So you’ve been tasked with writing a wedding toast. You’re so touched, you don’t even know where to begin. No, literally. You don’t know where to begin, which is probably what landed you here. Don’t fret, we’ve got your back. Along with the experienced takes of industry experts—including real-life professional wedding speech writers—we can tell you exactly how to write a wedding toast, whether it’s for your friend, child or new spouse. *Champagne flutes and butter knives in position! Clink clink!*
How to Write a Wedding Toast That Will Bring the House Down
The Do’s and Don’ts of a Great Wedding Toast, According to Industry Experts
1. DO: Keep It Under 5 Minutes
Length is critical. Ten minutes during the festivities can feel like forever. And a ten-second “Cheers to the happy couple,” probably doesn’t feel like enough. Shaun Gray, a popular event planner in Houston, Texas, believes that “a great toast has enough time for the person with the microphone to introduce themselves to the guests, tell a short story about the couple, or one of the newlyweds, and ties the story to the wedding.” The kicker? He thinks it should all be done within three minutes or less—especially if others are set to speak, too. However, if you’re the only one giving a toast, you can round up to five minutes(max).
2. DO: Use Stories Instead of Descriptions
“People respond better to stories than they do descriptions. The power of storytelling is programmed into our DNA, so tap into it and create a magical moment,” says Heidi Ellert-McDermott, who’s made a career of helping clients craft speeches with her company, Speechy. Any honest, true story is more interesting than words like ‘beautiful’, ‘caring’, ‘funny.’ “Instead, prove those qualities in action. Tell anecdotes that show their characteristics in their full glory,” she directs.
3. DO: Have Some Sort of Structure
Storytelling needs a beginning, middle and end. This doesn’t have to be fancy or have a surprise ending. But there should be some indication that lets listeners know you are in control and not, say, the overserved best man who will yodel off for the next 26 minutes. The beginning can be as simple as your introduction; the middle, how you know the groom and why his husband is his perfect match, and finally, a “cheers” or “thank you” to end. Emily Forrest, a seasoned industry professional who’s given her fair share of wedding toasts, tells us that on one occasion she went through a list of the ten things she loved about her best friend. “The structure wasn't profound, but it was easy to deliver, easy to remember, easy to speak clearly, and easy for everyone to follow.”
4. DO: Give Yourself Time to Brainstorm and Write
Katelyn Peterson, a professional wedding vow and speech writer with Wedding Words, realizes that most people don’t know where to begin, which makes it all more intimidating. Make things easy. Instead of writing a full-blown speech, start by jotting down some ideas. Prompts like “words to describe the couple,” “favorite memories,” or “wishes for their future,” can reveal a common theme, which Peterson says can then “be used to seamlessly tie your ideas together as you draft the toast.”
Forrest agrees. “Don't save the writing for the last minute,” she says. “For me, creativity often strikes during my commute, or when I'm laying in bed at night scrolling the internet, or when I'm randomly reminded of a time in the past. Keep notes in your phone about memorable moments you've shared together. This way, when you sit down to write the actual toast, you'll have an inspiration note to look through, and you'll be able to pick-and-choose moments to mention.”
5. DO: Rehearse
It’s not like you’re putting on The Lion King, but you should honor the couple by putting some time into your toast. Winging it almost never turns out well. “Practice the speech enough times so that you feel comfortable giving it,” says Forrest. But good news: You do not need to memorize it word-for-word. It is totally fine to have a note card or two with bullet notes to peek at. “It's nice to be familiar enough with the speech that you feel comfortable looking up and making eye contact with the couple.”
6. DO: Include Both Partners
“It doesn't have to be a 50-50 balance,” says Forrest, “but this event is not about one person, it's about the couple starting their life together.” Hot tip: If you’re not emphatic about your loved one’s new spouse, rely on observations about them, i.e. “And when I see how Desi looks at Marnie, I know they’re meant for each other.”
7. DO: Keep in Mind the Point of a Toast
“Remember what the focus of the speech is; making your partner, friends and family feel truly valued and recognized as the wonderful and weird individuals they are. So don’t just thank your in-laws for bringing up such a great son/daughter. Thank them for introducing you to key lime pie and whisky chasers,” says Speechy’s Ellert-McDermott.
8. DO: Include (Appropriate) Humor
“Every speaker should aim for a few laughs (and, ideally, one in the first 30 seconds!) and ensure people are smiling throughout their toast. Well, apart from those happy tears at the end! You want some of those too!” shares Ellert-McDermott. Getting guests to laugh is important, but make sure your tone matches the environment. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, What Would Grandma Think? Peterson of Wedding Word’s cautions against overloading your toast with trite lines that guests have heard at other weddings. Instead, keep the humor special and relevant by telling funny stories rather than reciting cliche one-liners.
