How to propose a toast

by Olivia Mitchell

champagne glasses

Propose a toast: Image by Waldo Jaquith

Give the gift of public speaking this holiday season. It’s the time to show your love and appreciation for your family and friends. Here are some tips for proposing a toast:

1. Plan your toast in advance

It might be tempting (particularly if you’ve had a a few drinks) to spontaneously stand up and propose a toast. Your toast will be immeasurably better if you put some thought to it in advance. An unplanned toast can easily turn into a long-winded ramble.

2. Use tidy notes

Too often I’ve seen people at family occasions stand up and peer at a crumpled envelope in their hand. Do use notes – but make them smart eg: a stiff 3×5 card. Make the writing large and bold so that you can read your notes easily. If you need glasses to read, practice with your notes and glasses. You may feel awkward, but if you do it smoothly no-one else will notice.

3. Use a simple three-point structure

As ever a three-part structure is your best friend. Choose three qualities or values that have been important in the lives of your family and friends. Illustrate each quality with a family event or story from the past year. Here’s a simple example:

I’ll talk about the values which have been most important to our family this year.

First perserverance. Perserverance is about keeping going in the face of obstacles. And Bob and Janine you’ve really shown us how to do that with the building of your new house. Well-done for perservering through all the obstacles you’ve had to face to get where you are now. Your perserverance has been an inspiration to us all – can’t wait for the housewarming.

Second love – Caroline and John we enjoyed your wedding so much earlier this year. Thank you for inspiring us all to focus on the love in our relationships.

Third – hard work – Emmanuel showed us the value of hard work in completing hisĀ  post-graduate degree. Emmanuel worked in his part-time job from 6 am to 11 am every weekday morning and then studied the rest of the time. Congratulations for all your hard work.

I propose a toastĀ  – to perseverance, love and hard work.

4. Acknowledge people who are not present

If you’re missing a family member or dear friend, do acknowledge them and the fact that you miss them. Do this at the beginning of your toast, as it may sink people into a solemn mood. As you move to more joyful accomplishments the mood will lighten.

5. Show your emotion

Your family and friends will feel your emotion with you. If you’re concerned that emotion may get the better of you (for example, mentioning a family member who has passed away during the year) practice that part of your toast several times. You’ll find that this gradually reduces the level of your emotion.

6. Keep it short

A long-winded speech before your meal will make your family and friends impatient. A long-winded speech after the meal will send them to sleep. One to two minutes is ideal for a toast.

7. Don’t drink and speak

Don’t rely on alcohol to fuel your courage to speak. If you drink too much before your toast, you’ll lose your judgment. You’ll think your cleverer and funnier than you really are! And then you’re likely to ramble on for far too long. So propose your toast at the beginning of the meal and lay off the alcohol till then.

This post is part of a blog carnival organised by Angela de Finis. Thanks Angela. Head on over to Public speaking and the holidays to get the list of links to all the other posts.

Here’s to your toast. Cheers!

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan Schultink December 15, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Maybe another one:

Pick your style. If you are not a natural joke cracker, maybe you should not force yourself and try to be very funny. (If you are, then by all means go for it). Or at least, tell the type of jokes, anecdotes that fit you, in a style that fits you.

There are other styles: captivating stories, verbalizing what everyone at the table is thinking (thanking, praising someone)


Olivia Mitchell December 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Hi Jan

That’s a great tip – I totally agree. And I like your suggestions for other styles, too.


Danna Ntaka December 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Dear Olivia,

I appreciate tips numbers 2 and 3, using 3×5 cards and a three point structure. Being prepared is high on my list of priorities when delivering a speech. Proposing a toast is a presentation that receives too little preparation. Some may feel that since a wedding or family gathering is not a work related or academic presentation, that preparation is not necessary. We have all heard a family member or best man ramble on too long while proposing a toast. Your points remind us all to be brief and concise.

Danna Ntaka


Olivia Mitchell December 23, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Yes, that rambling can be a problem at family occasions- particularly when some alcohol is involved!


Jon Thomas - Presentation Advisors January 2, 2010 at 4:53 pm


Great post! I recommended this post to my wife who is a Wedding Planner and writes her own blog. She loved it and decided to feature your post in a post of her own. You can read it here:

Hope you have a wonderful 2010!


Olivia Mitchell January 15, 2010 at 10:07 am

Thanks Jon, and belated Happy New Year to you and Becky, Olivia.


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Brandon July 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm

When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and
now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

Many thanks!


Olivia Mitchell July 29, 2013 at 10:18 am

Hi Brandon
At the bottom of those emails you receive there should be an unsubscribe option.


Thule September 16, 2013 at 8:09 am

Hi Olivia can I have tips on how to propose a toast, my cousin is getting married.


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