How to Give a Good Wedding Toast

The best wedding toasts tell specific stories about the couple and convey a sense of love.

By Shira Telushkin

How to Give a Good Wedding Toast
Photo by Zola

So, you’ve already received the save the dates and the wedding invitations, but you’ve also been tasked to make a toast to the newly married couple? The honor of being asked to deliver a wedding reception toast is often followed by some sense of dread. The stakes are high when delivering a perfect wedding toast in front of a room of guests, and it’s hard to know what to say or the right stories to share.

Fortunately, delivering an incredible wedding toast is an art that can be learned. This is everything you need to know about delivering a wedding reception toast that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

Be Ready One Week in Advance

You don’t want to write your wedding toast at the last minute. This will be a public part of the celebration, and you will have the attention of the entire party on you. When the happy couple asks you to deliver a wedding toast at the wedding venues of their choice, they’re expressing that you are the person whose words they most want to hear on their wedding day. You want to show you took this opportunity seriously.

You should begin preparing your wedding toast at least two weeks before their big day, and you should have the wedding toast ready about a week before the party. This gives you a few days to practice and refine the wedding toast. If you’re particularly nervous about the task, then give yourself more time to prepare.

The Research: How to Prepare for Writing a Wedding Toast

Get Specific

The first step is to gather the information, stories, and insights that you want to share. The best wedding toasts give guests a deeper sense of the couple and convey how much the person being toasted is loved by their friends and family. This is an especially important moment for wedding guests who might only know one member of the couple, or might only remember the bride or groom as a child, as it’s the opportunity for these guests to get a better sense of the couple today.

For your wedding toast, you want to tell specific, detailed stories about the person. This not only gives a clear picture of the person, but is also a great way to make someone feel loved.

If you’re struggling to unearth the right anecdotes, here are some prompts that might help:

  • Think back to the first time you two met. What did you first notice about the person? What was your first impression? Did that first impression change?

  • Open up your text history with the person. Scroll back for as long as you can. Is the person an enthusiastic texter, or does it take them weeks to respond? Do they love emojis or memes? Are they hilariously concise in writing?

  • Think about what sorts of questions or problems might prompt you to seek out this person. Are they the person to call when you’re sad or when you can’t figure out how to fix your oven? Is this the friend you call to party, to edit an email, or to walk through a hard conversation? Are they good in groups or do they love one-on-one time?

  • Think about a vacation the two of you have taken, or an activity you might have planned together. Is this the person who micromanages every step of the way and looks up every Yelp review, or the person who leaves it all to the last minute? Have you ever been caught somewhere unexpected with this person, and how did they handle it?

  • Think about the first time you met their spouse. How did the person you are toasting describe the relationship to you? What was your first impression of them as a couple? How has the spouse made this person better?

These prompts should help you begin to think of stories, traits, and insights you have about the person you’re toasting. In thinking through these questions, the goal is to arrive at specific stories.

Don’t just think about how the person is a reliable friend; try to think about a time you called them with a problem or an occasion when you knew this was the person to call when you were bummed and needed to have fun.

You want to start with a trait, and then think through the stories that demonstrate that trait. Don’t worry yet about whether these are the right memories or not. This is the stage to think broadly, and try to capture everything and anything that might be useful in a toast.

Build the Narrative

Now that you have the stories and insights, the next step is to build the narrative of your toast. Consider everything you know about the person, and think about what you want to share with a group who might not know them as well. Since your wedding speech should be pretty short, you want to pick one trait or insight, and let that frame the toast. You can include other stories, but it’s nice to have a focus point for the toast.

The narrative will depend on your relationship with the person.

A parent might explain how all a parent wants in life is for their child to be happy, and loved for who they are, and they couldn’t be happier to know that person has been found.

A friend from college or from the person’s post-college life might describe how this person helped them transition into adulthood.

A childhood best friend might describe how they know what it’s like to go through life with this person at their side, and what a blessing that has been, and how happy they are that their friend now has a life partner worthy of their love.

