Tips for Presentations…and Wedding Toasts!

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Have you ever made a toast at a wedding? Spoken at a memorial service? I’ve helped speakers prepare for all sorts of private events but now it seems to be a cottage industry!

An article by Bruce Feiler in the New York Times describes how these specialists approach the task, say, of writing a toast for a wedding. It turns out that what they believe makes a good toast has a lot in common with what makes an effective presentation. Here are a few tips:

  • Be sincere. People can sense when you are genuine, whether you’re talking about the bride or a project. Relay how you feel about the person/matter at hand, and you will form a deeper connection with the audience.
  • Be specific. Details and specifics, such as those you use in anecdotes, help the audience to relate on a personal level to the information you are presenting. Being specific (e.g., by using an example to illustrate a point) makes more of an impact that simply speaking in generalities or abstractions. “He’s a great friend” vs. “back in college he taught me how to drive — in his car, took me to the driving test…then did it all again when I flunked the first time. Now that’s a great friend!”
  • Humor is a good thing. Balance sincerity with humor. Not gratuitous humor, and more in a wedding toast that in a presentation, but if it’s on topic and the audience can relate to it personally, go ahead! And smiling is a bonus.
  • Keep it succinct. Although you need some details, don’t run on too long. Decide on your overriding message and the main points that support it, and make sure you relay them clearly, ideally with a brief anecdote, important fact or example to illustrate each point. It could be just a few words that create a picture for the audience, which will make a concise message come to life.
  • There’s one area where a toast cannot be like a presentation. In a presentation, you want to address a potential problem or issue, to increase transparency (and thus audience trust in you) and to be able to put a positive spin on it. In a toast, never take the skeletons out of the closet. If you do, you will be wondering why the newlyweds have been MIA since their honeymoon.
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