That’s right, the nuptial onslaught has commenced. There go your weekends from now until the fall, lucky you. But in event that you’re not just an attendee at the festivities, but rather a participant, then this post, my friends, is for you.
Yes, who doesn’t love the best man/rehearsal dinner/graduation/anniversary party speech? That time-honored tradition where people who have no business speaking in front of large groups do so anyway. This usually involves tedious monologues about so-and-so’s bad haircuts as a child, the time they peed their pants in little league, or a litany of their post-college romantic failures.
Well, until somebody cries out for mercy and hijacks the mic, that is.
So just in case that person causing everyone to facepalm is you, here’s a list of my top ten do’s and don’ts that should keep your oratory skills at the height of their game. Ignore my suggestions at your own risk, fellas, but if you do, don’t be surprised if you crash harder than Kevin Ware on an elevated court. Ouch.
I give you The Art Of Giving A Gentleman’s Toast. May you use it in good health, good measure and in good company.
Do: Be aware of your stance. People have a tendency to either be too rigid, or too spastic, depending on comfort level. Scared to death equals white-knuckling the mic and refusing to turn your head. Too casual equals knocking grandma’s chardonnay onto her lap while you gesticulate for dramatic emphasis. Try holding the mic with one hand, and putting the other in your pocket. The relaxed stance should help you…well, relax.
Don’t: Forget to be authentic. If you’re the austere one of the family (read: the serious, boring one), don’t suddenly aim for Dave Chappelle standup routine status. Likewise, if you’re known for being colorful (that’s the nice way of saying The Family Dumbass), keep your sentiments lighthearted. Remembering to be yourself is the key to a successful toast.
Do: Salute the occasion. Are you there for your big brother’s wedding? His (yikes) second wedding? Your parents’ 35th wedding anniversary? Sister’s law school graduation? Whatever the reason you’ve assembled, remember to call attention to it in a polite way. That is, “I’m so happy my brother finally found a woman who can keep up with him and compliments him well,” rather than, “We NEVER thought Kevin would make it down the aisle in a million years. Good luck with that, Cathy.”
Do: Keep an eye on the clock. Assuming you’ve done a trial run of your speech before (and you have rehearsed it, haven’t you?), you should aim to keep the toast under five minutes long. Sure, you should speak slowly and allow pauses for laughter, but still – brevity, bro.
Don’t: Read. For the love of God, man, look up. Staring at a paper you’re clutching or reciting your toast verbatim will cause people to zone out in the first 30 seconds. Eye contact is key in engaging your audience, as is knowing your material. You should be able to execute solely from index card talking points. Training wheels are for babies, don’t be that guy.
Do: Put your best foot forward. Whether you lead with a joke, (“Someone once told me that the best man’s speech shouldn’t last any longer than it takes the groom to make love. Well, goodnight, everybody!”) or with an anecdote, start with your strongest material. Personally, I favor telling a story that captures the essence of the couple, or demonstrates perfectly the character of the person you’re toasting. Kicking things off with a “That’s so them” moment is a winner.
Don’t: Forget who your audience is, please. If you retain nothing else from this article, remember this – keep it classy. Sure, a well-placed expletive is sometimes in order (so long as it’s not in the vein of “wedded matrimony, motherf***ers!”), but not when table linens and grandparents are involved. Please refrain from re-telling any sexual stories, anything that involves body fluids, or anything that starts with the words, “One time, at our frat mixer…”
Do: Stick to a timeline. Touching upon something from the toasted parties’ past, followed by something about them now, and ending with a wish for the future is a nice way to tie it all together. Just don’t let the future part involve outing the bride for being knocked up.
Don’t: Confuse “toast” with “roast.” There’s a playful way to take jabs at people (“This marriage really is for better or for worse. John, you couldn’t have done any better, and Beth, you really couldn’t have done much worse”), and then there’s the wrong way to do it. Recounting the time the groom was nearly kicked out of college, or how the bride was once arrested in the Bahamas falls into the latter, FYI. Ain’t nothin’ funny about prison, y’all.
Well there you have it. The civilized way to address a room with charm, class and, most importantly, booze. So raise your glasses, if you would, to the words of Jonathan Swift. There is simply no occasion, that I’ve found at least, for which they’re not befitting:
“May you live every day of your life.”
I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I’ll drink to that.
I leave you with this example of a well-executed wedding toast. The best man’s words strike a nice balance between wit and sentimentality. View the entirety or just the beginning. But either way, it’s worth the watch.