Midnight is quickly approaching. People are filling their flutes. You’re expected to say a few words. Where do you start?
Here are a few tips for giving a toast that people will remember on January 1 (and for all the right reasons).
1. Think Ahead of Time
Don’t wait until people are staring at you.
Take a few days to think about what you want to say, and how you want attendees to feel. Then, practice.
I had to give a toast at a wedding rehearsal dinner recently. I practiced over and over again in the car, alone, on the way to the event. I felt like an idiot talking to myself while sitting in traffic, but it was far better than feeling like an idiot, had I flubbed the actual performance due to lack of preparation.
2. Consider Your Audience
This is the most important part of a toast. It must be appropriate for the ears it’s falling on. If you’re giving a toast to 100 people at a charity gala, your “Cheers!” will be a lot different that if it’s in front of a group of 20 at your fraternity reunion.
Consider these questions: Who is the type of person listening? What is your relationship with the audience (i.e., is it your close group of friends, or a more expanded social network?) Most importantly: Why are they at the event?
Take the answers to this question and use it to carve out your message.
3. Write an Outline
Put something in writing so that you can clearly see the logic of your toast. I don’t think you need to write out your speech word-for-word, per se, but having an outline helps you consolidate your story and ensure you stay on message.
If you’re looking for some help, use our toast cheat sheet!
4. Tell a Story
Make it personal. Think about the point you want to make and illustrate it through a quick story. Are you toasting to the New Year? Share one of your favorite moments from 2011 that inspired you to bring these people together tonight. Are you toasting to a cause? Illustrate why you’re passionate about it.
One of my high school English teachers used to say that in writing, we want to “show, don’t tell.” Do the same thing with your toast. Don’t tell people how you feel; show them through a story.
5. Keep it Quick
Odds are that you don’t like standing and listening to a long-winded speech at a party. Neither do your guests. Remember to keep it short (say, one to two minutes) and get to the point early. Try timing yourself during your practice sessions to make sure you’re staying on track.
6. End with a Statement
It’s always a great idea to end with an exclamation. It signals that you’re done talking, and that it’s time for people to clink their glasses and start up conversations with their neighbors.
No need to make it elegant or over-the-top. A simple, “Happy New Year!” may be the perfect send-off.
Bonus Tip: Strategically Sip Ahead of Time
Watch what you imbibe before your big debut. It’s only a half-empty glass between a crisp, well-delivered toast and one that sounds like someone just wanted to get up and talk.
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