We’ve all been there. The emcee says it’s time for so-and-so to make a toast. There’s a subconscious pause as everyone in the audience braces themselves for what’s to come. Will there be a wow moment? Or will the speech fall flat? Even worse, will the cringe-to-smile balance lean heavily toward the cringe side?
I’ve heard A LOT of special occasion toasts (and written my fair share too). And I’ve made a list of my biggest pet peeves. When speeches do any of these things on the list they almost always leave the guests feeling underwhelmed, or bomb altogether. So the next time you have to make a speech, try to avoid the following:
1. “For those of you who don’t know me…”
Please do yourself a favor and don’t start your speech saying, “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Scott’s sister Holly.” Chances are, most everyone knows who you are beforehand and if they don’t, they can probably figure out who you are without you spelling it out. I understand the desire to introduce yourself in a corporate presentation, but at a celebratory event like a wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah it’s almost always unnecessary. Instead, challenge yourself to come up with a more compelling (less generic) way to start your speech.
2. Too much “I”
Spoiler alert: even though you’ve been asked to give a toast, it’s not supposed to be about you. Your goal is to make the guest of honor feel great by casting him/her in as glowing a light as possible. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk about your relationship with the guest of honor, but this should be a side note, not the main attraction. When you’ve written your speech and there are more “I’s” than the name of the honoree, you know you need to go back to the drawing board. Remember, when the speech is over, you don’t want the takeaway to be about you.
3. Inside jokes
It’s tempting to include a bunch of inside jokes, special memories that you may share with the guest of honor. But your role is to connect with EVERYONE in the room. Yes, the guest of honor is the main target, but just talking about things only the both of you are going to understand won’t leave the other guests paying attention for too long. Try to share anecdotes that everyone can relate to, regardless of age, gender or length of relationship with the guest of honor. If you want to capture all of the inside jokes you share, make a scrapbook page or write a letter to keep those memories preserved.
4. Off color language and stories
Steer clear of any and all crude language. No exceptions. Usually crudity comes in when the speaker is panicking about being funny and it often leads to disaster. In addition to language, keep any embarrassing or explicit stories off the table, no matter how entertaining you think they are. Perhaps it’s obvious (but you’d be surprised), but please don’t mention any of the bride’s or groom’s past boyfriends or girlfriends. Don’t make fun of the new husband or wife. Some gentle ribbing might be appropriate if it’s directed at your friend or family member, but painting their new husband or wife in an unflattering light is not a good look.
5. Where’s the back-up?
Many times, speakers focus on the guest of honor’s best characteristics, which is a good start. But instead of picking stories or anecdotes to make those character traits come alive, the speech reads like a laundry list of adjectives plucked straight from the thesaurus. Remember that simply stating that Joey is such a kind, loyal friend isn’t the same as sharing how Joey vehemently stood up for his friend by launching an anti-bullying campaign. Without the back-up for your claim, the guests won’t be able to see the full picture.
6. Reading off your phone
No matter how green you may be, please print out your speech on a nice white sheet of paper. Extra points if you laminate it or mount it on a thicker cardstock. Trust me, when you see the photos afterward you’re going to look a lot more sophisticated holding a piece of paper than looking down at your phone. There’s still something more elegant and timeless about paper for a speech.
So there you go. These are my biggest pet peeves. The next time you’re listening to a special occasion speech, let me know how many of these come up. I’m genuinely curious.