Category: Toasts and Toasting: How to toast at weddings, formal d

How to toast at weddings, formal dinners, rehearsal dinners, and other formal events where you might need to make a toast

Toasting Guide: Quick guide to toasts: how to give a great toast, a few tips and tricks

Prepare carefully_. Self-confidence is a valuable possession, but
beware of being too sure of yourself. Pride goes before a fall, and
overconfidence in his ability to improvise has been the downfall of many
a would-be speaker. The speaker should strive to give the effect of
spontaneity, but this can be done only with practice. The toast calls
for the art that conceals art.

_Let your speech have unity_. As some one has pointed out, the
after-dinner speech is a distinct form of expression, just as is the
short story. As such it should give a unity of impression. It bears
something of the same relation to the oration that the short story does
to the novel.

_Let it have continuity_. James Bryce says: “There is a tendency today
to make after-dinner speaking a mere string of anecdotes, most of which
may have little to do with the subject or with one another. Even the
best stories lose their charm when they are dragged in by the head and
shoulders, having no connection with the allotted theme. Relevance as
well as brevity is the soul of wit.”

_Do not grow emotional or sentimental_. American traditions are largely
borrowed from England. We have the Anglo-Saxon reticence. A parade of
emotion in public embarrasses us. A simple and sincere expression of
feeling is often desirable in a toast–but don’t overdo it.

_Avoid trite sayings_. Don’t use quotations that are shopworn, and avoid
the set forms for toasts–“Our sweethearts and wives–may they never
meet,” etc.

_Don’t apologise_. Don’t say that you are not prepared; that you speak
on very short notice; that you are “no orator as Brutus is.” Resolve to
do your best and let your effort speak for itself.

_Avoid irony and satire_. It has already been said that occasions on
which toasts are given call for friendliness and good humor. Yet the
temptation to use irony and satire may be strong. Especially may this be
true at political gatherings where there is a chance to grow witty at
the expense of rivals. Irony and satire are keen-edged tools; they have
their uses; but they are dangerous. Pope, who knew how to use them,

Satire’s my weapon, but I’m too discreet
To run amuck and tilt at all I meet.

_Use personal references sparingly_. A certain amount of good-natured
chaffing may be indulged in. Yet there may be danger in even the most
kindly of fun. One never knows how a jest will be taken. Once in the
early part of his career, Mark Twain, at a New England banquet, grew
funny at the expense of Longfellow and Emerson, then in their old age
and looked upon almost as divinities. His joke fell dead, and to the end
of his life he suffered humiliation at the recollection.

_Be clear_. While you must not draw an obvious moral or explain the
point to your jokes, be sure that the point is there and that it is put
in such a way that your hearers cannot miss it. Avoid flights of
rhetoric and do not lose your anecdotes in a sea of words.

_Avoid didacticism_. Do not try to instruct. Do not give statistics and
figures. They will not be remembered. A historical resume of your
subject from the beginning of time is not called for; neither are
well-known facts about the greatness of your city or state or the
prominent person in whose honor you may be speaking. Do not tell your
hearers things they already know.

_Be brief_. An after-dinner audience is in a particularly defenceless
position. It is so out in the open. There is no opportunity for a quiet
nod or two behind a newspaper or the hat of the lady in front. If you
bore your hearers by overstepping your time politeness requires that
they sit still and look pleased. Spare them. Remember Bacon’s advice to
the speaker: “Let him be sure to leave other men their turns to speak.”
But suppose you come late on the program! Suppose the other speakers
have not heeded Bacon? What are you going to do about it? Here is a
story that James Bryce tells of the most successful after-dinner speech
he remembers to have heard. The speaker was a famous engineer, the
occasion a dinner of the British Association for the Advancement of
Science. “He came last; and midnight had arrived. His toast was Applied
Science, and his speech was as follows: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, at this
late hour I advise you to illustrate the Applications of Science by
applying a lucifer match to the wick of your bedroom candle. Let us all
go to bed’.”

If you are capable of making a similar sacrifice by cutting short your
own carefully-prepared, wise, witty and sparkling remarks, your audience
will thank you–and they may ask you to speak again.

TOASTERS, TOASTMASTERS AND TOASTS: Good advice for how to give a toast

Before making any specific suggestions to the prospective toaster or
toastmaster, let us advise that he consider well the nature and spirit
of the occasion which calls for speeches. The toast, after-dinner talk,
or address is always given under conditions that require abounding good
humor, and the desire to make everybody pleased and comfortable as well
as to furnish entertainment should be uppermost.

