Giving a toast is one of those things that can be difficult to get much practice in. Unless you rise through the ranks of a business to become CEO or are locally famous for dinner parties, these events may have gaps of months or even years between them. So, you’re bound to be rusty, but the time will come when you have to give a speech and invite those around you to raise their glasses. With experience often out of the question, we invite you to turn instead to these 10 tips to get you into the swing of things and ensure that you deliver the best speech you possibly can.
1. Familiarise Yourself with Your Audience
The speech itself doesn’t necessarily rest on you and your performance. Far more important is the way in which the audience reacts to your efforts. They’re even more important than you are in this whole arrangement, so it makes perfect sense to think about them before you write anything.
Most toasts happen at weddings and family gatherings, outside of the aforementioned corporate events and dinner parties, so the chances are that you’re already familiar with a fair few of the people to whom you’ll speak. However, you should never forget that you don’t know everyone, and that means that entire speeches of in-jokes and personal stories might not be exactly what the crowd seeks. They’re okay in moderation but should never serve as the whole basis for what you have to say.
Conversely, if you speak to a small group and do indeed know everyone, such as a small team at work, you have a lot more material to work with, and they already have a fair idea of what to expect.
2. Humour Works – To a Point
A few good jokes can help to break the ice and make your speech memorable. However, if you’re a funny person – and particularly if you’re not – you need to resist the temptation for your speech to turn into an amateur comedy routine. Funny stories tend to work a lot better than random jokes, and you should, once again, consider the audience before you get too ‘funny’.
3. Keep Your Wits About You
Given that toasting requires raising glasses, it makes sense that alcohol is often freely available before, during and after your speech. However, leave that freedom to everyone else until you’ve completed your speech. It’s not as hard as you think to tell when a speaker has had a couple of drinks, and it can lead to disaster in spite of all your planning. You could have one to settle the nerves, but you otherwise need to be natural and unimpeded while you deliver.
4. Play on Different Emotions
If you can give a speech and evoke multiple emotions in the process, you’ve nailed it. The goal is never to upset people, but if you can make them tearful for the right reasons, such as through laughter or sentimentality, then you’ve done an excellent job.
5. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
Great speeches require optimal planning, and it’s always a good idea to sleep on what you’ve written before you start talking. If you ever become tempted to wait until the day in question to write your speech to get a feel for the atmosphere, we’d suggest thinking otherwise. It’s always better to have a plan in place and then to change it later on than to be scrambling for something to say as the deadline approaches.
6. You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
Some people aren’t gifted public speakers, to say the least, and you don’t need any specific qualifications in order to be selected as the best man or father of the bride at a wedding. If you can accept that you can’t get the job done to the right standard yourself, it’s okay to receive some assistance when you write.
7. You Can Enlist Help in the Speech Itself
It may feel like you’ve failed if you opt to keep things short and pass the buck. However, your audience will appreciate you more for not making them sit through a lousy speech. If you really can’t crack it, don’t worry about letting people in on the fact that you’re not the most exceptional public speaker going. Say something pertinent and then defer to others – usually the next people in the queue for speech-giving.
8. Bring Originality
Many people are tempted to look up guides and past speeches on YouTube and other sites. However, while this can help to bring structure and guidance to your efforts, you should ensure that you don’t copy what’s come before. Being original and unique is among the best things you can do when you give a speech, even if it isn’t of the highest quality. So, while you can draw inspiration from great speeches that catch your eye, you should steer clear of the idea of replicating what your audience may have seen before.
9. Remember You Like the People You’re Talking About
The whole point of a toast is to pay tribute and respect to the people you’re talking about. Cheap laughs rarely work well at the best of times, but they’re even worse if they’re at the expense of the people sitting alongside you. You’re the best judge of where the line is, but always consider that there may be a fine one between humorous and insulting.
10. Don’t Just Read What You’ve Written Aloud
Finally, we have the delivery of the speech, and it’s time to remember everything you learned when giving presentations in school – and everything else after that. Speak confidently, use notes rather than a full speech and be ready to react if something doesn’t go well. If you can sound natural and honest, the content of your speech doesn’t matter all that much, so make that your goal to cover any weaknesses that what you’ve written may have.