The nightmare wedding toast has been immortalized in books, film and for some, in real life. It often doesn't start out that way — you intended to be to be funny or poignant, but the words went awry; funny became peculiar and poignant became weepy.
Janie Glade, owner of event planning company Old. New. Blue., has encountered it all.
"I've (heard) some things that were funny, but completely out of place," Glade says. "I've seen brides get absolutely furious about what they were hearing. I've seen other members of the wedding party get embarrassed, because there's an old girlfriend there, and a groomsman gets up and says, 'Well, we all thought this was going to be Cindy, but Pam is so much hotter!' ... That's why you're really just supposed to raise a glass."
Glade says the history behind wedding toasts is to wish health, happiness and well-being to the bride and groom, but the raising and clinking of glasses has evolved into delivering longer, prepared remarks.
Tradition says the duty of giving a speech goes to the person hosting the event — the parents of the groom perform a toast at the rehearsal dinner; the mother or father of the bride offers warm wishes at the close of the wedding festivities. It's equally common to see the best man or the maid of honor toasting the new couple during the wedding reception, or the bride and groom closing out the day with a few words of thanks to their guests and attendants.
Malice is rarely the intent when good speeches go bad, but it's important to remember why you're giving a toast: to celebrate the couple. Glade offers a few guidelines to keep in mind.
The hallmark of a great wedding toast is that it's filled with the speaker's sincere, honest intentions for the welfare of the newlyweds. Don't try to embarrass anyone — especially not the bride and groom. Limit anecdotes to complimentary ones about the couple — sweet stories about how they met or about how you as an observer knew they were in love.
Wedding toasts are not the time for revelations (even your own). If the content of the speech is a concern, let the bride or groom read it first. Brides and grooms also can be proactive and have "the talk" with speakers ahead of time to set parameters of what is and isn't acceptable to say. The wedding planner also can step in, Glade says.
"At no time should any 'cat' be 'let out of the bag,'" she says. "It's OK if you want to say more than just 'cheers,' but it's not OK to go into every gory detail of your best friend's sex life before he met his fiance."
Wedding planners like Glade and etiquette books are good resources for clearing writer's block. If you need more personal feedback, Glade has advice for that, too.
"Ask your mom," she says. "They're going to tell you, you might want to rethink this, or reword that. Not to knock dad ... (but) the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom are probably the sagest people involved. Their interest is 100 percent invested in making sure their children have a memorable day."
However, all the mom-smarts, Emily Post and good intentions in the world may not turn you into a public speaker. Giving a wedding toast is not for everyone — shyness, emotion and fear of embarrassment all are very real obstacles to delivering a heartfelt speech.
"There's nothing wrong with deferring the honor," Glade says. "It's all about making it a good memory for the bride and the groom, and if you feel you're not going to be able to do that, there's no shame in passing on that responsibility. In fact, it's really the honorable thing to do."