Guess what – our attention span isn’t what it used to be. For those who measure these kinds of things, the average person’s initial focus has dropped to a bit over 8 seconds from 12 seconds just 10 years earlier. That means you have about as much time as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” to give your audience a reason to continue listening before they resume eating, texting or talking with the person next to them. In our perpetually distracted and distracting world, spending a few extra moments preparing your BFF’s wedding toast by following these suggestions can make the difference between unforgettable and regrettable.
- Tell a story that connects, one that is relatable personally or emotionally — a story that listeners can picture themselves experiencing. That means leaving the childhood memories of hilarious times shared with the bride or groom or couple out. Unless the childhood memory relates to the moment in a positive and affirming way, you run the risk of embarrassing yourself and humiliating the bride or groom. Just say no.
- Keep it brief – write, then whittle and then whittle some more. No laundry lists of accomplishments or failings. There is no hard-and-fast time limit to target, but 3 minutes is plenty of time to say something memorable and heartfelt.
- Use dialogue so that listeners can hear the characters talk. And don’t think your job is to speak “for the room.” Your job is to speak “to the room.” If your story lends itself to the “callback” technique, use it. A callback is referring repeatedly back to a line from earlier in your story. This “callback line” helps create a common thread and keeps the audience focused.
- Practice — please practice. Even the best of toasts will be a failure if your head is buried in pieces of paper or your are searching through note cards while juggling the microphone rather than looking out to the audience, making eye contact. This will also help minimize “going off script,” or a case of the giggles.
- If in doubt, follow a time-tested 3 – 1 – 2 formula: start by speaking in the third person, sharing a memory… a “let me tell you moment”; followed by a first person sharing of a personal feeling about the bride or groom; and completed with a second person congratulatory or best wishes glass-raising to the couple conclusion.
Remember, your toast is not about making you look good, it’s about making the couple look good. But by making the couple look good, you get to share in their glow. And years after, you will be remembered not for what you said but how you said it — for all the right reasons.