How to Not Humiliate Yourself When Giving a Wedding Speech

by Dan Ozzi

We are right smack in the middle of that brief 10-and-a-half-month-long period between February and November known as wedding season. Unless you are some sort of social miscreant, chances are good that you will be attending your fair share of weddings this year and, being the supportive friend or relative that you are, you will very likely be asked to give a toast. This is your chance to shine! It is also your chance to crash and burn in a horrific train wreck of public embarrassment. But hey, no pressure. It’s only the most important day of two people’s lives. Whether this is your first wedding toast or you’re a matrimonial veteran, it never hurts to remind yourself of some of the classic pitfalls that make for a disastrous speech. Here are some tips to get you through it.

Don't use inside jokes.

Hey, remember Flippy and Ice Man, who you and the groom met on that snowboarding trip to Hunter Mountain? Or how funny it was that you and the bride would always use your secret language, which you called “sprinkle talk?” Well guess what, no one else has a damn clue what you’re talking about and you’re forcing them to smile along awkwardly. Please don’t try to impress everyone with how close you are with the guests of honor by dropping a ton of inside jokes. We get it. You’re close. You wouldn’t be speaking at their wedding if you weren’t.

Keep it under four minutes.

Bear in mind that while you’re speaking, people have to take a break from whatever fun wedding-related activity they’re engaged in at the moment, whether it’s stuffing their faces with cake, doing the twist, or hitting on an emotionally vulnerable wedding guest. Keep your toast short and sweet so people can get back to it.

Avoid cliche phrases and quotes.

If you’re preparing for your toast by going to TotallyAwesomeQuotesAboutMarriage.com, you’re on the wrong track. Steer clear of generic adages and maxims that people have heard at every wedding since Adam and Eve’s. That means no “love is like a fire...,” no “Nietzsche once said...,” and for god’s sake, no “Webster’s dictionary defines ‘marriage’ as...” No one’s expecting you to be a poet. Just speak honestly and stick to what you know. And sorry, but you do not know Nietzsche.

Limit your drinking.

A stiff drink can be a great way to calm your nerves before your big speech. Five stiff drinks can be a great way to assure that you slur your words so badly that no one can make out what you’re saying. If you are one of those people who thinks they’re “on” when they’ve been drinking, by all means, take a video of yourself telling a story while drunk. Then watch it while sober and see if you sound like you’re “on” or if you sound like a “meandering jackass.”

Try not to get overly emotional.

Ladies, while you dominate weddings in just about every category, there is one area where you seem to fall behind: Letting your emotions run wild. It’s natural to be caught up in the moment while seeing your best friend get married, but no one wants to watch the teary-eyed bridesmaid sob incomprehensibly through 4 pages of single-spaced notes.

Do not under any circumstances talk about the bachelor party.

Guys, do not—repeat: DO NOT—mention any of the following in your toast: the bachelor party, tales of the groom’s swinging single days, other women he has dated, or any stories about him dating the bride that aren’t overwhelmingly positive. (That includes, “Boy, when I first met Sally, I didn’t get what the heck Phil saw in her...”) Keep in mind that the bride’s grandmother is likely in attendance and she probably doesn’t want to hear about what happened with Crystal in the champagne room.

Don’t use the word “cherish.”

Just don’t do it.

Talk about the couple.

While you may feel like the center of attention while giving a toast, remember who is paying for the whole shindig: the bride and groom. So keep the focus on them. And that means the both of them, not just the one you’re closest to.

Don’t be a comedian.

Guess what. You’re not Louis C.K. No one is expecting you to be Louis C.K. You can be humorous without telling jokes. Be anecdotal, be charming, but don’t be “funny.” There’s nothing sadder than watching someone turn a wedding toast into open mic night at the Laugh Factory.

Follow these guidelines and you should be back to catching bouquets and drunkenly singing along to “Sweet Caroline“ before you know it. And best of all, you won’t be forever remembered as the person who totally blew the wedding toast.

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