How to Give a Toast at Thanksgiving

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As an observer of the social world I've never seen more cases of "deer in the headlights syndrome" than when the subject of toasting is approached. Public speaking is one of society's most common phobias, so most people hesitate to give a toast. It puts the speaker in the spotlight, but with a bit of preparation these scaredy cats will be feeling like they are going to be nominated for the Profiles in Courage Award!


Here's how to get prepped for one of the biggest toasting events of the season-Thanksgiving.

  • Before a Toast:

    • Do a mental check that guests are prepared, that their wine glasses are filled, that you're not in the middle of a course, and that anyone being toasted has not stepped away from the table.

    • Resist the glass-tapping thing to get everyone's attention-the results can be shattering. It was originally started to ward off the devil, who is said to be repelled by bell-like noises. However, the clinking of glasses after the toast is fine. Just standing up at the start of a toast usually captures everyone's attention.

  • The Presentation:

    • When in a larger group, stand so everyone can see and hear you. In intimate settings standing or sitting is fine. Avoid mumbling and rushing your toast. Everyone really wants to hear what you have to say.

    • Keep it short and sweet-a minute or two will do the trick, particularly if there are other people who will be toasting.

    • Speak from the heart. Remember a few topics or bullet points but avoid pulling out a cheat sheet.

    • Eye contact is key; try to look at each guest during the toast. Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion to connect with each person at the table and give thanks for their friendship.

  • The Words:

    • The most memorable toasts are crafted from personal experiences and heartfelt sentiments. Thanksgiving has a built-in topic of gratitude so focus your thoughts on who and what you are thankful for.

    • Be personable: try to include stories and memories specific to guests at the table (but nothing embarrassing).

    • It's fine to incorporate quotes as long as you draw on personal experiences as well. Here are a couple of my favorites:

    "Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart."--Seneca

    "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."--John Fitzgerald Kennedy

    "Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting."--Unknown

Tips & Warnings

  • Avoid clichés like "here's to you" or "let's raise our glasses." Go for a more custom approach like "Gratitude makes our lives richer. I am grateful to have all of you in my life. You've made me a very wealthy person."
  • Resist the temptation to drink when a toast is offered to you. It's like applauding yourself.
  • A toast should not be made until after the host has had the opportunity to do so. If half-way through the dessert it becomes apparent that the host has no intention of offering any toasts, a guest may quietly request the host's indulgence to offer a toast.
  • A more formal event generally calls for a more sophisticated sentiment, while a casual gathering may prompt a short, spontaneous toast.
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