There are several ways to structure a great wedding toast once you have your narrative, but here’s a basic structure or wedding toast example that might help you figure out the best way for you:

  • Opening anecdote that shares something important
  • Specific story to ground something important
  • Insight into the couple's relationship
  • Bring it back to the opening something important
  • Send-off

These two boilerplate wedding toast examples, color-coded to the above structure, can give you a better sense of what this particular structure could look like.

Sample Wedding Toast for Friend

The first time I met Sarah, she had wandered into the wrong high school math class, fifteen minutes late. What amazed me was how this girl wasn’t even embarrassed. When she realized she was in the wrong class, she apologized to the teacher and just got up and left. She was so confident, so sure of herself. I knew I wanted to be her friend. Over the years, whenever I needed to borrow confidence, I knew I could call Sarah.

The day before my driving test in high school, I called her freaking out, and she agreed to wake up at 6am the next morning to come with me and my mom to the road test. When my first boyfriend broke up with me a few months later, she sent me a handwritten list of every reason why I am awesome, to keep in my backpack anytime I felt sad. Nobody knows how to be there for someone better than Sarah.

When Sarah first met Hugh, she couldn’t stop talking about him. She described how close he was with his nieces and nephews, the gentle way he shared his opinions when he disagreed, the way he pursued his interests, from tennis to chess to water painting, with so much enthusiasm and dedication. How smart and funny and cute and talented he was. But what I remember most strongly was her description of his kindness.

As some of you might know, Sarah had to cancel their second date, because she forgot she had a paper due the next day—a slip that will surprise nobody here—and instead of being upset, Hugh came over to the library with coffee and silly self-affirmation stickers to stick all over her notebooks. He knows the Sarah I know, and he loves the Sarah I love. As a couple, I’ve seen Sarah and Hugh learn everything they love about each other, and how to be there for each other in the areas where each needs help.

I thought I knew Sarah was a confident person. But I’ve never seen her make a decision with more confidence or clarity than knowing this was the man she wanted to marry.

Sarah is a person who enriches the lives of everybody she knows, and we are so blessed that now she has brought Hugh into our lives as well.

Sample Wedding Toast for Child

When I first met my wife, I knew that I wanted to spend my life with her, but I didn’t know what that meant. Forty years later, I’ve learned that love is not just the feeling you feel today, the overwhelming sense that everything about your life is better with this person by your side. It’s the daily confirmation of its truth.

There has been nothing easier or more gratifying than being Sarah’s father. I knew that from the day she was born. But being able to raise her with my wife, Sue, has been a blessing beyond words. When Sarah wanted to go abroad to Paris in high school, I wanted to hold her back. Sue was the one who knew that our love couldn’t be so overwhelming that it prevented us from giving Sarah the space to take risks. When I was a young lawyer, miserable to pieces at my firm, but too nervous to quit my job, it was the surety of Sue’s love that gave me the courage and security to switch career paths.

When Sarah met Hugh, I saw a man who knew what he valued. Hugh loves his family, as we all know, and he loves knowing how this world works. I was amazed by the breadth and depth of his hobbies, the delight in which he learned new skills. As he and Sarah grew in their relationship, I saw their love blossom. I saw how much time he put into every gift he gave her, the way he listened when she spoke.

As they prepared to get married, I saw a love that could handle risk. A love strong enough to catch one another when life is hard, and a love nimble enough to not hold one another back when life demands it. I have been blessed to know the gift of true love, and I feel beyond blessed to see this gift bestowed on Hugh and Sarah, two people who know they want to spend their lives together, but have no idea how much better it is going to get.

Write It Out and Keep It Short

Once you have your narrative, and you know the basic arc of what you want to say and the stories with which you want to say it, then you can write it out. You don’t have to deliver your wedding toast from a written statement, but it can be useful to have it with you. Even if you decide to deliver it without any written materials, the act of writing it out will help you focus on exactly what you want to say.

This is also the time to ensure your wedding toast is under four minutes long. Shorter is usually better, because most people begin to slip into cliches or broad, unfocused prose when they speak for longer. There is so much you can say in a few minutes, so focus on using the time well.

Practice!

