Giving a toast at a rehearsal dinner or wedding reception is supposed to be an honor. So why does it cause so many bridesmaids to ruin their $300 taffeta terror-of-a-gown by breaking into a cold sweat? Because there's a lot that can go wrong. I've seen more wedding toasts derailed by a drunken uncle or botched by a nervous maid of honor than I, or the happy couples, care to remember.
With emotions running high and wine flowing like water, it's all too easy to get long-winded, overly sentimental, and even inappropriate. The last thing you want is to make your lovely hosts wish they had one of those giant hooks to pull you offstage.
Before you take the mic, remember a wedding toast is not the time to make any of these mistakes.
1. Resurrect all-or any-of the happy couple's old relationships.
Everyone is happy the groom didn't marry his obsessive ex with trust issues, but the bride and her family don't want their special day to be overshadowed by the ghosts of girlfriends past. The focus of a wedding toast should be the present and the future of the two people sitting in front of you-and if the past, only their past.
2. Try out your comedy routine.
A few jokes go a long way in a toast and are better when frontloaded; otherwise, you'll come off as insincere. Stay away from dirty jokes-if in doubt, leave it out-and remember your audience. This is a family event, not Def Comedy Jam.
3. Roast the couple.
You may find it hilarious to rehash your friend's most embarrassing moments in front of her 200 closest friends, but she will rue the day you RSVP'd. I attended a rehearsal dinner where the groom's cousin thought it would be funny to share the story of a drunken high school trip to New York City that involved details even Andrew Dice Clay would blush to repeat. Luckily a fellow groomsman recognized where he was going and stepped in before the grandmother-of-the-bride could stroke out. Save any stories that involve overindulgence in alcohol, strippers, sex, or arrests for the bachelor or bachelorette party. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
4. Divulge secret information.
If the news involves the couple, they could be waiting to tell friends and family privately. (If it doesn't involve the couple, you'll be stealing their thunder.) It's not yours to break unless they've asked you to and specifically in this forum. If it's not happy news, you don't want to mar the occasion by dropping a downer bomb. A toast such as, "Bob, we're so sorry you lost your job, but congrats on finding a wife" isn't exactly upbeat.
5. Bring up their faults.
Maybe you see it as a testament to how right they are for each other that the bride and groom (or bride and bride, or groom and groom) are both conceited tightwads, but a toast is not the time for a personality assessment, whether yours or others'. A friend recalls a wedding where a toaster declared she didn't understand why everyone said the bride was cold. The response: crickets and one mortified bride. Put on the rose-colored glasses-lie if you have to-because wedding toasts are not the time for brutal honesty.
6. Chronicle your lifelong friendship.
Stories that tell other wedding guests about the people getting married certainly have a place in a toast, but this should be a celebration of the marriage, not of your friendship. I've sat through countless toasts that were little more than a laundry list of inside jokes and "remember whens." Personal memories are great, but let everybody in and always come back around to the couple.
7. Cry it out.
Carry tissues and get a grip. Like jokes, a few tears go a long way in a toast. Something about snot and sobs just doesn't say "celebration." If you're the overly emotional type, keep it short or avoid speaking altogether and write your toast in a private letter for the couple to read later.
8. Wing it.
Even the most eloquent speakers need notes. Think about what you're going to say at least a few hours in advance. If you leave it until you're at the table or grabbing the microphone, chances are you'll get distracted (this is a party, after all) and forget. You don't have to write down every word, but a few jotted notes will be a helpful lifeline if you find yourself suffering from stage fright.
Unless you're the bride, groom, parents of the bride or groom, maid of honor, or best man, keep your toast short (three minutes or less) and sweet. Don't drink too much, introduce yourself, say thank you, and don't forget to raise a glass. Cheers.