How to Deliver the Perfect Wedding Toast

It’s that time of year again, and we thought it would be timely to re-post our popular hints for delivering a winning wedding toast.

You’ve been asked to give a wedding toast, but don’t know where to start.

In case you’re nervous about the prospect, remember that the bride and groom chose you because they trust you, and it’s their way of honoring you.  21477818_sImagine you are telling a story to a group of friends, because you are.

Common Complaints

The most common complaints about wedding toasts are lack of appropriateness and lack of taste. For instance, you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of the wedding party by talking about how you and your best friend went out drinking.

Another common complaint is droning: going on and on, especially in a monotone voice, putting the audience to sleep. So, to help you craft the perfect toast—one that’s short and sweet, but memorable—here are some questions to ask yourself.

What is Your Purpose In Speaking?

Ask yourself what your goal is. It may be one or more of the following:

  • Pay tribute
  • Give advice
  • Entertain
  • Inspire 

What is Appropriate?

How well do you know the bride and groom? Find out ahead of time whether there’s a topic you should avoid.

  • How “in” should you be? Don’t tell inside jokes or stories if it’s a large wedding—other guests will feel left out.
  • If you don’t know someone well, stick with generalities.
  • Give advice or pick a nice (brief) reading.

Even if you’ve known the couple since you were children, some topics are off limits. If in doubt, consult with the bride or groom in advance.

Other Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Who else is in your audience? Don’t embarrass your best friend in front of the boss, or shock the bride’s elderly grandmother.
  • Is it a large affair or a small one? Smaller weddings are more intimate and guests are more likely to know each other and the couple’s inside jokes.
  • Who are you addressing? (This can be the newlyweds, their families, guests, or a combination of all three)

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a memorable toast.

Putting it Together

Some final advice: Don’t have too much alcohol to calm your nerves prior to the toast. It often doesn’t have the result you’re hoping for. You want to be able to exercise your best judgment.

Explain your relationship with the couple—quickly.

The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. Write your toast early (a few weeks before the wedding is a good time to start) and practice. Here’s to a memorable wedding toast!

A Hairy Story

Let your face shine

Some people may see stars in their eyes, but others only see hair. That’s because it’s in their face and distracting the audience. Women with long hair, in particular, run the risk of hair-in-the-eyes.

Jessica Biel hair
Long tresses might be stylish, but they can distract and take away from your message.

Have you ever noticed how someone will continue to push the hair away from their face? Often they’re not even conscious of this movement, but it’s a distraction for the audience.

Don't be like Caroline
Hair in the face gets in the way. Wear long hair away from the face.

The audience wants to see your face and your expressions. Bangs covering your eye may look sexy in a picture, but on a platform or stage bangs that hang over your eyebrow only hide your eyes.

Good hair: Facial expressions and eye contact are easier when hair is styled away from the face or pulled back.

If your hair is long, be sure it’s pulled behind your ears or in a pony tail.  So, let your hair frame your face, not cover it.

 

Five tips for presentation success

Number 5 for blogYou have an important presentation to give and you’re ready to captivate your audience.  But, wait a minute!  Before you start, there are a number of common traps that can be avoided with a little advance work.

Here are some tips to help you take control and put your audience at ease.  They apply whether you’re giving an informal  presentation to a small group, or delivering a more formal address to a large audience.

  1. Do a Test Run

    This may seem like a no-brainer, but how many times have you seen a speaker get up to show their slides, Power Point presentation, or video, and the equipment malfunctioned?  By doing an initial run-through with the equipment – especially testing microphone levels — you can easily save yourself from those embarrassing moments.

  2. Scope out the Room

    Just as people, rooms have their own personality. Each room has its own acoustics and its own particular lighting.  Before your audience arrives, get to know the room.  Does the lighting level need adjusting?  Do a sound check to be certain you can be heard at the back of the room, and get up on the podium to see what it will feel like.  Then walk around the perimeters of the room to develop a “physical” memory of the room for yourself.  It will add to your comfort level.

  3. Pace Yourself

    Don’t be a “Motor Mouth.”  Your audience needs time to digest material.  Add interest to your presentation by deciding in advance where you would like to add dramatic pauses, where you would like to slow down, and where you feel it’s important to speed up. Remember, variety is the spice of life!

  4. Bring your Personality With You

    Too often speakers leave their real personality behind in an attempt to sound authoritative on the podium or chairing a meeting.  Try to be natural and incorporate your personality into your presentation.  That’s what makes you unique and adds interest to your material.

