The church ceremony is over, the bride and groom have been introduced at the reception and before the banquet begins someone from the wedding party — most often the best man, but perhaps the maid or matron of honor as well — stands up to give a toast in honor of the newly united couple.
What follows could be a tender tribute to a perfect day. Or it could be a clumsy, tedious — or worse — embarrassing address to the crowd as guests squirm uncomfortably, heads look downward and eyes gaze longingly at their watches.
What should be a lovely moment remembered for years to come is instead the stuff we all try to delete from our memory banks.
As a longtime theater critic, I appreciate good drama, but the wedding day should be filled with tender moments, not fraught with tension. Using my years of experience in understanding what makes a wonderful soliloquy and a glorious moment in the spotlight, here are a few tips to those who are given the assignment to say a few words.
1. Say a FEW words. Short is indeed sweet, especially when one has little to say or is grasping at clichés. The mundane speech may not make the Facebook page but its brevity will be appreciated. And if you do land an effective moment, thought or anecdote — stop. Declare victory. It’s always better to leave them wanting more.
2. Take your time. There’s no need to rush, especially if your toast is relatively brief. Speak clearly, loudly and learn how to use the microphone. (No tap-tap-tap, “Is this on?”) Give each phrase weight. It will give your toast a sweet, sincere gravitas.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t think you can just “wing it.” The most skillful public speakers don’t do that. They just make it seem like that. So write out what you’re going to say. And then rehearse it — out loud. Going over it in your head isn’t enough. You have to hear yourself speaking the words to become comfortable with your own voice and delivery.
4. Make it personal. Any good playwright will tell you that good writing is in the details. Think of the time you were introduced, or some incident that showed character or a time you knew the couple was meant for each other.
5. Don't make it TOO personal. Then again, you’re not trying to bring the curtain down with a shocking revelation, especially involving anything about sex. No one will think it’s funny. No. One.
6. A quote can make it classy. You don’t have to pull an all-nighter going through Shakespeare’s greatest lines, although if you pull from the Bard, make it one of his lesser-known lines. (Google is your friend here.) But a philosophical muse from an off-beat source could be a winner if tastefully done. Something romantic from Oprah, Adele, or even Hamilton could be impressive or hip.
7. Know who the stars in this show are. Hint: It’s not you. No matter what you say, all eyes will be on the reactions of the bride and groom. If you get the groom a bit verklempt, or the bride placing her hands to her heart, you’ve done your job well, and sit down with a smile.
8. Be a lights-out closer. Your last few words are the most important. Make them simple, sincere and effective. You can still save the most rambling of toasts if you have a killer ending, even a sentence that has grace. If you work on anything, zero in on that.
9. Stay sober. All good actors know that when it’s showtime, it’s best to be as clear-headed as possible. So defer that vodka stinger — and party hearty after. If your toast went well, you’ll deserve it.