I recently had one of those once-in-a-lifetime, pinch-me moments as a speaker. I was able to give two toasts/speeches in the context of my son’s rehearsal dinner and wedding reception. As my oldest child and only son, the event was a wonderful mix of happiness, craziness, sadness, and disbelief. I’m not sure what people mean when they say something is surreal, but it feels like this fits.
When I first learned of the event and my responsibilities as host and best man, I did what any warm-blooded creature would do: I Googled “How to give a best man toast”. What I found led me to believe most people think it is a time for roasting, not toasting. Perhaps I’m just old school and out of touch, but that didn’t seem appropriate. I jotted down notes and ideas and let it sit.
When I realized the event was two weeks away, I hit the panic button and did what any warm-blooded speech coach would do: I asked another speech coach friend who had just given a wedding toast what I should do. His advice was right out of the book: find a theme, create a structure (of threes, of course), keep it short. Got it. I penciled a script and rested easy.
With just 48 hours to go, I did what any warm-blooded dad who wanted this moment to be perfect would do. I changed the entire script. My first attempt seemed a little more about being a speech coach than a dad. It wasn’t the message I really wanted to share. What I finally settled on was a mixture of metaphor, humor, and a personal touch, with a twist of education as befits someone who has taught his entire life. I can’t judge its outcome – at least no one told me it was bad.
The rehearsal was a bit different. Much more informal. I felt obligated to use some of the quarter million pictures I had taken, with a need to use a particularly embarrassing picture that had created a family promise to show up at the rehearsal dinner. I decided to mix humor with a heartfelt message to the bride.
While I probably could have expected it, am trained to deal with it, and managed to get through it, both events were not immune to a wave of emotion. That doesn’t show up during practice. It’s something you must deal with during the real event. And it’s OK.
Here are three lessons you can learn from my watershed toasting experience.
Never apologize for having your emotions moved, even if it interrupts the flow of your delivery and speech. Humans are driven by emotion, and your audience is not offended when you get a little sniffly. If you had your senses about you, you’d probably notice a lot of people have allergic reactions in such moments and the dust in people’s eyes increases when the speaker chokes up. I don’t even know why we joke about it. Emotions are fine. Compose yourself (or don’t) and finish the best you can. People don’t know what you’re feeling except when you tell them or show them. Focus on the behaviors that drive the impression you want to give. For a message to people you dearly love, a smile is probably the most important thing to execute on.
Don’t obligate yourself to a word-for-word script. In high emotion moments, you won’t likely remember everything. I had a 3×5 card with the highlights. I had practiced enough that the sentence would at least make sense if I remembered what the sentence was supposed to be. One of the bridesmaids stole a look at my notecard (left on a table) after the reception and told my daughter, “He only had four words written on the card!” I guess she expected the manuscript to be in four-point font. Talk to people, not your notes.
High emotion times are not the moments to wing it. Practice ahead of time. Plan ahead. Tissues and a bottle of water are your friend. Have them at the ready. Iterate. Try several different options. When in doubt, always take the high road. In the era of cell phones, I think it’s better to get shares for a heart-warming moment than a million Tik-Tok views for being a dork and embarrassing your family. You’re welcome to disagree.
As I reflect on this highlight moment of my life, I would certainly improve a few phrases and actions if I could do it again (I can’t). But that’s the nature of speaking and the aspect about it I love the most – we never get it perfect. We can always do better. But managing a heartfelt message to an audience that responds is a great feeling.
Communication matters. What are you saying?
This article was published in the September edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.