The time is here. You’ve had months to prepare for a speech that will last about as long as it takes for a kettle to boil. But what toasts lack in length, they make up for in importance. Not only are you paying homage to a loved one or respected colleague on their big day, you’re setting the tone for the entire gathering. (No pressure.) But giving a toast doesn’t need to be stressful. It can be an opportunity to flex your charisma and show how much you care.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
For some extra glass-raising coaching, we called on Ray Martes, Vice President of Education at New York Toastmasters, who knows more than a few things about public speaking.
1. Know Your Audience
Before you begin drafting jokes or mining your memory for on-point anecdotes, consider not only the person you’re toasting, but also those in the crowd. The tone of your toast should match the occasion and audience. For example, if you’re surrounded by your guest of honor’s colleagues and family members, keep the stories PG and centered on work-friendly values. “Feel the room,” Martes says. “Depending on the event, toasts have to be modified.”
Different events call for toasts with their own timing and structures:
- At weddings, Martes suggests a target length of four to five minutes. The combination of friends, close family, coworkers and distant relatives make for a mixed audience, so opt out of inside jokes and embarrassing stories and instead go with a story that illustrates a quality you admire in the bride or groom. Balance it out with why their new partner is right for them and keep the humor light-hearted.
- For occasions like birthdays and work events, Martes suggests keeping your toast time to around two minutes. If it’s a birthday party with close friends and a few newcomers, drop some inside stories and jokes with a short explainer so everyone feels included. For a work event, if you wouldn’t say it in the office, it’s probably not appropriate for a speech. “Brevity in these instances is preferred,” Martes adds. “Hit the major points such as why are they all there, honor the particular person and end it with kind remarks.”
2. Do Your Homework
Take the time to truly reflect on the person you’re honoring and what this occasion means. Ask yourself:
- What does this milestone mean?
- What does it mean to our relationship?
Next, draw on memories that illustrate some of those meanings. The best toasts come from the heart, so take the time to catch feelings before you start drafting or speaking.
Get to know the venue as much as possible and don’t overlook logistics. “There is nothing worse than technical difficulties,” Martes says. A malfunctioning microphone can throw off your rhythm and distract both you and the audience. Test the audio in the room beforehand if possible and make sure you’re positioned well so everyone can see you.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
3. Skip the Clichés
If we’ve all heard it before, we don’t need to hear it again. Do everyone a favor and eschew the boilerplate compliments and platitudes. “She’s his rock. He’s the best friend a guy could ask for.” Both statements are well-intentioned but meaningless. “Make sure that you come off as genuine,” Martes says. Speaking in clichés can at worst suggest you don’t really know the person you’re toasting, and at best show you’re just not very creative.
4. Calm Your Nerves
It takes practice and patience to overcome stage fright, but you can beat a nervous-sounding speech by taking a few deep breaths before you start and keeping an even, slow breathing pattern. Enjoying a drink before a toast is one way to ease your nerves, but don’t overdo it. Opt for a smooth, extra-aged bourbon like Jim Beam Black® that bears complexity and can be savored instead of swilled leading up to the big moment.
5. Watch Your Body Language
How we speak is arguably as important as the words we say.
- Don’t be afraid of eye contact. Not only does it establish intimacy with your audience, it’s a reminder that you’re a person speaking to people—not a sea of faces. Switch up your eye contact with a few members of the audience throughout your speech.
- Make sure your gestures are sincere. Simply moving your hands as you speak doesn’t count as enthusiasm or inspire your audience. Instead, sync your body and face with your voice. Mean what you say with your movements and effective body language will follow. Also, it should go without saying, but keep your hands out of your pockets.
6. Enjoy the Moment
Preparation and practice are key to mastering toasts, but enjoying the whole thing is even more important. Toasts are reserved for special occasions, so embrace the celebration and don’t be afraid to get into it. Reading off a script might hit all the points, but it won’t be memorable or fun. Remember: “A toast doesn’t have to be perfect,” Martes says, “It just has to make the person being toasted feel perfect.” And post-toast, keep the celebration going with your honoree over a glass of Jim Beam Black®. You’ve earned it.
Please drink responsibly. Jim Beam Black® Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 43% Alc./Vol. ©2017 James B. Beam Distilling Co., Clermont, KY. Jim Beam Black® is a registered trademark of Jim Beam Brands Co. and is used with permission.