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How to Give an Unforgettable Wedding Toast

Think about the best wedding toast you've ever heard. Chances are there was nothing especially earthshattering about the toast itself, but the warm emotions that it stirred have had a long-lasting impact. This clearly illustrates the purpose of a wedding toast: to be simple, charming, and sentimental, all in honor of the lovely couple that's about to ride off into the sunset together.

So why do wedding reception toasts have such a nerve-wracking reputation? If you've been invited to give a toast, put your mind at ease—the couple is surely excited to hear what you have to say about them. And if that makes you feel even more pressured, don't fret; we'll lay out everything you need to know to ensure your toast is free of faux pas and full of warm fuzzies.

Who gives a wedding toast?

Tradition dictates that the best man is the master of ceremonies at a wedding reception and kicks off the toasts. This is a great point to keep in mind when selecting a best man—in addition to his ability to plan a stellar bachelor party, of course. If this is not the case for your wedding, consider choosing a good friend or close family member; this person is going to be the one to move the order of events along and make sure the mic is given to the right person at the right time.

Traditionally, the order of wedding reception toasts goes like this:

  1. The best man toasts the bride.
  2. The maid/matron of honor toasts the groom.
  3. The wedding host/financier (traditionally the father of the bride) toasts the couple.
  4. Other parental figures of the couple toast the couple.
  5. The couple toasts their family and guests.

best man giving wedding toast

Of course, any order to the toasts and persons giving them is completely subject to the bride and groom's preference. Invite the individuals you'd like to toast to do so well in advance so they have plenty of time to prepare. Also remember to inform them of the toasting order so they know when not to take a bathroom break.

When are the toasts?

In formal wedding ceremonies, toasts are given immediately following the meal, before the first dance as husband and wife. This can be done either before or after the cutting of the cake. For less formal affairs, toasts can occur after the first dance, as the first course is served, or virtually anytime that feels right to you. Just be sure to have a finalized order of events so everyone is on the same page.

The rehearsal dinner is a perfect supplementary opportunity for toasts and speeches. Traditionally, this is when the groom's father gets to toast. This is also a great time for anyone not slated for a reception toast to speak—after all, the rehearsal dinner is only for those directly involved in the wedding, and a beautiful way to pay intimate tribute to the couple. It's no wonder that these toasts can be impromptu, long, and even more emotional than the reception's.

Seven Steps to a Tasteful Wedding Toast

  1. Tactfully get the crowd's attention. Clinking away at a champagne glass is great when it's noticed, but unfortunate and annoying (and possibly destructive) when the crowd is having too much fun to hear it. Stand up, speak calmly into the microphone, and you won't waste time trying to get everyone to listen up.

    Example: "Hello everyone! May I please have your attention for just a few brief, heartfelt moments as we toast the lovely bride and groom? And then, we eat cake!"

  2. Be brief. The best advice for a prospective toaster is to keep it as concise as possible. While a detailed account of your friendship with the groom all the way from the sandbox through graduate school may be charming to you, the other guests want to drink and dance as soon as possible. A toast of even just a couple of heartfelt sentences is completely adequate. Speaking for two to three minutes should be the maximum—and plenty of time to say what you need to say.

    Example: “They say that birds of a feather flock together. Well, the two of you are the most graceful, odd, beautifully singing birds I’ve ever met... and I can’t wait to see you fly.”

  3. Be complimentary... and appropriate. As funny as some anecdotes about the couple may seem to you, any comments that navigate choppy waters for other guests should simply be left out of a speech. That means keep it clean, and keep exes, your own ego, and all stories of past embarrassments far, far away from the happy wedding day. Every word you say should be focused on making the couple smile with gratitude... so just stick to saying really nice things about them.

    Example: “I am lucky enough to have been with Jim through thick and thin... crust pizzas every night in college. As much as I hate knowing that Julia will take much better care of him than I did, I know it’s for the best. More pizza for me. I love you guys!”

    bride and groom raising glasses for during wedding toast

  4. Be sincere. No matter what your personal style is, all anyone—the couple, their family, random attending neighbors—wants from a reception speech is to reiterate that this legal joining of the souls is a heartwarming event. That isn't to say that the attendees are looking to the toastmaster to offer some deep insights on love, but a nice reminder of the couple's suitability for each other is always welcome after a long ceremony. Speak from the heart, and the words will fall into place.

    Example: “To Katie and Dan—I’ve never met a more perfect couple, and I doubt I ever will. You bring out the best in each other... although, that is pretty easy to do.”

  5. Practice. There's nothing blasphemous about rehearsing your toast with someone else beforehand. If everyone you know is going to be attending and you're set on the element of surprise, record yourself with your phone or computer—if you can handle coming face-to-face with your own mannerisms!
  6. Be clear-headed. The open bar doesn't need to be your pal until after the toast. While one drink can certainly calm the nerves, keep your own limits in mind and you'll be glad for it. It's probably not commonplace for you to speak to a captive audience of hundreds of people, so make the most of it by not slurring your words.
  7. Be mannerly. Don't forget to raise your glass during and to sip your champagne after your toast. Otherwise, it's just a regular old speech!

What exactly does the couple do during the toasts?

Remain seated, smile, and don't touch your drink until the toast is over... even if the speaker didn't read these tips and the champagne is calling your name!

When it comes time to toast as a couple, consider it more of a thank you—you're not toasting yourselves. Graciously thank your wedding party, the hosts for helping you put on the wedding, and everyone for attending. Finally, thank each other and say how excited you are to officially begin your lives together—and seal the sentiment with a kiss.

bride and groom toasting to best man’s speech

All images courtesy of Sean Money and Elizabeth Fay

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