Need to up your wedding toast game? Learn from a badass female writer whose side hustle is ghostwriting speeches for brides and grooms, their wedding parties, and everyone in between.
We’ve all been there: Being asked by one of the people you love most to speak at his or her wedding. It’s on you to boil down your relationship with that friend and couple into a few punchy paragraphs that will captivate guests, fill the room with laughter and summarize so much that you hold dear. Talk about a high-pressure situation! That’s where The Toastess comes in.
Alexandra Levine, also known as The Toastess, is a New York Times columnist by day and, when not on the job, a wedding toast connoisseur by night. She’s a passionate storyteller and wordsmith, and her services — which range from penning a speech from scratch to coaching on the delivery — will help you raise your best glass on your loved one’s special day. We sat down with her to get some expert tips on how to make your next wedding toast a smashing success.
The best wedding speeches mix humor and heart, comedy and compassion.
Q: In your experience, what makes the perfect toast?
A: The perfect toast is the well-balanced toast. Things to think about: Couple and content.
The couple: Odds are you’re better friends with one than the other, but the strongest toasts are about both the bride and the groom — because after all, the weekend’s not about Jack or Jill; it’s about Jack and Jill. There’s no formula for how much airtime to give the bride versus the groom versus the couple, but making the final product well-rounded should be a priority. (Think you don’t know the significant other well enough to speak about him or her? That’s where The Toastess can help. You likely have more intel than you think, and it’s something we’ll dissect and explore when we interview you before writing your speech.)
The content: There’s a fine line between roast and toast, and it can be challenging to walk it well. But the best wedding speeches mix humor and heart, comedy and compassion. Too sappy can leaving them yawning; too sarcastic can leave them uncomfortable. So our general rule of thumb: Keep the mush-to-jokes ratio about 60:40 in either direction.
A compelling structure is paramount to a powerful speech.
Q: What are the biggest recurring issues that your clients come to you with when faced with writing a toast?
A: Lack of theme, and lack of structure.
The theme: Most speeches don’t have one, but most speeches need one — a spine or thread that pulls the whole thing together. No need to come up with a profound or convoluted metaphor; the best themes are often simple and even silly. (A recent example: One client, who was marrying an Italian man, had a demonstrated track record of “trying to become Italian” since she was a young girl, well before the two of them had ever met. We sprinkled references to that theme throughout the speech, which told the story of a woman who was finally becoming Italian after nearly 30 years of strategizing.)
The organization: A compelling structure is paramount to a powerful speech. (We organize most clients’ speeches in one very particular way, which we consider part of the secret “special sauce” that makes speeches by The Toastess so uniquely ours.) Our top tips: Never start with thank yous; open with the unexpected; and keep a chronology.
Q: What are your tips for keeping your cool prior to giving a toast?
A: Our favorite trick: Stay focused on your first two lines! (And don’t let your mind race beyond that.) In the minutes leading up to your moment at the mic, zero in on the first few sentences. Opening lines, like first impressions, are the most important part to master because they put you and your audience at ease, and they set expectations for the rest of the speech. If you can hit the high notes from the get-go, the rest will come naturally.
Q: We know that delivery is key. What are the top things to remember when giving a toast?
A: Be cognizant of your body language: Nerves are normal, but try to be wary of how your body’s reacting to that pressure; it’s never good for wedding guests to see your hand, champagne glass or microphone trembling.
Laugh at yourself: Ever see comedians start laughing at themselves, and when they lose it, you do too? Same goes for speeches. It’s always charming to make self-deprecating remarks, but laughing at yourself — especially if you’re nervous — is even better.
Speak slowly: Obvious, we know, and easier said than done. But putting the brakes on and enunciating, especially at a large venue when your voice is up against the rattling of silverware or serving of Caesar salad, is a must.
Q: To memorize or not to memorize the toast. Where do you stand on this?
A: Memorize! Always! It makes a world of difference and leaves a lasting impression — cool, confident and seemingly off-the-cuff speeches are the ones guests continue chattering about all weekend.
Q: What are your go to spots in NYC for:
A: Coffee: Gasoline Alley in SoHo and NoHo, Breakfast: Clinton Street Baking Company on the Lower East Side, Lunch: Least favorite meal; would rather splurge on ice cream, Dinner: Emilio’s Ballato in NoLita, Drinks: Apotheke in Chinatown
Q: If you could invite 7 people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would that be?
A: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, My Mom, Shakespeare, Simone Biles, Bill Cunningham, Lin Manuel Miranda, Malala Yousafzai
Want to get in touch? https://www.thetoastess.com/
And follow along @the.toastess