photo by Whatnot Shop Photography
by Ivan Moore of Synapse Entertainment, a Cleveland area DJ company specializing in weddings.
I had the privilege to talk to Eddie Rice, a Cleveland-area speechwriter, speaking coach, toastmaster, and author. He wrote the book on giving a great toast—literally—called Toast: Short Speech & Big Impact. Eddie is going to share his insights about how to give an amazing wedding toast so listen up and your next wedding toast will be nothing short of unforgettable.
Ivan: What’s the purpose of a wedding toast?
Eddie: It’s two things. It’s to honor the person and honor the event. You really want to achieve those two goals in your wedding toast. I think where people go wrong is they too often make it about themselves rather than the people that they are toasting. And that’s where a lot of toasts get off track, or it gets into really horrible jokes and just the stuff that shouldn’t be mentioned in a toast. That can cast a dark cloud on everything. So focus on honoring the couple that you’re toasting and honoring the event itself and you’re going to be in a good spot.
“Focus on honoring the couple that you’re toasting and honoring the event itself and you’re going to be in a good spot.”
Ivan: I was explaining some of the bad toasts that I’ve heard to my son and he remarked, “Whoa, I guess it is a pretty big deal.”
Eddie: Yeah, people get super sensitive about them and with all the video recording that goes on, this stuff is captured forever.
Ivan: How long should a wedding toast should be?
Eddie: I would say anywhere from about three to five minutes is an ideal length. You have to consider that there are multiple people giving toasts at a wedding reception. So you don’t want to get up there and give that 10 to 15-minute toast and soak up all the time for everyone else or just prolong the whole reception where there’s other stuff that goes on, like the bouquet toss and the cake cutting and everything else that goes into a wedding ceremony or reception.
“Anywhere from about three to five minutes is an ideal length.”
Ivan: When someone’s going to make a wedding toast and they don’t even know where to begin, what would you recommend that they do?
Eddie: I would say watch some great toasts on YouTube to get inspiration because you can see just how other people have crafted their toast and put it together. You can see really good examples and some poor examples as well. From there, it’s really about brainstorming. Use the brainstorming questions that are in my book like, Why is this person so great? What are your favorite stories about this person? When have they made you laugh? When have they really been there for you in your life? How they show you what a good husband or wife looks like.
Questions like that. You want to start brainstorming lots and lots of ideas and then from there, edit those ideas down into a more manageable toast.
“You want to start brainstorming lots and lots of ideas and then from there, edit those ideas down into a more manageable toast.”
Ivan: Is there a particular format you can recommend for a good wedding toast?
Eddie: So there are a lot of formats that work. My favorite one is when you focus on just one great story to tell. I outlined this in the book and talk about how you get up there, you introduce yourself. That’s part one because half the crowd probably doesn’t know who you are. And then the second part is to just tell a great story that honors the person that you’re toasting. Then give a message to the couple, a heartfelt message, and then end with a closing cheers. That will get you across the finish line very easily and quickly.
Ivan: How can you successfully tell a story in a toast?
Eddie: You just want to include only the pertinent details. I think sometimes when people try to tell stories, they include every single detail in the story, like the name of the dog or the color somebody was wearing someday, all those kinds of extraneous details. If you’re in this framework of three to five minutes, you really just need to capture the essence of the story. Think of it more like when you read a description of a movie online and you get the plot synopsis. You just want to hit the major points.
Ivan: Are there things you think should be avoided when making a toast?
Eddie: Yes! Past relationships definitely. There’s just no good reason to include them. People can be quite jealous of who their partner dated before, even if you think you’re making a really good point. I’ve never seen it pulled off. Second, any bachelor night or bachelorette night stories. Keep those out of the toast as well.
Imagine that you’re sitting down with the couple’s in-laws for dinner. What would you tell them at that moment? It’s a really good test. Stay away from embarrassing comments and crude jokes. Avoid really bad one-liners that you can find on the Internet. Also, stay away from inside jokes.
Ivan: Do you have any advice on adding humor to a toast?
Eddie: I think instead of adding humor, you want to uncover it naturally. So if you have a funny story, tell the funny story. But don’t think, oh my God, my toast doesn’t have humor in it and it’s not going to work. There are plenty of emotional and sentimental toasts that go off without too much humor in them, and they’re really well done, so don’t force it. Forced humor just never comes off well and it ends up just bombing. And you just feel embarrassed when the joke doesn’t get any laughs.
“Imagine that you’re sitting down with the couple’s in-laws for dinner. What would you tell them at that moment? It’s a really good test.”
Ivan: Do you recommend reading a toast or memorizing it? What do you recommend for the process there?
Eddie: For preparation, you want to more or less internalize the toast itself. So you want to get comfortable with the text on the page, read it over multiple times, and then get up there and deliver it and use your notes as a backup. Obviously, if you can memorize the toast, go for it, but always have the notes there as a backup. And use a paper backup. If you’re trying to read it off your phone, your battery could die, the words are often too small, or you get that backlight under your face and it drives the photographer absolutely crazy.