Perhaps a consideration of the ancient custom that gave rise to the
modern toast will help us to understand the spirit in which a toast
should be given. It originated with the pagan custom of drinking to gods
and the dead, which in Christian nations was modified, with the
accompanying idea of a wish for health and happiness added. In England
during the sixteenth century it was customary to put a “toast” in the
drink, which was usually served hot. This toast was the ordinary piece
of bread scorched on both sides. Shakespeare in “The Merry Wives of
Windsor” has Falstaff say, “Fetch me a quart of sack and put a toast
in’t.” Later the term came to be applied to the lady in whose honor the
company drank, her name serving to flavor the bumper as the toast
flavored the drink. It was in this way that the act of drinking or of
proposing a health, or the mere act of expressing good wishes or
fellowship at table came to be known as toasting.

Since an occasion, then, at which toasts are in order is one intended to
promote good feeling, it should afford no opportunity for the
exploitation of any personal or selfish interest or for anything
controversial, or antagonistic to any of the company present. The effort
of the toastmaster should be to promote the best of feeling among all
and especially between speakers. And speakers should cooperate with the
toastmaster and with each other to that end. The introductions of the
toastmaster may, of course, contain some good-natured bantering,
together with compliment, but always without sting. Those taking part
may “get back” at the toastmaster, but always in a manner to leave no
hard feeling anywhere. The toastmaster should strive to make his
speakers feel at ease, to give them good standing with their hearers
without overpraising them and making it hard to live up to what is
expected of them. In short, let everybody boost good naturedly for
everybody else.

The toastmaster, and for that matter everyone taking part, should be
carefully prepared. It may be safely said that those who are successful
after-dinner speakers have learned the need of careful forethought. A
practised speaker may appear to speak extemporaneously by putting
together on one occasion thoughts and expressions previously prepared
for other occasions, but the neophyte may well consider it necessary to
think out carefully the matter of what to say and how to say it. Cicero
said of Antonius, “All his speeches were, _in appearance_, the
unpremeditated effusion of an honest heart; and yet, in reality, they
were _preconceived with so much skill_ that the judges were not so well
prepared as they should have been to withstand the force of them!”

After considering the nature of the occasion and getting himself in
harmony with it, the speaker should next consider the relation of his
particular subject to the occasion and to the subjects of the other
speakers. He should be careful to hold closely to the subject allotted
to him so that he will not encroach upon the ground of other speakers.
He should be careful, too, not to appropriate to himself any of their
time. And he should consider, without vanity and without humility, his
own relative importance and govern himself accordingly. We have all had
the painful experience of waiting in impatience for the speech of the
evening to begin while some humble citizen made “a few introductory

In planning his speech and in getting it into finished form, the toaster
will do well to remember those three essentials to all good composition
with which he struggled in school and college days, Unity, Mass and
Coherence. The first means that his talk must have a central thought, on
which all his stories, anecdotes and jokes will have a bearing; the
second that there will be a proper balance between the parts, that it
will not be all introduction and conclusion; the third, that it will
hang together, without awkward transitions. A toast may consist, as
Lowell said, of “a platitude, a quotation and an anecdote,” but the
toaster must exercise his ingenuity in putting these together.

In delivering the toast, the speaker must of course be natural. The
after-dinner speech calls for a conversational tone, not for oratory of
voice or manner. Something of an air of detachment on the part of the
speaker is advisable. The humorist who can tell a story with a straight
face adds to the humorous effect.

A word might be said to those who plan the program. In the number of
speakers it is better to err in having too few than too many. Especially
is this true if there is one distinguished person who is _the_ speaker
of the occasion. In such a case the number of lesser lights may well be
limited to two or three. The placing of the guest of honor on the
program is a matter of importance. Logically he would be expected to
come last, as the crowning feature. But if the occasion is a large
semi-public affair–a political gathering, for example–where strict
etiquet does not require that all remain thru the entire program, there
will always be those who will leave early, thus missing the best part of
the entertainment. In this case some shifting of speakers, even at the
risk of an anti-climax, would be advisable. On ordinary occasions, where
the speakers are of much the same rank, order will be determined mainly
by subject. And if the topics for discussion are directly related, if
they are all component parts of a general subject, so much the better.

