When Bill Murray delivered an impromptu toast to a rowdy bachelor party in Charleston, South Carolina, last weekend, he gave poignant and charming advice for everyone but the groom.
If you “have someone that you think is the one,” he said, “and travel around the world … if when you come back … you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.”
Murray’s remarks were rewarded with thunderous applause, shouting and an “Amen” from one of the party-goers.
As far as toasts go, he nailed it.
Delivering the perfect toast is a skill honed over time and with practice — which is unfortunate, since you’ll probably be tapped for this honor on only a few occasions over your lifetime. Even more unfortunately, nothing can bring a wedding reception or rehearsal dinner to a grinding halt quite like a bad toast.
We have both have been part of more wedding parties than we care to remember (and thanks to Champagne and open bars, more than we are able to remember). When it comes to the toast, we’ve seen them all: a few triumphs, some that were simply unremarkable and forgettable, and a lot of bombs.
The types of best men and maids of honor are varied, but they all seem to fall into familiar categories — as do the pitfalls of the toast they deliver. You’ve probably seen some of these yourself, and you might even be one of the offenders:
The Frat Bro
Probably the only time you’ll be exposed to these toasts will be at weddings occurring soon after college. This toast is easily recognized by the exclamations of “dude!” peppered throughout as well as the inappropriate recalling of drunken tales from freshman year.
The Safety in Numbers
Public speaking is nerve-wracking, we get it. But calling for reinforcements usually just highlights the disparity between speakers and winds up being a game of hot potato of bridesmaids passing the microphone back and forth awkwardly. Go it alone, or don’t go it all.
The Edgar Allen NO
Poems can be cute and poems can be cool, but giggling through a poem — and proving you know how to rhyme — only makes you sound like a tool.
The Edgar Allen No/Safety in Numbers Combo
What’s worse than a nervous bridesmaid giggling through a poem? Two of them doing so as they alternate stanzas. Passing a piece of paper back and forth is distracting, and no matter how thoughtful the written message, it will be lost in the delivery.
The Inside Joker
The inside joker doesn’t seem to get that inside jokes work only for those who are in on the joke. Rule: If you have to say “I guess you had to be there,” then I guess you should leave it out.
The Overly Emotional
This “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” feels like she’s losing her best friend while wearing a hideous dress and being reminded that she’s nowhere close to walking down the aisle herself. She’s understandably emotional but wants to uncomfortably choke through her remarks to let everyone know how incredibly happy she is for her friend.
The Amateur Comedian
Don’t mistake the role of toast-giver for Roast Master General. You are not going to be discovered or tapped for “Saturday Night Live” based on your performance, so save the comedy routine for open-mic night. (Is this thing on?)
The Wildly Inappropriate
No blue language in front of anyone’s GamGam, fellas. You’re in a tuxedo, for crying out loud, so keep it classy. And whatever you do, don’t get drunk beforehand. Need a little liquid courage to take the edge off? Fine, but know your limit. The bar will still be open afterward.
So how do you avoid becoming one of these offenders? Consider these “do’s” and “don’ts,” and you can’t go wrong:
DO understand what is expected of you
Maybe the wedding party is expecting toasts at the rehearsal dinner; maybe the parents and maid of honor or best man are the only ones slated to speak; maybe they couple isn’t interested in toasts at all. Find out before you arrive to each wedding function what your friends are expecting of you so that you can prepare ahead of time. Ask the wedding planner or deejay if there will be a podium or a microphone so you can plan accordingly.
DO keep it simple (and short)
Remember, it’s a toast, not a speech. Speeches are for politicians and football coaches. Wedding toasts are short and sweet ways to honoring others in a thoughtful but concise fashion. How do you pack in enough thoughtfulness and personality without lulling the room to sleep? Read on.
DON’T be afraid to be creative
And if you are thinking that means a poem, see above. Ideally, you’ll want to tell a quick story or anecdote involving the people getting married. Don’t have a sweet or funny one? Don’t have one at all? Then exercise some creative license and go ahead and embellish if you need to; no one will fact check you. It’s the sentiment that’s important.
DON’T read straight from notes
Reading straight from a script is unengaging, and you should be more thoughtful to the person who thought enough of you to tap you for this honor. If you aren’t looking up at your audience, attention will quickly turn elsewhere, most likely to a plate of tough chicken or a wine glass. If having a piece of paper with bullet points helps calm your nerves, fine, but speak from the heart and directly to the happy couple, and you can’t go wrong.
DON’T announce how nervous you are
What’s the point of that? If you are nervous, the heavy breathing, stammering and sweating will make that obvious enough — saying it won’t serve any purpose other than to tell the audience, “This is going to suck. I apologize in advance.” It takes the focus away from the couple and puts it on you — and it’s not about you.
DO acknowledge the parents of both parties
They’re probably paying for that top-shelf bourbon you’re headed straight for right after you’re done.
DON’T be so specific
Don’t get tripped up on trivial details. Saying “our friendship dates all the way back to 2007″ triggers calculations and runs the risk of eliciting a “I’ve had relationships with bunions longer than you two” from a cantankerous uncle. Quantifying or qualifying your relationship for the sake others serves no purpose; obviously, you are close to the betrothed. You wouldn’t be up there if you weren’t.
DO speak slowly and enunciate
When you are nervous, words come out a lot faster than you realize, and if people can’t understand you, they are going to tune out.
DO let moments breathe
Whether they’re laughs, applause or “awwwwws,” let them marinate for a few moments before moving on to your next line. Doing this will not only let what you just said to soak in, it will give you a second or two to glance down at your cheat sheet.
DON’T be afraid to call an audible
No matter how much you plan and practice, no matter how you think your toast is going to go ahead of time, there can always be circumstances beyond your control that you simply must embrace. Maybe the weather didn’t cooperate, maybe a mother-in-law fainted, maybe the minister’s fly was down during the ceremony. No matter what it is, be nimble enough to adjust as needed.
At the end of the wedding day, no matter how nervous you are, think about this: It’s nothing compared to what your buddy is going through.
Years of Pinterest-pinning preparation, saving, spending, intra-family bickering, meetings, fittings and tastings have all been endured for this one day. People have traveled from far and wide to be there for them, to celebrate the happy couple. No one goes to a wedding because of who is giving the toast.
When you look at it that way, your task becomes simple — so don’t screw it up.