When you are asked to make a toast for a special occasion the stakes are high. Whether it’s a wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, milestone birthday or other life celebration, what you choose to say can make a big impact on the event itself. As soon as you take the microphone, you are in a position to command attention and make a lasting impression—for better or for worse. Here are five tips for making sure that your words hit the right note.
1. Don’t procrastinate. Many people wait until the last minute to write their speech. Sure, life is busy, but remember that you are representing the guest of honor. In this case, you don’t have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can very well be held against you. Two to three weeks before the big event, start outlining your speech to give you ample time to finalize your words before show time.
2. Focus on the positives. It’s tempting to share embarrassing stories and inside jokes. But unless the occasion is an actual roast, keep these to a minimum. And if the story is not appropriate for your own grandmother, leave it out altogether. Think about the personal stories and anecdotes that will cast the guest of honor in the best possible light. Use those details to paint a picture of how he/she is unique.
3. Think about how you want other people to feel. When you are writing your speech it is important to think about the ratio of humor, wit and sentimentality you wish to deliver. If you want to keep the mood light, make it more humorous. If you want to express deeper emotions, focus on the heartfelt memories. Think about what you want the guest of honor and the guests attending the event to remember about your speech. Make sure the words you select help you reach this goal.
4. Be brief. One of my favorite quotes is: “A talk is like a woman’s dress. Short enough to cover the subject, but long enough to be interesting.” A good rule of thumb to follow is to three to five minutes in length. This gives you ample time to say what you want to say without being long-winded or monopolizing the microphone. After all, unless you are a keynote speaker, people did not come to the event to listen to you talk. They will listen politely, but after five minutes people want to get back to the party.
5. Do a dry run. Once you have your speech down on paper, practice it. Start by reading it aloud in front of a mirror. Make sure you are comfortable with your facial expressions and hand gestures. Next, practice in front of a couple of close friends. Gauge their reactions carefully. Did your funny bits elicit laughter? Did your heartfelt words inspire smiles or tears? Get their honest feedback and tweak as necessary.
Giving a speech can be a nerve-wracking experience. But with enough preparation, thought and practice you can walk away leaving everyone with a good feeling. And at the end of the day, that is what makes a special occasion speech truly special.