How To Keep from Burning the Toast

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Psst… You. The maid of honor. Yes, you – the one with the elevated heartbeat and the deer-in-the headlights look. You’re freaking out about your toast, aren’t you? Admit it: You’ve been giving serious thought to setting off a smoke bomb just as dinner is being served and then crawling out under the table in the confusion.

There, there. Take a few deep breaths. This seems scary, but you, my dear, have moxie. You’re going to pull this off with such grace and class that the groomsmen will be elbowing each other in the throat to get the chance to make out with you. (Unless of course, you are a matron of honor or otherwise seriously involved. In that case, the groomsmen will look at you with deep and painful longing while your beloved gives serious thought to a smoke bomb diversion just to get you alone.) Yes, you will be that good.

Forget the entire history of best man toasts.
You may be concerned because best man toasts, a much older wedding tradition than maid of honor toasts, are well known for being mortifying for all concerned. Don’t worry about this. Embarrassing best man toasts happen for three reasons:
1) The best man delivering the embarrassing toast is in a movie. Best men in movies are either comic sidekicks, who are doomed to be embarrassing so the lead can look good, or leads who have to overcome troubles before they can get the girl and get married themselves. You don’t need to worry about that because you’re not in a movie. (If you think you might be in a movie, worry. And hope you are the lead.)
2) The best man delivering the toast is completely hammered. Best men sometimes try to deal with public-speaking nerves by having a drink. And then sending another drink down to see how the first one is doing. And then sending a search party to find out what happened to the other two… You get the idea. And he loses every last good idea he had. You don’t need to worry about this because you are a savvy chick and you will have AT MOST one drink to take the edge off your nerves before you speak.
3) The best man delivering the toast is trying too hard to be funny. It is a tragic but inescapable rule: People who try too hard to be funny just end up making everyone uncomfortable and sort of embarrassed for them. (Remember that guy who tried to hit on you in the bar last month by being hee-larious? Exactly.) As the best man tries harder, he gets less funny, and then when he realizes he’s flopping he thinks he can saving himself by taking a journey to the Land of the Inappropriate. This is, as we all know, a mistake. You don’t need to worry about this because you don’t need to be funny. You really don’t. Just be sincere. If funny happens as a side benefit, great, but a simple and heartfelt toast is really all anyone needs. They’ll love it.

Start writing early.
No night-before shenanigans or even week-of scribbling. Take time with this. Give your brain time to hand you the best ideas. And yourself time to edit them into something you’re happy with. Keep a pocket notebook with you to jot down ideas that come to you while you’re out walking the dog.

Beware of tunneling.
When you’re nervous, your world can compress. That’s why so many toasts are really about how nervous the toastmaker is and miss the happy couple entirely. You’ve already solved this by giving yourself time to write your toast. Reread it or bounce it off a friend and make sure your toast is really about the bride. If it is, you’re golden.

Stay positive.
The bride and groom have heard enough negative jokes about marriage to last them a lifetime, humorous digs at anyone in the room are dangerous, and talk of exes or past rough times is too much information when the bride’s grandma is in the room. It’s a happy occasion, and you want to stay focused on two great people and the wonderful times to come for them.

Keep it short, sweet, and simple.
You don’t have to be a genius. You don’t have to be the most hilarious girl in the world or the most moving maid of honor ever. And you don’t have to worry about being original because this is about your bride, who as you know is already unique and wonderful. All you have to do is hit the basics in your own words.

Your toast should have four elements:
1) A (very) short intro about how you and the bride know each other.
2) Why the bride is fantastic.
3) Why the bride and groom are fantastic as a couple. (If you don’t yet know the groom well for some reason, talk about how happy he makes her).
4) A good wish for their marriage.
If you are a matron of honor, you can get bonus points with a piece of warm advice about marriage, but that’s strictly extra credit.

If you’ve hit these marks, you’ll be great. Weeping bridesmaids and panting groomsmen all over the place.

Practice, practice, practice. And then cheat.
Get comfortable saying your toast out loud. If it feels awkward, rewrite it until it until it feels more natural to you. Then take a few minutes to run through it a few times every day. Again, no last-minute cramming. Give yourself time to get comfortable with it. You may go through a phase where your toast feels stilted, but as you keep practicing you’ll sound poised and natural.

Then give yourself some backup by smuggling some notes on an index card with you. Ideally, you’ll know your toast so well that you’ll just need bullet points to glance down to, but if you’re more comfortable writing out the whole toast (with highlighted bullet points to find your place easily), do so.

By this time, you’ll be so comfortable with your speech that you only need to glance down at your notes occasionally, and may not need them at all. But they’ll be there as a safety net, and that will keep you cool and collected.

Visualize yourself doing well.
Yes, I know this sounds wafty. Stay with me! You are training your brain here. If you focus on potential nerves, you’re risking a Pavlovian response: The toast is associated with fear, so that’s what your brain serves up when the time comes. If you repeatedly focus on a strong mental picture of yourself perfectly happy and calm while you give the toast, your brain will follow through. Imagine yourself surprised at how easy it all is and delighted that it’s going well. Picture friendly faces smiling at you, lovestruck caterers, anything you want. The happier you’ll be when you’re picturing yourself giving your toast, the easier it will be when you’re actually doing it.

Good luck!
You’ll be terrific.