It's the moment we've seen in virtually every wedding movie ever made. Someone, usually the lead character, raises a glass, the reception hall goes silent, and we know one of two things is about to happen. The speaker delivers either a touching monologue that leaves every eye in the hall (and theater) glassy or a verbal fiasco on the disaster scale of Mount St. Helens.
Either of these is fine in the movies. You leave entertained one way or the other. But now it's your moment. You're the one holding the glass, with every eye on you, and the next words to leave your mouth will determine how this toast, and you, will go down in history: a triumph or a fiasco.
Fortunately, giving the perfect toast isn't nearly as hard as Hollywood makes it look. So take a deep breath, stand up straight, and remember these simple rules.
It's a Toast, Not a Roast. Remember why you're here. You're here to make either the bride or the groom look good, to reassure their new spouse that they made the right decision, and to present yourself as eloquent, sensitive and available to any single members of the wedding party. So don't rehash the groom's failures in high school or the embarrassing effects of the bride drinking dairy on a plane. Leave the insults for the Thanksgiving table, and keep the toast positive.
What Happens At The Bachelor Party ... This is ironclad. Don't talk about what happened the night before. It doesn't matter if the groom spent the entire night at Applebee's expounding in verse the hundreds of reasons why he loves his bride. (Though do the guy a favor and pass that kind of information along to the bride just before they jump in the limo). A sacred trust exists among those who attend pre-wedding parties, and a toast isn't a license to break it.
Keep It Brief. We're a TV generation. We have no attention spans. You may be spinning pure Shakespeare on that mini-stage, but if you go over two minutes, you've lost us. Here's a basic rule of thumb. Hold your glass high while you speak. If your arm starts to get tired, you've gone too long.
So How About That Airline Food? You're a funny guy. We get it. But we aren't here so you can practice your standup routine. Think of your jokes like peppers. A few here and there are perfect, but dump too many in, and it overpowers the dish and makes Aunt Cleo break out in hives.
Speak from the Heart. Cliché, yes, but it works. Don't worry about getting up there to entertain. You aren't there for the crowd, anyway. You are there to look your friend in the eye and tell him or her what a wonderful person they are. This is one of the few times in life you have the opportunity to be this open and honest without it becoming awkward, so take advantage of it!
So there it is. Nothing to it. Just raise that glass, look the newlywed in the eye and toast your heart out. And hey, even if the toast turns out to be a spectacular failure, just think of it as providing great source material for the person who will be giving your toast one day.
Now if you'll excuse me, my arm is getting tired.