I’ll be honest: Wedding toasts completely freak me out. Remember when Miranda was giving that sweet speech to Charlotte at her second wedding and her notes completely caught on fire courtesy of a tapered candle (see above)? Or when Samantha kept getting interrupted by that you-know-what at the end of the table just as she was midway through raising a glass to Carrie at Buddakan? It’s all pretty much my worst nightmare.
You’ve got everyone in the room—from the groom’s fraternity friends to the bride’s grandma to the minister conducting the ceremony the next day—and you want to honor this couple that you’re close to well. If you’re not a proficient public speaker (like me), this can be a little scary. Luckily, wrtier Kristine Keller and book editor Marisa Polansky just launched a business called Speech Tank that addresses this very problem. These two women have built a business aimed at helping people draft funny, touching tributes as well as coaching them through the entire prep process. The bottom line is, it takes practice, practice, practice to write a speech from the heart and then give it with anything remotely resembling Barack Obama-style oration skills—so it can’t hurt to have these ladies in your corner. And, the good news is they’re not just available for wedding toasts. Commencement addresses, elevator pitches, Bat Mitzvah candle lightings, eulogies, you name it—they’ve got you covered. One of their taglines is: “We’ll pick up the slack so you can drop the mic,” which I think is hilarious. The process starts with a phone call so the Speech Tank ladies can learn about your event as well as work with you to decide on a package. After that, they will deliver an outline, a draft, and a final revision—and then, you’re off!
With all of this speech writing experience under their belts, we’ve asked them to recall the good, the bad, and the ugly, and distill it into a list of the top ten biggest mistakes people often make when giving a wedding toast, so you know what to avoid when doing it yourself.
(1) Do not talk forever. This isn’t your dissertation. If you find yourself flipping several pages, chances are you’ve gone too far. Economy of expression is important here—choose only the best stories to highlight the glowing couple.
(2) Keep inside jokes on the inside. No one will understand that crazy sixth grade nickname or those “hilarious” stories about your elderly professor from Psych 101. Instead, stick to memories that highlight something about your friend that the audience can relate to.
(3) Never underestimate a theme. Spend some time thinking about the couple and see where it all takes you. Eventually, a pattern will jump out and aha, there’s your theme. Build your speech around it.
(4) Keep it clean-ish. We know you’re probably saying WTF! But this isn’t an HBO Saturday night special. Save your sailor mouth for Yacht Week.
(5) On that note—do not roast! Roasts are reserved for Justin Bieber and . . . Justin Bieber. You’ve been asked to pay tribute to your close pal in front of everyone he or she loves. There’s nothing worse than scorching the bride or groom for their propensity for one-night stands. When in doubt, use the grandma barometer. Ask yourself: Is this a story I’d be chill with grandma hearing?
(6) Don’t wing it. It’s not your junior year English class. Delivering a wedding speech is an honor, and it’s not something you should try off-the-cuff. Give yourself a week or more to practice, practice, and practice.
(7) Resist speaking softly. The band just belted the words to “SHOUT” and don’t you forget it. A little bit louder, they said! Speak louder than what feels natural and hold the mic close. Don’t let all that hard work be for naught.
(8) Don’t forget the groom. (Or the bride. Or the other groom. Or the other other and so forth.) It’s common that you’ll be closer with one, but today you’re celebrating them as a pair. And in this pair—they’re both aces.
(9) Don’t forget to look up. Make eye contact! You’ve gotten yourself this far, don’t lose the audience by keeping your eyes glued to the page.
(10) Do not underestimate yourself. It’s normal to be nervous, but remember that there was a reason you were asked to give this speech. The couple believed in you and you should too!