Now we are going to add a special paragraph for the absolutely
inexperienced person–who has never given, or heard anyone else give, a
toast. It would seem hardly possible in this day of banquets to find an
individual who has missed these occasions entirely–but he is to be
found. Especially is this true in a world where toasting and
after-dinner speaking are coming to be more and more in demand at social
functions–the college world. Here the young man or woman, coming from a
country town where the formal banquet is unknown, who has never heard an
after-dinner speech, may be confronted with the necessity of responding
to a toast on, say “Needles and Pins.” Such a one would like to be told
first of all what an after-dinner speech is. It is only a short,
informal talk, usually witty, at any rate kindly, with one central idea
and a certain amount of illustrative material in the way of anecdotes,
quotations and stories. The best advice to such a speaker is: Make your
first effort simple. Don’t be over ambitious. If, as was suggested in
the example cited a moment ago, the subject is fanciful–as it is very
apt to be at a college banquet–any interpretation you choose to put
upon it is allowable. If the interpretation is ingenious, your case is
already half won. Such a subject is in effect a challenge. “Now, let’s
see what you can make of this,” is what it implies. First get an idea;
then find something in the way of illustrative material. Speak simply
and naturally and sit down and watch how the others do it. Of course the
subject on such occasions is often of a more serious nature–Our Class;
The Team; Our President–in which case a more serious treatment is
called for, with a touch of honest pride and sentiment.

To sum up what has been said, with borrowings from what others have said
on the subject, the following general rules have been formulated:

Toasts and Jokes: How to tell a joke and make a toast

Of the test for a sense of humor, it has already been said that it is
the ability to see a joke. And, as for a joke, the dictionary, again a
present help in time of trouble, tells us at once that it is, “something
said or done for the purpose of exciting a laugh.” But stay! Suppose it
does not excite the laugh expected? What of the joke that misses fire?
Shall a joke be judged by its intent or by its consequences? Is a joke
that does not produce a laugh a joke at all? Pragmatically considered it
is not. Agnes Repplier, writing on Humor, speaks of “those beloved
writers whom we hold to be humorists because they have made us laugh.”
We hold them to be so–but there seems to be a suggestion that we may be
wrong. Is it possible that the laugh is not the test of the joke? Here
is a question over which the philosophers may wrangle. Is there an
Absolute in the realm of humor, or must our jokes be judged solely by
the pragmatic test? Congreve once told Colly Gibber that there were many
witty speeches in one of Colly’s plays, and many that looked witty, yet
were not really what they seemed at first sight! So a joke is not to be
recognized even by its appearance or by the company it keeps. Perhaps
there might be established a test of good usage. A joke would be that at
which the best people laugh.

Somebody–was it Mark Twain?–once said that there are eleven original
jokes in the world–that these were known in prehistoric times, and that
all jokes since have been but modifications and adaptations from the
originals. Miss Repplier, however, gives to modern times the credit for
some inventiveness. Christianity, she says, must be thanked for such
contributions as the missionary and cannibal joke, and for the
interminable variations of St. Peter at the gate. Max Beerbohm once
codified all the English comic papers and found that the following list
comprised all the subjects discussed: Mothers-in-law; Hen-pecked
husbands; Twins; Old maids; Jews; Frenchmen and Germans; Italians and
Niggers; Fatness; Thinness; Long hair (in men); Baldness; Sea sickness;
Stuttering; Bloomers; Bad cheese; Red noses. A like examination of
American newspapers would perhaps result in a slightly different list.
We have, of course, our purely local jokes. Boston will always be a joke
to Chicago, the east to the west. The city girl in the country offers a
perennial source of amusement, as does the country man in the city. And
the foreigner we have always with us, to mix his Y’s and J’s, distort
his H’s, and play havoc with the Anglo-Saxon Th. Indeed our great
American sense of humor has been explained as an outgrowth from the vast
field of incongruities offered by a developing civilization.

