Toasting is a nearly universal practice, but where it originated is a point of contention. Experts from the International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture cite the roots of this tradition in “ancient sacrificial libations” wherein a goblet was raised up to the gods. Other “Toastologists” point to the medieval custom of clinking glasses and splashing the liquids together as a gesture to show that no poisoning has taken place. The somewhat dark history of the toast may be one shrouded in mystery, but the secrets to giving one are not.
At the start of your toast, stand and explain your connection to the person of honor. It makes your speech all the more meaningful when you clue your audience into the relationship you share. Just make sure to keep the emphasis on your honoree rather than on the role that you play in their life.
Even though your toast recipients are likely to be well-loved by those in attendance, no one wants to listen to directionless anecdotal rambling about them. Limit yourself to no more than 3 minutes; if you want to tell a funny story, stay focused on getting to a point. Try to link the humorous tale to a defining characteristic of your recipients.
Connect with your Audience!
Though you direct your toast at one person or couple, don’t forget to include the rest of your listeners. Make eye contact with members of the audience – use your eyes to make them feel included! If you want to create a more intimate atmosphere, let your emotions show. Nervous public speakers will often use stoicism to feign confidence in the spotlight. But if you want to look comfortable in front of an audience, you’ll need to feel comfortable. Don’t be afraid to laugh or shed a tear; it makes you relatable. Keep it genuine, but moderated – save the bawling for your next viewing of Titanic.
Inflection, Inflection, Inflection.
You may have written a terrific toast, but a monotone voice can kill even the strongest of speeches. Read your speech aloud and note good places to pause or vary your speaking style. Practice it over and over using the same inflection every time. Try to see public speaking as a piece of music: use measures of rest to give both your mouth and your audience’s ears a break and allow your voice to rise and fall in pitch as if constructing a melody. An effective tactic for improving your speaking is to draw from your own experience as an audience member. Identify and avoid the elements that bored, annoyed or distracted you.
A toast can be entertaining, but keep your purpose in mind: allot time to be serious. For this section, drop the jokes and be sincere! Express your gratitude to your hosts and tell your honoree exactly why they’re so deserving of your toast. Utilize your humorous stories and pithy comments to build up to a touching end – leave the audience with a good impression of both your honoree and you. Cheers!