Public speaking is many people’s greatest fear.
I’ve seen perfectly articulate, jovial, eloquent people crumble when it comes time to give a toast. Often the words are great, it’s the delivery that falls short.
When I ask clients what photos they like the most, they often say the candid moments captured throughout the wedding. These photos are often taken during the toasts. As a photographer I am always routing for great toasts. I want the tears, belly laughs, and ear to ear smiles. Which sometimes, don’t happen.
A few tips/suggestions from a former actor, and current wedding photographer.
1. Get Off Book.
Actor Speak Translation: Memorize your toast.
Reality: You had a baby 2 weeks ago, you’re taking the bar exam the next day, you’ve been working 30 days straight and you’ve pulled together the toast in the last 12 hours. Life happens.
If you need to bring your toast up with you:
Please don’t read off an iPhone.
iPhones and iPads cast an unattractive blue/green light the speakers face. It’s not a thing you can “photoshop”. It just looks weird. If you want a great photo of yourself killing it at your friends wedding, don’t do it.
- Write on a notecard or paper.
- Print it in a large font, so you can glance down and actually read the words.
- Double space the lines, and/or leave gaps between the begin/middle/end of the toast.
- Write the verbs of the toast in a bold font.
- Write in bullets rather than sentences. You’ll know when to add in the prepositions and subjects.
2. Eyes Eyes Eyes Eyes.
The eyes are the window to the soul.
Please look up from your paper when giving your toast. I spend most toasts crouched on the floor with my camera smushed up against my face muttering “eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes.”
A person staring at a piece of paper (or iPhone – please don’t do it) does not make a compelling photo. More importantly, it’s also not engaging for anyone listening. If you’ve ever been on a date with someone who constantly stares at their phone you will understand this.
If you lift your eyes up everyone will be more engaged. It’s scary at first, but really kicks the delivery up a hundred percent. Find safe faces in the crowd to ground you. Take a moment to look at your best friend, your parents, the couple, your partner. Heck even pick a spot on the back wall. If you are extremely nervous, write ‘look up” on your note card at various points as a reminder.
Under 5 minutes. It’s a toast not a speech.
4. Slow down.
Timing is everything. Slow down. Your joke is probably funny, you just need to pause and wait for the reaction.
During my acting days I took a clowning workshop. A fundamental to comedy/clowning is that you need to respond to whatever the audience is giving you. In order to do this well, you also need to pay attention to the audience (which only can happen if you look up, see #2). If people laugh, you can show that you are pleased/happy. If they don’t, acknowledge that you failed. Then they will laugh twice as hard.
5. Find you Light.
Do your best to stand in a spot that is evenly lit. If people can’t see you, they won’t pay attention. Beware of uplighting. (The neon lights that are surrounding the base of room, tent, and/or stage pointing upwards). If there is a stage, the impulse might be to stand on it to make your toast. Often surrounding the edge of the stage are neon lights. You will be highlighted in fluorescent pink and purple and cameras really don’t like that. It also makes you look like a villain, which makes you difficult to look at, which means people will tune you out quicker. Avoid standing directly in front of any kind of uplighting.
6. Everyone in the room is on your side.
I think this might be the most important thing to remember. A wedding toast is not a competition, a job interview, and it’s not even about you, it’s about your friends. A wedding crowd is the most generous audience. Every person in the room wants you to succeed. They are on your side. They want to smile, laugh, cry, and honor the beautiful couple. The photographer especially wants you to do a good job. (Bust mostly just to lift your eyes up….please.)
It’s ok/normal to be nervous. I was a co-Maid of Honor at my friend’s wedding this past October. I spent the 10 minutes before our toast muttering to myself and walking around in circles outside the tent. I did however manage to get my eyes up for the toast (me and my co-maid Anne, below…also, check out those dahlia’s behind us-Huge! Gorgeous!).
If you’re still really nervous about the toast you can even hire a acting/speech coach to help you through it. If you live in NYC there are some excellent helpers. Remember, everyone is on your side (especially the photographer!!!).