Once you’ve written out your wedding toast, it’s time to practice. You want to be very comfortable with the words. You don’t need to memorize the toast, or recite it verbatim each time, but you do want to ensure you remember the arc, and the turns-of-phrase that most elegantly keep the toast flowing from one section to the next. Even if you’re a practiced public speaker, the emotions of a wedding might surprise you, so don’t plan to wing it. The more you practice, the more you’re prepared. This is also why you should have your toast ready at least one week in advance.

If you’re very nervous, try recording yourself delivering the wedding speech. This will give you a sense of how you sound and help you practice your delivery. When in doubt, slow it down. People new to public speaking almost always speak too fast, so don’t be afraid to speak way slower than you think possible, and see how it sounds.

What to Avoid

While there’s a big difference between a sweet but forgettable wedding toast and an incredible wedding toast, there’s an even bigger difference between a fine wedding toast and a disastrous one. Whatever you do, avoid taking the sort of risks that might land you in hot water with the couple or make your wedding toast an unfortunate topic of conversation at the wedding.

These pointers will ensure you avoid any major pitfalls when planning your memorable toast.

Be Mindful of Religious and Cultural Backgrounds

A friend who grew up in a different culture or country might practice differently with her friends, but it’s still a good idea to not share stories that could upset present wedding guests. If you’re a parent, sibling, or childhood friend who is toasting someone who now practices in a different community from the one in which they were raised, then likewise be sensitive to what stories you share.

For example, if the friend getting married grew up in a very traditional Muslim family (or converted to Islam later in life), then skip the story where she won the pork rib eating contest or got tackled by the entire football team at a party. Someone who is now a staunch vegetarian might not appreciate a light-hearted story about their childhood hunting habits. The couple will appreciate you respecting the sensitivities of everyone present.

Avoid Detailed Stories About Sex, Drugs, or Alchohol

The wedding is not the bachelorette party. You do not want to share stories that might be too scandalous for the variety of guests present. This includes stories where the person being toasted is drunk, hungover, waking up next to someone they just met the night before, taking illegal drugs, or any other activity.

Avoid Discussing Exes or Sharing Hesitations About the Current Partner

Do not mention how everyone thought the groom would marry his college girlfriend, or how you all finally came around to the current bride. No matter how light-hearted or fun you think you sound, the sentiment will strike a sour note. The perfect wedding toast is about celebrating the wedding couple, not rehashing the past.

Do Not Bring Up Negative Traits or Share Stories That Put Either Member of the Couple in a Bad Light

While you can very lightly poke fun at a trait about which the person being toasted is not sensitive—for example, being a picky eater, an overly enthusiastic vacation planner, or just very bad at directions—you should be very careful to avoid bringing up negative traits, or sharing unflattering stories.

Do not describe how the groom deals so well with the bride’s temper, or how she is able to handle his drinking problem. Do not mention how the bride is so messy you don’t know how anyone could live with her, or how the groom is so fussy that his friends thought he would never find a husband. These might be true reasons you admire their relationship, but the wedding toast is too short and too public for the nuance such sentiments require. Avoid negativity. This includes any stories where someone acts unethically, stupidly, or just embarrassingly. Stick to the positive.

Focus on the Couple, Not Yourself

The wedding toast is about your relationship to the couple, not about you. Avoid sharing your anxiety about losing your daughter to another family or rehashing your own recent break-up. Share what you think about the couple, what you’ve observed, or even how your own theory of love and relationships relates to the couple. A parent can impart lessons on relationships from their own successful marriage to the couple. But every single insight must directly relate to the couple. And definitely do not mention your own attraction to either member of the couple or how sad it is that they are now ‘off the market.’

Stay Somewhat Sober and Keep It Brief

A drunken wedding toast is often a cringe-worthy moment, as is the wedding toast that will not end. Stay relatively sober until your big debut, and be very mindful of the time. If you don’t have a watch on you, ask to borrow one before you go up, or have a friend agree to signal you when you’ve reached the three minute mark.

If you avoid these pitfalls, plan your toast in advance, and keep it specific, you will have an impressive wedding toast worthy of the couple getting married.

The wedding toast is an important part of the celebration. With these tips and guides, you will be ready to craft and deliver the perfect wedding toast for any occasion.

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