Just take moments out of your day to prep, five minutes in the morning after you shower or at a lunch break or sometime in the evening. Do it enough times that you repeat it until it becomes internalized and you’re going to be in a good spot.
I also suggest to people to use a voice recorder app on their phone to record it and then play it back. You’re going to hear the awkward pauses, awkward phrases, the parts that land and then the parts that succeed as well. That’ll give you a really good kind of barometer of where you are in your toast.
“There are plenty of emotional and sentimental toasts that go off without too much humor in them, and they’re really well done, so don’t force it.”
Ivan: How do you recommend ending a toast?
Eddie: This is when I would use my Internet research to find a closing quote that works really well. It could be a quote from a movie, a book, a song. If you know that there is a particular movie, book, song, or quote that resonates with the couple getting married, then something from that. And then cheers right after the quote.
Ivan: So what do you recommend for people who get super-nervous when they’re giving a toast or when they’re doing public speaking in general?
Eddie: Everyone gets nervous. That’s just a normal part of this whole process. If you have the time, I would suggest joining Toastmasters Worldwide Organization which meets on a weekly basis and you get to practice your public speaking skills in a supportive group. If you have that time to do that, that’s another group that you can perform your toast in front of. Deep breathing helps a lot of people with their anxiety. So you breathe in for a count of three, hold it for a count of three, and exhale for a count of three. Then you repeat the process with one more count four, five, six, seven, and so on.
“You want to get comfortable with the text on the page, read it over multiple times, and then get up there and deliver it and use your notes as a backup.”
Ivan: Do you have any advice for a bride and groom giving a thank you toast or speech at their own wedding?
Eddie: These are becoming more in fashion. I think the same principles apply where you want to make sure that you do thank the appropriate people. You don’t want to make it too long, but you want to make sure you mention the person that paid for the wedding or if someone paid for the wine or something like that.
You also want to mention the guests that had to travel for the wedding because weddings can get expensive, especially when it’s in fashion to have these destination weddings. But you just want to make it heartfelt, sincere. When you’re just thanking people, you don’t want to make it too long and thank every single person in the room. You can be very general if you need to, but make sure that you do thank the wedding planner and the parents of the bride or the groom or the couple, and everyone that helped. One of the biggest hurdles with thank you toasts I’ve seen is that the really hard workers don’t always get recognized.
“Everyone gets nervous. That’s just a normal part of this whole process.”
Ivan: You wrote a the book Toast: Short Speech and Big Impact. Can you tell us a little bit more about about your book?
Eddie: It’s all the advice I give in my book. The first part of it is walking you through the toast process from beginning to end, going from brainstorming, structuring, outlining, writing, drafting, revising, rehearsing—all that stuff that you need. And then the second half of the book is real toasts and real speeches that people gave that you can use as a model for your own. What I love most about the book is that it’s part instruction, part example, and it’s short.
Ivan: It is an excellent book. I wish I would have read it years ago before I’d given some important toasts, Eddie.
Do you do speechwriting and personal coaching for people who are giving toasts and speeches?
Eddie: Yes, I do both. I can help someone write their toast from beginning to end. That’s where a lot of people come and ask me for help, or if they’ve got their toast written and they just want to run it with somebody. We’ll get on Zoom for an hour and we’ll run the toast for half-hour sessions or however long we need to for it. They get some feedback from someone who does this for a living, and all of a sudden, they’ve got a great toast in the end.
“hold the microphone just a few inches from your mouth, pointing right to your mouth.”
Ivan: I’m going to add for anyone giving a toast to hold the microphone just a few inches from your mouth, pointing right to your mouth. If you can give a great toast, but no one hears it, then that is disappointing. Some people start talking with the mic up close and then unconsciously move it down over time to their waist, then you stop hearing what they’re saying.
Eddie: Yeah, they get super comfortable and then they put their arms at their side finally, which is kind of a good thing when you’re giving a speech, but you need that microphone up by your mouth.
Ivan: Thanks so much for sharing your toasting knowledge with us! ‘Although you work with people all around the country virtually, you’re a great resource right here in Cleveland!
So everyone, remember to follow Eddie’s advice when giving a wedding toast:
Honor the couple and the event, talk just 3-5 minutes, write down/practice your toast and don’t drink too much beforehand! If you do these things, you will have a special and memorable toast. If you need help, you can check out Eddie’s book or contact him for toast writing or coaching.
Eddie Rice is a speechwriter and public speaking coach with 10 years of experience in the field. He loves creating strong narrative-driven speeches that focus on balancing emotional and thought-leadership content. He has worked with executives, business leaders, nonprofit leaders, and everyone in between. You can find more about his book as well as information about his speechwriting and coaching services here: https://ricespeechwriting.com/
For further advice on giving a wedding toast look here:
For wedding toast examples, go here:
If you would like to see the pros and cons of have an open mic at your wedding, click here