled crowd to raise their glasses. But such toasts often come up short - or, worse, become the low point of the wedding weekend. Should you be asked to give a toast, there is no need for it to live in infamy. Here are a few guidelines.

1. KEEP THE ALCOHOL AT BAY

Even Dean Martin sipped apple juice when performing.

If there is one common denominator for the world's worst wedding toasts, it could probably be measured in blood alcohol content. Giving a good toast is tricky enough without trying it with half of your wits about you, so wait until afterwards to enjoy your favourite beverage.


2. DON'T WING IT

Think about what you are going to say long in advance. Then write it down.

"You should start writing a wedding toast months before," said Ms Peggy Klaus, a speech and presentations coach in Berkeley, California. And practise your toast in front of a mirror several times to nail the delivery. "If you don't prepare, your nerves will take over, and it just won't work," Ms Klaus said. Everyone needs an editor, and if you don't have one handy, ask a friend or a spouse to play one for a few minutes and show them what you plan to say.


3. KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE

No more than three minutes. (Abraham Lincoln finished the Gettysburg Address in less time, and that seemed to turn out okay.)

"You basically want to tell one nice story about the couple and wish them well, and that's all anyone wants to hear," said Ms Sarah Parker, who wrote a how-to book on wedding toasts. "But you should find time to identify yourself and your relationship with the newly-weds and perhaps remark upon the beauty of the ceremony." Keeping it short will allow you to spend time polishing those few sentences that you will have to deliver.


4. DON'T RUSH

Speak slowly and loudly enough for everyone to hear.

Non-professional speakers tend to rush through a speech or talk so softly that many people strain to hear what they are saying - if they can hear it at all. Some speakers post a friend at the back of the room to signal whether the speech is being heard there.


5. TELL ONE STORY ABOUT THE BRIDE AND GROOM

An embarrassing anecdote may be funny, but this may not be the time to share it. Try to say something the couple would enjoy hearing. It's their day, not yours.

Some toastmasters seem to gravitate towards roasting the couple, rather than praising them. But sarcasm is overrated and often focuses on shortcomings rather than strengths. Concentrate on what is particularly nice about the bride and groom and try to celebrate that.


6. IF YOU WANT TO STAGE A SKIT, SING A SONG OR PERFORM SOME ELABORATE DANCE, BE CAREFUL

Most of us dance more like Elaine in the comedy series Seinfeld than the Jackson 5's Michael. And remember who are the real stars of the show.

Ms Klaus cautions anyone going in this direction, since she thinks it can be a little self-indulgent: "Remember, the toast is not about you. It's about the couple." And there is a risk of trying to do too much: There was a reason they kept a hook just off the stage during the old vaudeville shows.


7. HAVE FUN

Think of giving a toast as a great opportunity, not a burden.

"It's a gift to the bride and groom," said Ms Parker, the how-to book author. And if you do it just right, you may start a few tears running down their cheeks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline '7 Tips for avoiding a wedding toast disaster'. Print Edition | Subscribe