Giving a celebratory toast can be a nerve-wracking experience, even for the most eloquent of public speakers. Whether it’s for a wedding, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, milestone birthday or other significant life celebration, the pressure is on to choose your words wisely. While it may be your moment in the spotlight, it’s your job to cast the guest of honor in the best possible light. How do you decide which words, stories and sentiments to share? How can you make that your speech leads to more smiles than cringes?
The next time you take the microphone, here are five ways to make sure your speech is one to remember, not one you wish to forget.
1. Don’t wait until the last minute. When it comes to speechwriting, preparation is essential. It’s easy to procrastinate, especially if you find writing to be challenging, but it almost always ends in disaster. It is rare to have less than one or two weeks notice that you will be giving a speech. Use that time to carefully prepare what you want to say. Give yourself some wiggle room for edits and re-drafts.
2. Think about the impact you want to make. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou who said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” When you start writing your toast, it is important to think about your connection with the audience and how you want them to feel about what you’ve said. If your goal is to make people laugh, use tasteful jokes and funny stories to keep the mood light. If you want to add a more sentimental flair, express deeper emotions and share heartwarming memories. Thinking through the balance between humor and heartfelt is a critical exercise that will help you best structure your speech and achieve your desired impact.
3. Choose your stories wisely. When you are selecting your material for the speech, think carefully about how this information will resonate with the audience. Don’t pick obscure or embarrassing stories to share with guests. Instead, use personal stories and anecdotes that everyone in the room will appreciate. When deciding which stories to include, keep this rule in mind: if you would not share it with your own grandmother, it’s best to leave it out altogether.
4. Don’t overstay your welcome. Great special occasion speeches have a time limit of three to five minutes. No exceptions. To ensure that you don’t exceed this limit, make sure to time out your speech beforehand. After you’ve said what you want to say, gracefully let everyone return to the party. By leaving the audience wanting more, not less, you’ll make a positive mark on the celebration.
5. Practice, practice, practice. Once you have your speech down on paper, make sure to practice it. Begin by reading it aloud, first in front of a mirror and then in front of a few trusted friends. Make sure that your facial expressions and hand gestures are appropriate. Ask your friends for their honest feedback. Depending on their reactions, you can tweak your toast until you are completely satisfied. The trick is to sound like you’re having a polished conversation with the audience. It’s not necessary to memorize your speech, but it’s a good idea to follow the script so that you don’t veer too far off point.
Being asked to give a toast is an honor and a privilege. Remember to be yourself and let your personality shine. By giving your speech the time, thought and attention it deserves, you can leave everyone in the room feeling good. After all, that is what makes a special occasion speech truly special.
Holly Blum is the owner of A Speech To Remember. As The Word Whisperer, she creates unique and customized speeches and toasts for special occasions. She works with clients to transform their ideas and stories into words that fit their style and make a lasting impression.