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  • Holly Blum, The Word Whisperer

Five Tips for Giving A Great Bar or Bat Mitzvah Toast

Mazel tov! Your child is becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, experiencing a meaningful Jewish rite of passage and marking an important day for your family. You have likely spent months or years planning every detail of the event, from the service to the party and everything in between. It’s a day full of joy and celebration, and the speech or toast you give your child should reflect that.

You may rejoice at the opportunity to speak about your child, while others struggle to translate their emotions and memories into speech form. My clients have found these tips handy when it comes time to make a speech in honor of their child:

1. Take a trip down memory lane. When deciding what to say, it is helpful to reflect on special memories your family has shared and that your child has experienced. Look no further than your photos, videos or other memory books for inspiration and ideas. Make an actual list of memories that resonate with you and then look for common themes that may connect them. Make sure that the anecdotes you choose to share are appropriate for kids and adults alike. You can also brainstorm words and moments that best capture the essence of your child. Once you’ve thought through all of your possible material, write it down so that it is centralized in one place.

2. Condense. With more than 12 years of memories to comb through, the next step is to whittle down your material. This can be overwhelming for many parents. Identify and include the personal stories that truly reflect your child and your family’s values. It may be tempting to share inside jokes or embarrassing stories to elicit laughter, but remember that your job is to cast your child in the best light possible. Appropriate jesting is okay, so long as it is combined with heartfelt sentiment.

3. Think about having a polished conversation. Remember that your words will be spoken, not written. Think about how you sound when you speak and stick to that style. The speech should sound like you are having a polished conversation. Don’t use flowery prose if you don’t speak that way. Use jargon and appropriate expressions. Don’t be afraid of repetition. So long as it’s not redundant, repeating your main ideas or coming up with a catchphrase can resonate with the crowd.

4. Get a jump start. Speeches can cause anxiety and stress, causing people to often wait until the last minute to compose. Trust me—procrastination is the worst possible thing you can do. At least one month before your celebration, start the speech writing process. Use that time to carefully think about and prepare what you want to say. Give yourself some wiggle room for edits and re-drafts. Make sure that you practice your speech aloud in front of the mirror so you can see your facial expressions and hand gestures. Once you feel you are ready for show time, practice in front of your spouse or good friend to make sure that it flows and resonates well.

5. Wait until after the toast to drink. At a recent Bar Mitzvah I attended, the father had too much to drink before he gave the toast and proceeded to slur every other word in his speech. Sometimes, it’s easy to get swept up in the festivities, but if you are the speaker, hold off on the alcohol until after you are done. Oftentimes, people think it will take the edge off if they are nervous, but it usually makes it more challenging (and in some cases downright mortifying). Remember that you are representing your child and your family on this momentous day. Set a positive example by delaying the libations until you’ve welcomed your guests.

After all of your hard work and effort planning this important milestone for your child, make sure that you are ready to shine when you stand up and take the microphone. The Word Whisperer is here to help you if you get stuck. L’Chaim!

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