For a maid of honor or a best man, one of the most terrifying things about the wedding day is giving the toast.
It sounds a little petty and selfish, but I know other maids of honor and best men would agree. The toast is the only time all the guests look at you as much as at the beautiful couple, and therefore it offers the best opportunity for screwing up. Think about it: The wedding toast is maybe one of the only three times in life that you ever really gush about how great someone is and about how much that person means to you (the other two times being eulogies and yearbook signings—both uncomfortable).
If you’ve got a crazy, stressful wedding day ahead, small stuff like this won’t matter. But I didn’t have to worry about Ducky’s groom running off (despite what he wanted me to believe with the 10 AM gag phone call: “Hey Katie, I’m on a bus to Guatemala right now. What are you up to?”) or about Ducky losing it, either (I have a picture of her calmly helping her mom get ready). So I was free to focus on not tripping—literally, down the aisle, or figuratively, during my toast.
I’ve heard some beautiful toasts in the past couple of years, and the one thing that made them all effective—and made me cry while hearing them—was how genuine the words were. As a guest, I don’t want to hear a laundry list of qualities: “You’re so nice and fun and pretty and funny” (that reads like one of my old yearbook signings). What I do love to hear is someone else expressing what I already know about the bride or groom but in a new and interesting way.
I felt really happy with my toast to Ducky on her wedding day because I truly meant what I said, and because I know she knew it, too. Here’s what I’d recommend when preparing your own toast to a special someone on his or her wedding day:
• Be honest. If you don’t think the bride and groom were “meant to be together,” don’t say it. It sounds fake. If you can joke with other guests by saying, “I think we all know how well these two nerds get along,” that feels real. Now, I’m not inviting you to roast the bride or groom; I’m just saying keep it real.
• Be specific. Don’t be vague about why someone means the world to you. You probably have a reason, even if that reason can’t be explained by one funny story or the fact that you met when you were five. Help paint a scene in the minds of the guests that will tell them something special about the person they came to see.
• Don’t use inside jokes. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a classy way to incorporate cow tipping into my toast to Ducky. The stories you share and observations you make about a person should be inclusive, not exclusive. Say things that will make the guests nod in agreement or laugh or think, “I never knew that about Ducky. I’m glad she told that story.”
• Acknowledge both parties. Even if the best man raises his glass to the groom and the maid of honor addresses the bride, the toasts I enjoy most also comment on the couple as a pair. Not everyone can do this—I’ve never lived in the same city as Ducky’s groom—but it doesn’t take Dr. Phil to recognize happiness in a person. If your observation about the groom is that you’re thankful he came along and that he makes your friend so happy, that’s enough.
• Anecdotes can be fun. If you can think of a story about your friend that doesn’t involve nudity or strippers, share it with the guests. Just make it relevant to what you’re trying to convey about the bride or groom without poking any sore spots. The bride’s awesome tendency toward having three men courting her at once doesn’t count as a cute story about how lovely the bride is.
• It doesn’t have to be poetry. Believe it or not, I know bigger words than the ones I use in this blog. But there’s a place for everything. You don’t have to worry about competing for poet laureate of the wedding. Unless the poetic thing you say has some special meaning—if for instance, it’s a blessing or a song or something else of personal, cultural, or religious significance—then it’s probably not that good. That is, unless you actually are the poet laureate of the United States. In which case, do you have some tips for me?
Katie, a local bridesmaid-to-be, writes occasionally about planning for and being part of three (and counting) friends' weddings in one year. To follow her adventures from the beginning, click here.
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