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:

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