Wedding toasts are tricky. You’ve got a lot of different people to please, and couples are extra-sensitive on their wedding day—after all, they’ve got a whole room of the most important people in their lives looking at them. Because of this, there’s a lot of pressure on these speeches. We’ve got some helpful tips to guide you towards a great wedding toast that you and your favorite couple will remember fondly for years, so grab your notepads and get ready for some key(note) advice.
Are you unsure if you need to come up with a wedding toast or not? Generally speaking, the following people give a toast at the reception:
Give some thought as to what you’re going to say and jot down some notes, whether or not you plan on using them at the reception. You might trip up your words or lose your train of thought if you “wing it,” so our advice is to, well, not. Respect the couple on their wedding day by giving your wedding toast the thoughtful preparation it deserves. That means preparing it well in advance and rehearsing a few times in order to gauge the length and flow of your speech. Trust us, both the couple and you will be grateful you did.
Be true to yourself. If you’re not naturally funny, don’t try to be. If you’re not one for mushy sentimentality, don’t go there. Be honest and give a few words about why your relationship with the bride and/or groom is a special one and why you admire their partnership. It’s as simple as that.
For those fearful of public speaking, you may be happy to hear that most wedding toasts are somewhere around three minutes long. Remember, you’re performing a wedding toast, not a filibuster. All you really need to do is introduce yourself and explain your relationship to the couple, share a special memory or story about the pair (or the bride and/or groom separately), say congratulations, and wish them a long, happy future.
You won’t believe how many people forget this essential wedding toast component. The whole purpose of a wedding coast is to wish the newlyweds well, so make sure this word makes it into your speech.
Don’t stare down the couple, but keep in mind that they are the recipients of your speech and the most important people in your audience. You are not putting on a show for the wedding guests, but toasting your good friend (or son, or daughter…), their new spouse, and their future. A little eye contact goes a long way.
Make sure you know the reception timeline and general order of events—don’t even think about bugging the bride or groom with questions about when you’re “on.” Speak with the wedding planner (or the person acting in this capacity—even the DJ or bandleader might know) so you know when and where you are supposed to give your toast, what kind of mic you’ll have, and where to place your notes if necessary.
There are many different types of toasts you can give. But whether you decide to give a funny wedding toast or a more sentimental one, there's a right and wrong way to do it. Here’s a list of things you should DO when giving a perfect wedding toast:
The best wedding speeches are those that let the audience know a little bit more about the bride and/or groom—in a good way—so try to include some funny or sweet stories from their childhoods, adolescence, or young adulthoods. Ask the couple’s parents, siblings, or other close friends for any great tidbits that you could weave into your toast for greater authenticity.
Good stories make for good toasts. Take your listeners on a little journey about the couple and how we arrived at this special day. If you’re part of the wedding party representing just one of the newlyweds, explain what kind of person s/he is (as demonstrated by X anecdote from the past), how you know each other, how s/he met the other newlywed, how their relationship grew, why they are such a great match, and what you hope for their future. If you can weave in a little thematic joke or a narrative through-line, even better.
A perfect wedding toast includes a healthy mix of humor, sentimentality, good-natured ribbing, and sincerity. You want the couple, and the rest of the guests, to feel both amused and touched by your words. If you’re naturally funny, include some clean jokes that won’t hurt anyone’s feelings (jokes at your own expense are alway a safe bet). If you always botch the punch line, it’s perfectly fine to stick to a straightforward message of warmth and congratulations.
Not all of us were born with the gift of gab. If Wordsworth you are not, there’s no shame in stealing some great lines from the masters. Look up some quotations on love, relationships, or marriage to either guide your speech’s theme or to pepper in at the beginning and end for greatest impact. Writers and essayists like Martin Luther King Jr., Pablo Neruda, Shakespeare, or any of the Romantic poets are good places to look for inspiring quotations.
Nowhere is the phrase “practice makes perfect” more true than in public speaking. Besides familiarizing yourself with the material, you’ll be able to hear any mistakes, awkward phrasing, or weird timing when experiencing the words out loud. Practice reading your speech to a partner or friend, get their feedback (and have them time you so you know if you need to add or cut), and practice again until you feel solid.
