Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Get Toasted

While it may seem like I run my mouth off without much inhibition, I actually have a major phobia of a certain kind of public speaking: the premeditated kind. In college, I had no qualms about asking questions off the cuff in a lecture class in front of 200 people (you know, when I showed up), but put me in a small seminar class with ten people and ask us to go around in a circle and introduce ourselves, and by the time it's my turn, I will be sitting in a puddle of sweat, and barely remember my own name. And the anxiety and nervousness is directly proportionate to the length of time I am anticipating giving the speech. So I am intimately aware of the particular brand of stress that giving a toast can bring. It's one of the downsides of having friends and family that you care about (that and having to remember birthdays), that eventually, you will likely have to raise a glass and say a few words in their honor, be it to your hosts at an intimate dinner party or the couple at a large anniversary party or wedding. It's a cruel, cruel world.
But giving a toast needn't be all that anxiety-producing (or, at least, no one needs to know how apprehensive you are). Just follow these simple rules, and you'll properly honor your friends and make new ones left and right, who will, in turn, request you make toasts at their special occasions. It's a vicious cycle, so you might as well get comfortable with it.

Act Confident. Even if you are shaking in your stilettos, do your best not to let on. Speak clearly and loud enough for your voice to carry to the people in the back. It doesn't matter how great your toast is if no one can hear you, or they are too distracted by your shaky voice and sweaty brow to pay attention to what you're saying. No matter how tempting, don't turn to liquid courage; have no more than one drink before your toast- trust me, there is nothing worse than a drunk with a microphone. Lastly, try to remember that everyone present loves the honoree(s), and wants to see them properly honored. They are looking to you to do that, and rooting for you, and wishing you success.
Be Prepared. Give yourself time to think about what you want to say. Write down your ideas and form an outline. Practice what you want to say in front of the mirror. But, when the big day comes, try to work from just notes and fill in. Reading your toast off a sheet of paper comes off as amateurish and it's hard to make eye contact and a personal connection when your eyes are glued to a piece of notepaper. A good general outline: 1. Introduce yourself and your relationship to the honoree (this is unnecessary at gatherings of less than 25 people). 2. Express your happiness and pleasure at being able to speak at the event and thank your hosts. 3. Tell a cute or meaningful anecdote in the spirit of the occasion, ideally one that paints the honoree in a positive light. 4. Raise your glass, and ask everyone to join you in toasting the honoree. Done and done.
Brevity, Please. Seriously, your entire toast should be no more than five minutes at a wedding, and no more than two minutes at a more intimate dinner, people. Time yourself when you're practicing to make sure you don't go on too long. I lied before, there is something worse than a drunk with a microphone - a drunk with a microphone for twenty minutes.
Keep It Clean, Sincere and Positive. No matter how funny a story you have about the groom from the bachelor party, this is not the place for it. This should go without saying, but stay away from any "blue" content, swear words, politics, or anything controversial or potentially offensive. Humor is great, but keep the content positive and warm. Remember- it's a toast not a roast.

Good luck, and cheers!

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