Rice Speechwriting

Toast Chapter 1: Goals: Honor the Person, Honor The Event

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Where do I even begin to write my toast?

Imagine it is 11 PM on the night before you’re supposed to give a toast. It’s your manager’s retirement; your best friend’s wedding; an award ceremony for you.

You stare at a blank screen. You knew this moment was coming. For months, you tried to come up with what to say but the words never flowed. Each time you tried to write, vague generalities poured out.

Like in school, you always did your best work at the last moment.

But instead, you decide to wing it. How hard could it be to fill up a few minutes? You’ve winged it before and it hadn’t been too bad.

The next day comes and you’re handed the mic (or the screen on the Zoom call). You start with a few acknowledgments—and then nothing. Your mind turns blank. You mumble your way through a few lines and end, with tepid applause from the audience.

Or the speech went a different way. The adrenaline at the moment kicked in and you gave an OK speech. But you knew in the back of your mind that it could’ve been better—so much better.

What happened?

You were in the same spot as many speakers tasked with giving a toast. The smallest amounts of time at the biggest moments in our lives are some of the toughest.

The goal of this chapter is to put you into a relaxed frame of mind where you can start to brainstorm the ideas for your toast well ahead of the night before.

If you ask key foundational questions in the beginning, you’ll set up your toast to be successful. This chapter will handle questions surrounding the toast’s content. The next chapter will tackle how long your speech should be. By doing the work for both parts, you will create a solid plan for your speech rather than a blank screen.

The two goals of any toast: Honor the person and honor the event

A toast is a speech to celebrate an occasion, an event, a life. Toasts are different than most speeches we hear each day—ones meant to inform and do little else. Toasts not only inform but entertain and often instruct. Your goal then is to create a toast that fits to its occasion. That means you have to talk about the occasion itself and the person or people that your toast honors.

Honor the person:

To honor a person, you want to talk about what makes them special and unique. You want to tell their best stories; you want to talk about their best qualities. You want to tell other people why the world is better because that person is in it.

For example, the father of the bride will want to talk about his daughter’s life and what will make her a great spouse.

A graduation speaker will talk about the students’ accomplishments and future.

If you have to talk about yourself, you will want to do the same but tell how people and events shaped who you are. You’ll want to express gratitude for everyone in your life.

For example, a retiree might talk about the life they lived, the ups and downs, and the loved ones who were a part of it.

A graduation speaker may give graduates lessons from her own life as advice.

Honor the event

One reason we give toasts is to give meaning to a particular event. It’s our society’s way of coming together and saying why an event is important. It sounds redundant but we use toasts as a way to create meaning.

Some questions a speaker might ask:

Quick wins brainstorming:

In the upcoming chapters, we’ll expand on what it means to honor the person and to honor the event. We’ll also add in other parts to a toast such as the advice and summation sections.

To get some quick wins, and to fill up the blank page staring back at you, let’s work through some quick brainstorming questions.

Now imagine that it is no longer 11 PM the night before your toast. You are weeks out from your. You sit down at your computer and the blank page doesn’t scare you at all. Instead, the words start to flow as you type them. You know that you’ll have a great product in the end but these first few thoughts are your best ones as you write.

Use the workbook or open up a blank document, and set aside about 30 minutes to an hour to answer the following:

Each question might not be the easiest to answer—that’s OK. Work on the questions that come the easiest and that you could see becoming your toast. Later on, we’ll explore questions specific to each toast occasion.

If the event is honoring someone other than you:

  1. Who is being honored? What makes them so great? What are your favorite stories about the person? If the event is honoring a group of people, what stories can you tell about that group?

If you are the one being honored:

  1. Which lessons, wisdom, or advice, can you give to the crowd?
  2. Who have been the most important people in your life? How have they made you who are you today?
  3. What were the most significant events that led you to this moment? How did they shape you?

Honoring the event

  1. What is the meaning of the event in the larger context? How does our society view this event? Are you recognizing a lifelong commitment, the advocacy of a particular group, the lifetime achievement of a person, the graduation of a class of students?
  2. What will this event mean years from now to the people who are a part of it?
  3. What has this event historically meant to the people in the room or society?

What if I’m still stuck?

If nothing is coming to you at this moment, try asking others their thoughts. You could even compile those answers together as part of your toast. Don’t go this alone and instead reach out to others who could contribute.

Next Steps:

Now that you have a ton of ideas, you will need to fit them into your allotted time. The next chapter deals with how to figure out how long you need to speak and what to do if your time is cut short.

More in this series:

Chapter 1: Toast Goals: Honor the person, honor the event
Chapter 2: How long should your toast be?

Photo Credit: Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

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