It may be that this vaunted national sense has been
over-estimated–exaggeration is a characteristic of that humor,
anyway–but at least it has one of the Christian virtues–it suffereth
long and is kind. Miss Repplier says that it is because we are a
“humorous rather than a witty people that we laugh for the most part
with, and not at our fellow creatures.” This, I think, is something that
our fellow creatures from other lands do not always comprehend. I
listened once to a distinguished Frenchman as he addressed the students
in a western university chapel. He was evidently astounded and
embarrassed by the outbursts of laughter that greeted his mildly
humorous remarks. He even stopped to apologize for the deficiencies of
his English, deeming them the cause, and was further mystified by the
little ripple of laughter that met his explanation–a ripple that came
from the hearts of the good-natured students, who meant only to be
appreciative and kind. Foreigners, too, unacquainted with American slang
often find themselves precipitating a laugh for which they are
unprepared. For a bit of current slang, however and whenever used, is
always humorous.

The American is not only a humorous person, he is a practical person. So
it is only natural that the American humor should be put to practical
uses. It was once said that the difference between a man with tact and a
man without was that the man with tact, in trying to put a bit in a
horse’s mouth, would first tell him a funny story, while the man without
tact would get an axe. This use of the funny story is the American way
of adapting it to practical ends. A collection of funny stories used to
be an important part of a drummer’s stock in trade. It is by means of
the “good story” that the politician makes his way into office; the
business man paves the way for a big deal; the after-dinner speaker gets
a hearing; the hostess saves her guests from boredom. Such a large place
does the “story” hold in our national life that we have invented a
social pastime that might be termed a “joke match.” “Don’t tell a funny
story, even if you know one,” was the advice of the Atchison Globe man,
“its narration will only remind your hearers of a bad one.” True as this
may be, we still persist in telling our funny story. Our hearers are
reminded of another, good or bad, which again reminds us–and so on.

A sense of humor, as was intimated before, is the chiefest of the
virtues. It is more than this–it is one of the essentials to success.
For, as has also been pointed out, we, being a practical people, put our
humor to practical uses. It is held up as one of the prerequisites for
entrance to any profession. “A lawyer,” says a member of that order,
must have such and such mental and moral qualities; “but before all
else”–and this impressively–“he must possess a sense of humor.” Samuel
McChord Crothers says that were he on the examining board for the
granting of certificates to prospective teachers, he would place a copy
of Lamb’s essay on Schoolmasters in the hands of each, and if the light
of humorous appreciation failed to dawn as the reading progressed, the
certificate would be withheld. For, before all else, a teacher must
possess a sense of humor! If it be true, then, that the sense of humor
is so important in determining the choice of a profession, how wise are
those writers who hold it an essential for entrance into that most
exacting of professions–matrimony! “Incompatibility in humor,” George
Eliot held to be the “most serious cause of diversion.” And Stevenson,
always wise, insists that husband and wife must he able to laugh over
the same jokes–have between them many a “grouse in the gun-room” story.
But there must always be exceptions if the spice of life is to be
preserved, and I recall one couple of my acquaintance, devoted and loyal
in spite of this very incompatibility. A man with a highly whimsical
sense of humor had married a woman with none. Yet he told his best
stories with an eye to their effect on her, and when her response came,
peaceful and placid and non-comprehending, he would look about the table
with delight, as much as to say, “Isn’t she a wonder? Do you know her

Humor may be the greatest of the virtues, yet it is the one of whose
possession we may boast with impunity. “Well, that was too much for my
sense of humor,” we say. Or, “You know my sense of humor was always my
strong point.” Imagine thus boasting of one’s integrity, or sense of
honor! And so is its lack the one vice of which one may not permit
himself to be a trifle proud. “I admit that I have a hot temper,” and “I
know I’m extravagant,” are simple enough admissions. But did any one
ever openly make the confession, “I know I am lacking in a sense of
humor!” However, to recognize the lack one would first have to possess
the sense–which is manifestly impossible.

“To explain the nature of laughter and tears is to account for the
condition of human life,” says Hazlitt, and no philosophy has as yet
succeeded in accounting for the condition of human life. “Man is a
laughing animal,” wrote Meredith, “and at the end of infinite search the
philosopher finds himself clinging to laughter as the best of human
fruit, purely human, and sane, and comforting.” So whether it be the
corrective laughter of Bergson, Jove laughing at lovers’ vows, Love
laughing at locksmiths, or the cheerful laughter of the fool that was
like the crackling of thorns to Koheleth, the preacher, we recognize
that it is good; that without this saving grace of humor life would be
an empty vaunt. I like to recall that ancient usage: “The skie hangs
full of humour, and I think we shall haue raine.” Blessed humor, no less
refreshing today than was the humour of old to a parched and thirsty