9. DO: Aim for the Callback
“For example,” coaches Peterson, “if you tell a story at the beginning of your speech with a unique line, reference that line again during your closing.” People go crazy (in a good way) when you remind them about something you said earlier. It makes everyone feel like they’re in the know. It’s kind of a magic trick.
10. DON’T: Try to Be a Stand Up Comedian
Our experts unanimously—and independently—agree on this. “If you are not a stand up comedian do not make your stand up debut on the dance floor at your best friend's wedding!” implores Forrest. Even if you frequent the open mics or consider yourself the next Rodney Dangerfield, this speech isn’t about how funny you are. In fact, both professional wedding toast writers agree that the best humor comes from honesty anyway. “Remember the adage, it’s funny because it’s true,” says Ellert-McDermott. All this to say, a short, specific story about your son will hit much harder than an outdated (and probably offensive) joke you Googled.
11. DON’T: Rely on Cliches
Whether you’re toasting the bride and the groom or you are the bride and the groom, cliches in your speech really just bog it down. If you’re toasting your someone, shares Ellert-McDermottfind, explore the specific things that mean something to them. For example, if you’re toasting your new spouse, “Promise them that you’ll learn how to load the dishwasher properly and watch Selling Sunset with them without them having to beg. Tell them you’d miss it if you didn’t trip over all their running shoes in the hall or Adele wasn’t blaring out the Sonos speakers at 6 a.m. Show your partner that you truly recognize the crazy character they are and you love them for it,” she says.
12. DON’T: Bring Up Off-Limit Topics
“I would stay away from former relationships, roasting anyone unless cleared by the couple, and don't make it a toast about your attributes, keep your focus on the couple,” says Gray. If you’re on the fence as to whether something in your speech is inappropriate, you should probably nix the line.
13. DON’T: Agree to Giving a Toast If You Really, Really Don’t Want to
“If public speaking is going to give you hives in all of the wedding photos, or make you feel anxious the whole night, I also think it's OK to politely and honestly decline. Write a note to the happy couple for them to read in private. Giving a toast is not a must if it's not something that is not comfy,” explains Forrest.
A Simple 4-Step Wedding Toast
OK, so you’re all set with the do’s and don’ts of nuptial toasting. Now it’s time to craft your speech. Just remember, there is no perfect speech format. All that really matters is that it’s specific to you and the people to whom you’re toasting. If you can hit most of the marks above and not offend anyone in the room, you’ve won. And if you’re still a bit overwhelmed and would like some bowling bumpers, we’ve set up an outline to follow below. We wrote this from the perspective of the maid of honor, but all of the roles can swapped, of course.
1. Begin with How You Know the Couple
As soon as you take the mic, every guest in the house is wondering who you are. You might even hear Uncle Jack by the bar ask too loudly, “Who the hell’s this guy?” So introduce yourself up top and explain how you know the groom (or whoever’s your primary friend). You can be as straightforward as: “Hi everybody. I’m Elijah, and I’ve known Hannah since our first day of orientation at Oberlin.” Boom, now we, the audience, including Uncle Jack, have some context. For parents, while it’s fair to assume most people know you who are, it’s still nice to introduce yourself: “Good evening, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Loreen, Hannah’s mother.”
2. Transition into a Short, Specific Story About the Your Friend Back in the Day
Save the long-winded ode with all your inside jokes for the card. Instead, pick a story that’s easy to tell, to the point and, most importantly, true. Don’t worry about being funny—the humor will come from the specificity in your story (like explaining the tacky jeans with butterfly patches Marnie paid $250 for and still doesn’t have the heart to give away). And, not that we have to tell you, but stay away from topics that might embarrass the bride in front of her family, e.g., ex-boyfriends, secrets she’s told you, etc.
3. A Memory About Their Partner
You could go on and on about your best friend, but this day is about her as one half of a couple—not about you two, no matter how great of a relationship you have. So share an anecdote about getting to the know the groom and how happy he makes your friend: “I knew this mysterious bearded lumberjack dude was the real deal when I heard him harmonize ‘Islands in the Stream’ at karaoke—it was absolutely horrible. But the commitment was beautiful. It showed me he wasn’t one to quit when things got tough.”
4. A Final Toast with a Callback
You waxed poetic about the past, now it’s time to ask everyone to raise their glasses and cheers to something in the couple’s future. This is the part in your speech when you have free rein to be as cheesy as you want. And if you want everyone tearing up, go for the field goal by going full circle and bringing it back to something you already referenced: “Let’s raise a glass to a future full of love, gorgeous harmonies and butterflies, because you deserve them.”
5. A 5-Minute (or Under) Time-Stamp
The toasts are important, but let’s face it: Everybody wants to hit the dance floor and the bar.
We’ll drink to that.