  5. Make Life Easy on Yourself

    Don’t fall for the misconception that you have to memorize your presentation.  While you should be familiar with your presentation so that you are not glued to the script, a script serves as your map and guidepost.  Some of the finest speakers around deliver from scripts.  And remember: There is a difference between reading and delivering!

 

What the Academy Awards can teach us

Academy Awards Oscar statueThis year’s Academy Awards was about glamour, glitz, political statements, and the craft of movie making.  But beyond that, it was a great opportunity to see a multitude of speaking styles in action.

Perhaps one of  the best speeches of the night was Leonardo Di Caprio’s acceptance as best actor.  He gave an impassioned, articulate speech that ranged from thanking his screen collaborators to bridging into the case for global warming when he noted that the film, “Revenant” had to go far south on location to find snow.

Other notable presenters included Eddie Redmayne, whose timing and delivery were impeccable.  And then there was Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke with more energy and passion than I’ve ever seen him deliver, when he talked about sexual abuse.  Louis Gossett Jr. presented a dignified introduction to the “In Memoriam” tribute, while Louis C.K. delivered a wry standup routine (albeit with a little too much hand movement) praising producers of short documentaries.

Some, such as Patricia Arquette, recited in an uninterested-sounding, dull monotone. while others rushed through their presentation, nervously rattling off names of people they wanted to thank.

Reading from a teleprompter, as the presenters did, provides challenges.  They get one run-through rehearsal, and that’s it.

So, what tips can we apply from the Academy Awards when we deliver a presentation?

  •  Whether delivering your presentation from a teleprompter, a script, or notes, always be sure the font size is large enough and legible. You don’t want to squint, trip over your words, or look like you’re reading.
  • Ladies, if you’re wearing new shoes or high heels for any presentation, rehearse in them. Walk in front of a mirror, and notice your stance.  And – this goes for men and women – if you’re wearing a new outfit that you’re not used to, do a dry run-through.  Practice walking at home, look in the mirror and notice how you look.  You want to get used to the way you feel.
  • If using a script, teleprompter, or  notes that you or someone else have written, always familiarize yourself with the text in advance. Practice makes perfect.  When you’re nervous you’re more apt to flub lines, especially if you haven’t studied them.
  • No matter what you’re saying or reading to an audience, find the meaning, and put the passion in it.

You can find many more examples of good – and not so good presentations and acceptances – from the Oscars online.  Use them as a learning tool for your next presentation.  And you, too, may shine like a star!

Stop Speeding.

Canada_Stop_sign.svgI recently went to an off-Broadway show in previews, presented by one of New York’s better theatre companies.  One of the leads was speaking so fast that you just couldn’t get his words straight.  At certain points in the play his breakneck speed was forcing the other actors to up their pace in order to keep up with him.    Bottom line: the audience lost a number of good lines.

Following the show, one of the people in my party complained to a theatre staff member that it was difficult to follow the dialogue.  Then, another theatre-goer voiced the same concern.  The staff member acknowledged that there was a problem.

Speeding can often be a result of nervousness.  It can also reflect that your mind is jumping ahead of your mouth. Maybe we should issue speeding tickets for people who chatter too fast.

Are you a speeder? If speaking too fast is your problem, imagine a speeding car.  Visualize a “Slow” and “Stop” sign ahead.  Just as with a car, slow down your pace.   It will feel uncomfortable at first.  But once you get used to speaking at a slower pace, you will find that people will follow you with greater ease.  And, best of all, you will be in control of the speed!

Ten Speaker Tips From the Opera Stage

Speaking Advice from a famous Artist’s Manager: Ken Benson

Ken Benson

Ken Benson recently presented a master class to opera students at Hunter College.  Mr. Benson is a respected expert in the opera world and a long-time artistic manger.  Mr. Benson was with Columbia Artists Management for 25 years and serves as the in-house consultant to Masters’ students of Vocal Arts at the famed Juilliard School of Music.  Some of the advice he gave young singers applies equally well to speakers.

1)      Don’t be perfect, be expressive.

2)      Know your special qualities and strengths.

3)      Know when something fits you personality-wise.

4)      The first phrase (or sentence) is the most important.

5)      It’s not the quantity (or how long your presentation is), but the quality.

6)      It’s all about how you use words.

7)      Make the speech or presentation your own.

8)      Be genuine and authentic.

9)      Take the audience with you, and create a transformative experience.

10)   Be prepared.

Originally posted August 1, 2014.

Read the new edition of The Public Speaking Wire!

We are excited to announce that the newest edition of our newsletter, The Public Speaking Wire, is out! Read it for useful tips on public speaking for job hunters and new business seekers, as well as tips for saving your voice on cold days and ways to relax tense jaw muscles.

We hope you enjoy it, and look forward to your feedback!