One of the things I love about weddings is listening to the toasts. It's the opportunity for friends and family to publicly express their feelings about the bride and groom. People speak of friendships lasting a lifetime, acts of courage, moments of hilarity, or what it feels like to watch your son or daughter go through such a momentous rite of passage. Above all, you hear them talk about love.
Traditionally, the people who speak at the wedding are the host, the bride and groom, the best man and, if necessary, a significant relative or friend. A good toast is heartfelt and personal, but not too private. It can be anecdotal or humorous but never silly or embarrassing. My rule of thumb is to keep the toasts short and sweet, no more than two minutes each. Of course, I always allow an extra minute or two for the bride and groom. My other rule is to spread out the speeches so that your party doesn't come to a standstill. You can also implement your plan through the bandleader or DJ or assign a master of ceremony to help keep things rolling along.
The host starts off the reception with the first toast, welcoming everyone and giving special thanks to out-of-towners. This toast is given during the first course. But before anybody speaks, make sure that the music has stopped! Whoever is giving the toast should stand up, while the person being toasted remains seated. If you're the one being toasted, don't raise your glass or take a sip until the toast is complete. Any additional speeches can be given while everyone is seated during the dinner; ideally one toast for each course.
If you are having an informal reception, like a buffet or a barbecue, then you would begin your toasts just before the buffet is opened. Once everyone has completed his or her meal, a second toast could be given. Whether your reception is formal or informal, the key to toasts is spreading them out during the celebration.
Right before the cake is cut, the best man or/and maid of honor get their chance to congratulate the bride and groom. This toast is usually accompanied by a special wine or champagne. An effective way to make sure that these toasts don't come too late in the party is to use your wedding cake as your dessert. That way, right after the cake is cut, the bride and groom will be able to give their speech and still have time for more dancing. If the bride and groom are the hosts, which means they gave the welcoming speech, then their parents may want to toast them prior to or during dessert.
Recently I had a bride who wanted to open the microphone to anyone that wanted to make a toast. While I applaud her desire to involve everyone, I offered an alternative plan to keep things moving along. We decided to have only the key people speak at the reception. Anyone else who wanted to give a toast could do so at the rehearsal dinner. That way, no one was left out and everyone got a chance to enjoy the evening without interrupting the flow of the music, dancing and mingling.
Now that you know when to give your speech, what are you going to say? Many couples turn to lyrics from their favorite song; excerpts from an old love letter or maybe a recanting of their first meeting. One of my grooms, a television executive who worked on the series "Party of Five", used a Shakespeare sonnet he found when he was in high school. He confided in me how he thought the sonnet was so romantic and expressed feelings that he himself couldn't put into words. He told me that he had waited all his life to find a woman that he could read that sonnet to. Not only did he read his new bride the sonnet, but he shared his story with everyone there. The moment captured this man's feelings of love for his new bride with grand simplicity. It was one of the most poignant toasts I've ever heard and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
It takes time to come up with the memories and then put them into words. Don't wait until the last minute to write something. Remember that practice makes perfect. The more times you recite your speech, the easier and more naturally it will flow. During an emotional time like this, it's easy to forget even the most vivid memories or thoughts. Write your speech on cue cards. This way the words are right there, yet inconspicuous. Remember that if it comes from your heart, you can never be wrong.