There’s a good chance at some point this holiday season you will be asked to give, or feel spontaneously compelled to give, a toast.
This time of year is rife with special occasions: holiday feasts, engagements and weddings, family gatherings and company parties. Not that you need a special occasion to raise your glass and deliver a few words of adulation. The right time for a toast is whenever you feel moved to commemorate the occasion.
You don’t need to be a writer or a world-champion extrovert to master the art of the toast. Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll make this party one to remember.
Make sure everyone has a full glass, including yourself. And make sure the teetotalers have a glass of something tasty too. Plan ahead for a non-alcoholic cocktail to be on the menu, so abstainers and children can participate on equal footing.
Stand and raise your glass to get everyone’s attention. Big events may have a microphone, but if not, you’ll have to dig deep, find your inner drama student, and project. Don’t be shy: The only thing worse than a lame toast is an inaudible one.
Hook your audience. Start with a short, interesting anecdote about the toastee: “When you’re trapped on your ex-boyfriend’s window ledge in your underwear, there’s no better person to have in your corner than Jane.” “When you’re getting chased by a wild horse down a highway in the middle of nowhere, call Jane: She will know exactly what to do.” If you can hook your audience with a delicious morsel of a story, you’ll have their attention for the rest of the toast.
Make sure your anecdotes, personal stories and jokes are in good cheer and not mean-spirited. It’s okay to make the toastee blush with a harmless story about the time you recorded your own music videos in high school, but you don’t want to deeply embarrass them with a hangover story in front of their in-laws.
After you’ve hooked the audience, introduce yourself and your relationship to the subject of the toast. People will want to know why you’re the one speaking and why they should listen to you. But keep it short: The toast isn’t about you. Be sure the spotlight remains on the recipient.
If you’re toasting a couple for an engagement or wedding, be sure to include the partner in your toast, not just the half you’re closest to.
Know your audience, and be aware of the occasion and the venue: No politics in mixed company, no swear words in front of children, no bawdy jokes in church.
End big. Even if you get nervous and lose your train of thought along the way, everything will be forgiven, and forgotten, if you exit on a high note. End on a raucous, celebratory note with the audible clink of glasses kissing. Then, drink up.