I’ve really started to love and enjoy giving toasts. Even when I go out with my boyfriend for dinner, I will make a toast over a glass of wine to him/us. Okay, I admit, I usually borrow lines from my yoga teachers like, “May we have peace in our minds and love in our hearts.” (Yoga teachers have the best lines!)
The other night, The Spoke Club in Toronto hosted a dinner for me to celebrate my book How To Raise a Boyfriend. At dinner, someone stood up (not the host) and said, “I’d like to make a toast for Rebecca.” I was, I’ll admit, mortified. I do not like that much attention focused just on me. I much prefer to make toasts.
Everyone raised their glasses. Once the person had everyone’s attention, she simply said, “To Rebecca!” We all laughed and I did get teary, because no one has ever toasted to me with so many others around. To say the toast was short and sweet is, well, obvious. But it fit perfectly with the casual setting and I was touched.
Now, if you’ve seen Bridesmaids (and I suggest you do because it’s hilarious!) you can see a toast go horribly, horribly wrong! (But laugh-out-loud-funny wrong!) So how does one make a good toast, and who should make a toast and when?
How to do it right
I spoke with Kevin Callahan, the founder of Dazzle.me, a website that pulls together all the best deals around town, from haircuts to vacation packages to manicures, in cities across Canada. He is an amicable man who, thanks to his personality and his business spirit, is an expert in giving toasts. In fact, he loves giving toasts.
1. Etiquette dictates, he says, that during a dinner party, the host should have until after the plates from the first course are cleared to make a toast. “However, if they choose not to, then the guest of honour or someone close to the host can certainly take their place,” he says. “The toaster can use the opportunity to thank everyone for coming, and of course make a special mention to the gracious host and the people involved with putting on the event.” But he says he’s a big proponent of toasting even if you aren’t the host or guest of honour.
2. The best toasts, says Callahan, are the ones that can straddle the line between being “lengthy enough to get the message across but not too long that you start to lose your audience.” His advice is to try to keep a toast to under a minute. “Keep it short and to the point.”
3. Of course, if it’s a wedding, a toast may be a little longer. “You need to explain who you are as well as pay proper tribute to the bride and groom.” The trick at a wedding is to keep the toast short enough that you can keep everyone’s interest, or else the people in the back will begin chatting. “That’s incredibly annoying,” he says. “My advice is to keep even the most important wedding toast to about three minutes and certainly under five!”
4. He follows the old adage: “It’s better to keep them wanting more.” Keep that in mind when you make a toast. “The point is that an elaborate speech isn’t necessary to make an effective toast. Frankly, most people won’t remember the majority of what you say, but they will certainly remember how you made them feel.” Toasts are memorable if you draw in the crowd and make everyone in the room feel included.
5. Interestingly, according to Callahan, the worst toasts aren’t caused by the speaker’s anxiety. “It is normally because the toaster commits the ultimate speech faux pas and misjudges the reception of a lewd joke. Yes, jokes can be a critical factor in the delivery of a good toast, but when you make them make certain the audience and the honouree appreciate your sentiments and do not get offended,” he says. He suggests you tailor your toast to the event and make sure it is audience appropriate. “The second worst is when the speaker is inaudible so nobody can enjoy what is being said,” he adds.
6. So, should there always be a toast at a dinner party or event? Yes, says Callahan. “A toast is a terrific way to take the time to pay tribute to the honouree, thank the people for putting effort into organizing the celebration as well as to thank everyone for showing up. It also can be a way to underscore the actual reason for the party, be it a wedding, a birthday or company function. Of course, there is no written rule that states every function must have a toast, but it is an opportunity to add a personal touch.”
7. Plan it. Do not wing it. “This will give you much more confidence when the time comes.” Also, pace yourself. “The average words per minute of a good speech is about 100 words per minute, while normal conversation is much higher than that,” he says. “Slowing your rate of speaking down will enable you to think clearly, calm your nerves, properly pronounce, and emphasize your words.”
8. Match the toast to both the honoree’s personality and the event. “So, if it is a lighthearted party with a jovial honoree, then jokes are expected and can be appropriately tailored,” suggests Callahan.
If you believe that you can adequately add value, then Callahan says “go for making that toast!” (Of course, allow the host first crack at it.) “The high you get after finishing a great toast and the positive comments you will receive afterward are both such terrific rewards that it makes it more than worth the minor discomfort you might encounter before you start. Remember, everyone wants you to deliver a good toast, so above all enjoy it and be yourself!” he says. And with that, I toast Callahan and Dazzle.me. May you have peace in your head and love in your heart. (I’m going to come up with better toasts, I promise!)