Etiquette: Here’s To You!

One of the most touching, most entertaining, and most ripe for embarrassments at any big party is the toast. No, not the crunchy kind. The kind where you stand in front of 1-300 people and give a heartfelt speech. If public speaking makes you uncomfortable or you’ve just plain never given a toast before, this can be a nerve-wracking experience.  But never fear, Dear Reader, I’m going to teach you a few tricks to keep up your sleeve, so that any toast you give is just perfect. Because I’m good like that.

#1: Give Yourself Some Time: You do not want to do this at the last minute, for two reasons. First, you want time to really come up with something meaningful and special. Second, you want time to look at that meaningful and heartfelt speech before you give it so that you can realize that it needs work. Unless you are a fantastic off-the-cuff speaker, or are planning to keep it really short, at least toss some ideas around, preferably starting two weeks or more before the event.

#2: A Story Has a Beginning, A Middle, and an End: I have been having this conversation with fourth graders all week. You need to grab your listeners’ attention from the beginning, fill the middle with action, and have an ending that satisfies your listener better than a hot fudge sundae. (Children really seem to get food analogies. Also, we tend to have these talks right before lunch and I’m starving.) And remember to keep it moving. The worst toasts are the ones that drag on and on. You get ONE STORY. So make it a good one, that tells something important about the person or people you’re toasting. And make sure it ends with a “Here’s to ____________.”

#3: Everybody Wants Their Dignity at the End: Remember what you’re actually doing. You’re toasting somebody else. Be they friend or family member, they don’t want to be embarrassed at the end. If your toast involves sex, drugs, or rock “˜n’ roll, don’t tell it. Try not to talk about how drunk everyone was or the strip club that you found yourselves at. If this is an occasion where someone is getting toasted, they’ve probably invited their grandma and their boss. If you can’t tell this story to grandma in its unedited version, it’s not appropriate for the occasion.

#4: Say Thank-You: Remember to thank whoever is throwing or hosting this shindig, and all the people who helped make it happen. And you should probably do this first thing, before you forget. It’s only right.

Happy toasting, ducklings. And don’t forget, if you have a pressing question, you can leave it in the comments, send me a PM, or send me an e-mail at

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

4 replies on “Etiquette: Here’s To You!”

Excellent article – thank you for addressing many of my pet peeves in toasts. I’d like to add two more points:
– It’s not about the Toaster, it’s about the Toastee – I’ve heard so many people go on and on in the “I remember when I met so and so, and I thought I . . . .” and so on.
– What’s funny to you isn’t always funny to everyone else, so try out your jokes on someone who will be honest.

I do musical ‘roast/toasts’ for birthday parties, anniversaries, etc., and when I collect information from the host about the guest of honor, I am always surprised by the number of people who think it would be fun to joke about someone’s weight or baldness, etc. Now instead of having to explain it to them, I’ll just refer them to your article!

This should be mandatory reading for everyone! Some of my most embarrassing moments was being on the receiving end of toasts that devastated me with their lack of sensitivity. And not in situations that are intentionally designed to be satirical e.g. roasts. Wonderful milestones in my life were eclipsed by what were either well intentioned ignorant toasts or unconscious passive aggressive barbs. Grrrr.

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