With the holidays right around the corner, ‘tis the season for generosity and grace (plus some greenery and glad tidings, just for good measure). That means it’s often time to raise a glass in honor of a host, a couple on the eve of their vows, or even the family pet (or maybe that’s just in my southern roots – you’d think our dogs were leaving a legacy of world peace from the way we dote on them)!
How can we be funny, charming, witty, and memorable?
With all that, preparing a toast (or not preparing) can be a bit, well, daunting. How can we be funny, charming, witty, and memorable? Is a personal story about “that time” in college going to resonate with everyone? Or maybe we mention a distinctive trait of the honoree – that we hope is humorous when it lands (fingers crossed!). Either way, we want the audience to swoon over our brilliance, right?
How do I know? Because I’ve taken this approach before in my many maid-of-honor duties at rehearsal dinners and grand receptions, and I’ve come off as a little-too-big-for-my-britches, as my grandmother would say.
Because I made it all about me. When it would have been better to extend generosity and grace to the honoree.
Here are 5 steps to create a memorable and meaningful toast:
- Plan Ahead…in Admiration. If there’s even a chance that you might get called upon to say a few words, have a strawman story ready. Here’s a hint – you’re never more attractive than when you are complimenting someone else. So be generous – think of a time that the guest of honor’s true gifts shined through. It could be her wonderful “dog-whispererness” (again, that may just be my family), or his heart for whittling gorgeous bottle openers from the oak that fall during the big storm, or even that time she saved the day with a well-timed cup of chicken soup during flu season. The goals are to capture the honoree’s essence and appeal. Having that story in your mental back pocket is a gift – both to you and the guests.
- Start with a Power Open. Rather than hem and haw through the first 20 seconds, prepare an opening statement that will grab the attention of the audience. It can be one word (such as “Graciousness” or playfully, “Mississippi”), a short quote (such as “Neale Donald Walsh said, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’” or “Semisonic sang ‘You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”), or even a date (“Arbor Day, 1982”) – take your pick, and then connect to your story of generosity and grace.
- Practice Unselfish Admiration. Reduce the urge to share a mildly embarrassing story that up until that moment, only you know about the guest of honor. Whether it’s about his 21st birthday or that time the Port-o-John tipped over, that’s best left for smaller settings around a campfire (and hopefully with others who were there to witness them in the first place), not when the honoree is surrounded by everyone who loves and respects him (or at least used to, before this particular incident came to light). While you may have found those moments instrumental in the bonding of friendship, others may not. Instead, share what you most admire – and do it with high esteem. Wrap a loving story around it – and celebrate with grace and generosity.
- Share Humble Humor. Here’s my take on humor: if you’re funny, you know it. If you’re not funny, you also know it. I encourage toasters to use humor gingerly, and often at the toaster’s expense, not the toastee’s. We are drawn to those people who can laugh at themselves, and we tend to reel with discomfort (or even horror!) at those who make fun of others publically. When in doubt, err on the side of grace rather than stand-up comedy.
- End with Appreciation. Thank the guests, the honoree, and the folks who raised the honoree. Thank the dogs for not sneaking a bite of your holiday plate while you celebrated (hypothetically speaking, of course). Appreciation never gets old – and it’s a wonderful upswing to begin a meal, a celebration, or heck, even a new year.
Don’t go rogue or plan to wing your toast. The best toasts are brief and personable. Be courteous, keep it light, use humble humor and honor the honoree respectfully in front of their loved ones. You’ll be sure to be a hit! Cheers!
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