How to Give a Great Toast

It happens to all of us … we are asked to give a toast for a graduation, anniversary, engagement, or colleague’s retirement. At some point in our lives, we are asked to pay tribute to someone else’s special moment. What an honor and, at the same time, what a great deal of stress! Not to worry, though. We have some easy tips that can make the occasion easier, and help ensure that your participation is effective and meaningful!

First, begin with a great story of how you know the honoree. All good speeches feature storytelling. Personalize your remarks by opening with a story of how you first met the person whom you’re toasting. Acknowledge how you feel fortunate to know this person and what he or she has meant to your life. Always thank the person or their family for inviting you to be part of this special occasion. And when opening your remarks and telling your personal story, be sure to maintain eye contact with the honoree.

Next, share three messages that describe the person being toasted. These messages will give your toast some focus and framework so listeners can follow along. This structure will also help people retain what you have shared. If you’re celebrating a retirement, think of three ways this person impacted you and your team. “John is always positive, inclusive and shares his great sense of humor … let me give some examples.” If you are acknowledging a couple who’s just been engaged, talk about three traits the couple shares that makes them special or unique, or makes everyone in the room feel included. “Alice and Ted are the first ones to throw a party … celebrate friendships … and play an amazing game of Scrabble.” If you are toasting a graduation, offer three inspirational thoughts about what the graduate brings to the world. “Grace’s focus, sincerity, and passion for writing are gifts to whatever career she chooses.” Frame your discussion around stories that illustrate each example.

Throughout your remarks, be sure to strike a balance of appropriate humor and sincere sentiment. Take note of who is in your audience, and tailor your comments so everyone feels comfortable and can fully embrace your message. I was guest at a wedding in the U.S. where the best man gave a toast that was filled with personal stories. Unfortunately, the stories featured situations where the groom had questionable behavior. This intended humor had an untended affect … it made people feel uncomfortable. Humor needs to be used wisely, taking into account cultural or geographic preferences. If in doubt, stay sincere and serious. Both win over humor gone awry.

Finally, conclude with something you want the audience to remember. Prioritize one message you want people to recall about your toast. If you’re acknowledging an anniversary, you may want to emphasize the person’s amazing dedication to your company and team or the passion he or she feels toward your organization. And of course, in a cocktail setting, ask people to join you in raising a glass, and be sure to pause for some well-deserved applause.

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