There inevitably comes a time when you’ll be having a family dinner, office party, wedding or simply a small gathering of friends at home. With the holidays upon us, your odds are on the uptick. As tradition would have it, the host (that’s you) gives a toast. Now, if you’re not a seasoned public speaker—or perhaps you’ve actively avoided public speaking your entire adult life—don’t sweat it, you got this. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Make It Quick
How long should a toast be exactly? The short answer: Short. This isn’t the last Avengers movie. Or the 3 before that. Or any movie in the Marvel franchise. Think 45 seconds or less, which is how long you have if you win an Oscar. Imagine you’ve just been handed your golden statue, the orchestra is poised to play and you only have time for your best stuff. Go. A good toast is a quick toast. Make it fast, make it about your guests, and you can’t lose.
2. Make It Early
Time it right. Early is best. Proposing a toast late into the gathering is like serving the appetizer at the end of a meal. Your guests might eat it, but they might spit it into a napkin too. You don’t want that kind of distraction when your glass is raised and heartfelt words are pouring out. So wait until your guests are settled, they’ve had their first drink and there’s that steady hum in the party. That’s your moment to deliver.
3. Make It Sincere
Here’s a rookie mistake I saw last year: The host gathered his guests and asked them to repeat the toast he learned during his ‘94 college spring break in Cabo: Arriba, abajo, al centro, y adentro! Don’t be that guy. A good toast, especially during the holidays, is about gratitude, connecting people and being present to celebrate a moment worth sharing. Nothing scripted, cliché or frat-boy related. Be sincere, speak from the heart—and if that doesn’t work, then you probably need new friends and family.
4. Make It Funny (Maybe)
Should you use humor? It’s hard to know, but as a general rule of thumb, if you think you’re funny, you’re probably not (sorry dads everywhere). There’s a big learning curve to using humor after you’ve asked everyone for their attention. A common mistake when inserting humor into any public speaking is going on the attack. Remember you have 45 seconds, don’t use it to single out anyone and make them the butt of your joke. It’s a toast, not a roast. Not only can it go terribly wrong, it also makes it hard to follow with any kind of genuine sincerity.
If you’re going to use humor, look to be self-deprecating or innocuous like, “I wasn’t going to give a toast but the O’Doul’s made me do it.” We’ve all heard funnier lines, but it’s a good lead-in and no individuals were harmed in the making. Humor in a toast should be used as a tool to build contrast, so it gives your sincerity extra oomph.
5. Final Notes
Take a deep breath. Go easy on the “umms.” Be grateful. Take your hand out of your pocket. Don’t forget to say “Cheers.” Drop the mic (but not really, those things are expensive, just put it back where it goes and get out of there).