September 24, 2018

Making the Most of Your Toast

As a parent or guest of honor at a wedding, finding the right words to toast the couple during the reception may be a challenge. Expressing certain sentiments can seem logical and straightforward at the time, but if you pick the wrong thing, it could end up being the talk of the wedding attendees for years. And while it can be tempting to keep things simple, being a little too streamlined in one’s approach can yield a lackluster and forgettable result.

What to do? And what not to do?

In today’s digital age, there are plenty of places online to start researching. YouTube has many how-to videos on how to toast, while websites running the gamut from Chabad’s online forums to YourJewishSpeech.com and BridalGuide.com provide lists of quotes and tips.

On his website, marketing expert and business blogger Brandon Gaille offers 62 Jewish wedding toasts and advice on how to build a speech from a quote. “If you become short on words, look for quotes that help captivate the emotion you wish to relay,” he said. “From there, you can get personal and write down what you plan on saying. Keep it simple, and add humor if you can.”

Hallie Bolonkin, a production manager at The James Agency, a national public relations firm based in Phoenix, offered similar advice. When she prepares a toast, she recalls the way her grandmother prepared a toast for her bat mitzvah years ago: Keep things short, making the statement meaningful; add humor; and connect with the guests in attendance.

However, Kara Dykert, a Los Angeles-based entertaining expert and author, urges toasters to go a few steps further and be more personal.

“(A good) toast should come from a place of knowing somebody intimately,” said Dykert, a former wedding planner who organized many Jewish weddings of various denominations. “Long before you give the toast, you want the way it is worded to touch on experiences with the person or couple receiving the toast, as the couple will want the speech from you, not a how-to video or document.”

Dykert cautioned that online or print sources of quotes should be treated as tools rather than finished products, since borrowed quotes can come off to guests as “generic” and “cookie-cutter.”

“Any adult who has attended numerous weddings and bar mitzvahs in his lifetime should be aware that nobody wants to hear the same speech over and over,” she said. “Guests will want to hear something personal about the couple or the bar mitzvah child you are speaking to. Adding in a quote into a toast is really much like decorating a cake. You can’t decorate a cake with only sprinkles. The quote is like the sprinkles that can be a zesty topper over the cake and the frosting … a fun add-on to what’s already there.”

Dykert offers the following suggestions to create a customized toast:

Build the toast around storytelling: “Ask yourself how the person being celebrated has impacted your life. The best toasts come from a place of affirmation, especially as you are sending the subjects of the toast into their future life. Jog your memory to recall certain milestones and events you’ve shared with the bride or the groom to craft a story. It can be as basic as recounting how, for example, you and the bride met when you were both in third grade, and she shared her crayons with you. Memories forming the stories set up a bigger theme for the story that establishes that person’s character.”

Choose words carefully to establish distinctive qualities of the person or couple receiving the toast: “Essentially, what you are doing is using words to propel them into the future. … We should all remember that words can carry immense power, so when I consult people about how to develop a toast or speech, I encourage them to use language to call out the life within the person they are toasting to, what’s best about them.”

Read the speech or toast to friends to get their input: “If you are the best man, read it to the other groomsmen; and if you are the maid of honor, read it to the other bridesmaids to get their feedback. Work in elements from the relationships the couple has with others prominent in the wedding party.”

There’s no substitute for practicing, as delivery is essential to the success of your speech: “The best toasts are those delivered from the heart and not a sheet of paper. Practice it enough to know it by heart, even if you may want to have a few notes in front of you for reference. You want your audience to engage with you as you tell this story. Make eye contact and keep your pace slow so everyone can connect with the meaning of the speech.

By the same token, there definitely are some things to avoid when making a toast. Here are some suggestions from Evite.com and other online sources:

Do not use a story or anecdote that may be embarrassing or unpleasant.

Do not make the story in the toast all about you. Shift the focus to third person, and put the person you are toasting at the center.

Never forget to thank the host for the opportunity to give the toast.

And finally, don’t wait until the end of the reception to make the toast. Many of the guests may have already left, and you want to make sure there is a public there to appreciate it.