If you have a bring-down-the-house kind of wedding toast but no one can understand it, what good will it do? Make sure your one-liners zing and your heartfelt wishes bring tears by speaking loudly and clearly, enunciating your words, and appropriately using a microphone or other AV equipment that’s provided.
This one is obvious, right? The key here is to know your audience. Remember that you’re addressing the entire guest list—which might include ages 3 to 93. Joking about adult topics must be done subtly and in good taste. To keep things classy, be intentionally vague and keep the examples lighthearted. Don’t go into sordid detail, don’t share anything that could get anyone in trouble, don’t reveal anything truly humiliating, and avoid bathroom humor.
So that your speech doesn’t feel awkwardly lopsided, be sure to say some kind, sincere, and personal words to both of the people who just got married. If you are friends with both of them, even more reason to share an anecdote about why they are great individually and doubly great together.
No matter what else you say or do, end your wedding speech with positivity. Congratulations on the marriage, happy wishes for the couple’s future together, and a general toast in their direction are customary (for a reason) and always well-received.
And here’s a list of things you should NOT DO when giving a great wedding toast:
Tell a short (short) story, not a novel. No one wants to hear you digress about something unrelated to your key message, or worse, about yourself. Remember, this isn’t your show—this moment is about the newly married couple, so resist the urge to go off on a tangent.
Making people laugh is good. Making people uncomfortable is not. Offensive, off-color, or any mean-spirited joke at the expense of an individual or group is a no-fly zone. If you have to stop and ask yourself, “Should I say this?,” it’s a good indication that you should just not. And if you normally swear like a sailor, watch your language and avoid profanity.
If only you and the bride or groom (or a small handful of other people) will understand what you’re talking about, then it’s probably not good material to include in a wedding speech. You don’t want to alienate your audience by making them feel like they’re not in on the joke. Stick to universal topics and be inclusive in your story- and joke-telling.
While it might be tempting to throw back a few after the “I dos” to loosen up for your moment in the spotlight, use common sense. Has consuming alcohol in a short amount of time ever helped you be more articulate, quick on your feet, or sensitive to the passage of time? Our guess is no. Wait until after your speech to take advantage of the open bar, because it will be clear to the crowd if you are not in your best frame of mind.
Every public speaker misses a line or trips up their words now and then. Rather than drawing attention to an error by apologizing profusely or joking about how bad a public speaker you are, simply make a quick correction or skip over it and move on. Dwell any further, and your audience will get uncomfortable or lose confidence in you.
While you certainly don’t need to memorize your speech, it’s public speaking 101 that just reading aloud from a piece of paper (or your phone) without acknowledging the crowd is a no-no. Know your speech well enough so that you don’t have to look at it word-for-word. Take time to look around, make eye contact (especially when you’re addressing the happy couple), and pause for laughter or applause.
Being nervous is totally normal—but if your nerves are too apparent, they can distract your audience or put them on edge. A clear sign of being nervous is racing through your speech like you’re competing for a NASCAR trophy. Take deep breaths, use the above tips about audience engagement, and speak clearly and slowly. We promise, it’ll be over before you know it.
That being said, don’t be long-winded or hog too much of the wedding reception’s precious timeline, or your audience will start wondering when they can get on the dance floor rather than pay attention to your eloquence. Stick to whatever time frame the couple recommended, or if you’re on your own, aim for 2-3 minutes.
This day is not about you, so your toast definitely shouldn’t be. A personal anecdote about you AND the bride and/or groom is great, so long as it illuminates funny (and flattering) points about the other’s personality, talents, or achievements. Watch how many times you say “I” and “me” and cut back if you find these words dominating your speech to avoid coming off as insincere.
At all. Ever. Seriously. Don’t do it. It will make things awkward, and like we said before, people are extra-sensitive on their big day.
If you have any doubt whether a joke will offend the bride, groom, or their parents, leave it out of your toast. Keep in mind, it’s a toast, not a roast.
There are really never any circumstances under which the following topics are a good idea to bring up in a wedding toast or speech. Don’t touch these subject matters with a 10-foot pole:
Follow this general outline for your wedding toast, and you’ll be golden: