It is an American tragedy, a weakness of our education system. We teach our children multiplication and division, a smattering of reading skills and how to use a condom, but never the ancient skill of the proper toast. Americans become tongue-tied when raising their glass at a colleague’s retirement dinner, a nephew’s graduation or a friend’s wedding. So let’s make 2017 the year we learn to make a toast.
Of all the toasts in the toasting genre, the wedding toast is the most dangerous. It requires a bard’s wit and a magician’s sleight of hand. A wedding toast must be humorous and serious, spontaneous and heartfelt. It must celebrate our culture’s most sacred bond, marriage, with the most ephemeral of human emotions, love.
Here is a handy guide to the steps of making a proper toast, using my own wedding from fifteen years ago as an example.
Step 1: Establish the premise. As in any good story, from a dirty joke to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, there is always a basic “hook.” It is same with a toast.
“I’d like to make a toast to Neil and Sophia.”
Step 2: Set up the narrative point of view, whether it is first-person, second-person, third-person, third-person objective, third-person limited or third-person omniscient.
“You all know who I am. I’m Neil from twenty years in the future who has traveled back to 1996 to give myself a proper wedding toast since my best man was too drunk to do it properly at the time.”
Step 3: Establish your relationship with the main protagonist.
“I’ve known Neil a very long time — from childhood. We’ve been through a lot together. But even when things got tough, we were always there for each other. Not that we had much of a choice.”
Step 4: Share a meaningful anecdote from your past that foreshadows the importance of today’s big event.
“I remember Neil before he met Sophia, especially that rough year after grad school when Lisa dumped him for that ’musician‘ and he would spend the nights consuming whiskey and Cheetos while watching that Yugoslavian porn site that eventually infected his computer with a virus that deleted our screenplay. That was a real low point in our lives.”
Step 5: Underline the big turning point of the story and how it is a positive life transition.
“And then Neil met Sophia on the dating site. And his life changed. Forever.”
Step 6: Give advice for the future, using your own unique experience.
“I know a little about marriage, so I’ll tell you both that it’s not going to be easy. You might even start fighting on the third day of your honeymoon when you find out that your hotel room in Seville is located more in the Spanish version of Newark. But marriage is great. Your love for each will grow by the day. You will have many adventures together. You will also run up against some unexpected obstacles. But through your strength and trust for each other, you will grow in confidence. There will be laughter. There will be new friends. New jobs. A wise person once said, ’A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.‘ And that is so true. I lift my glass to you, Neil, my closest friend, and you Sophia, his new bride. Here is to your new adventure.”
Step 7: Know what to leave out. A good toastmaster doesn’t reveal all. If you do travel back in time, ask yourself, “Is it really necessary to tell the young couple not to enjoy their favorite show, Celebrity Apprentice, knowing what the future holds for the obnoxious TV host?” And if during the toast, no one asks why you’re not wearing your wedding ring anymore, isn’t it best left unspoken?
Good luck with your toasts!