Some of the most important occasions in our life call for a toast. At weddings, birthdays, retirement parties, and other momentous occasions, a toast (a very short speech) is often expected. Some find this task daunting, but if you're prepared, speaking in front of a group can even be enjoyable.
If you don't want to say the wrong thing or look foolish, do your homework. To avoid rambling or stumbling over your words, practice ahead of time.
The Host and Guest of Honor
The host should propose the first toast. This is considered the "toast of welcome," and it also serves as a signal for everyone to begin eating. It can be as simple as "Welcome to each of you, bon appetit." The host does not rise for this initial toast unless there is more than one table for the group, or the table is larger than ten people.
Make sure that all glasses have been filled before giving your toast. Toasting is acceptable with nonalcoholic beverages such as soft drinks or sparkling water, even for those offering a toast.
As the dinner progresses, the host offers a toast to the guest of honor, if there is one. After the toast, the host raises his/her glass to the guest of honor, at which time all guests follow the host's lead, pick up their glasses, and take a sip.
In turn, the guest of honor responds to the toast by toasting the host, including some kind words about the host.
The guest of honor must always respond to a toast, but does not drink to him/herself.
• At an informal gathering, anyone can propose a toast after the host extends a welcome toast.
• Other toasts may be directed to the host, but not the guest of honor.
• If the host has not given a toast by the dessert course, inspired guests may certainly toast the host.
• Don't clink your crystal to get the attention of those around you. This will break it.
• How to toast? Stand, pick up your glass and say, "May I please have everyone's attention?" Speak slowly, clearly, and loudly enough to be heard.
• It's always good to start with humor, as long as it's polite humor.
• Avoid profanity when giving a toast.
• A toast should not be too personal.
• Toasts should be light and short, no more than three minutes.
• If a toast is proposed to you, sit quietly, smile and bask in the moment of the attention. You do not raise your own glass.
• A toast should be responded to with a toast; it shows a lack of social sophistication not to respond.
• At informal dinners, it's not necessary for guests to rise except the person making the toast. At formal dinners, if the person being toasted is a VIP such as a foreign dignitary or a distinguished person, all guests should rise.
• Always raise your glass when a toast is offered, even if you don't drink.
• The Golden Rule of Toasting is to remember the three B's: Begin, Be Brief, and Be Seated. It's a toast, not a roast!
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, on-air contributor and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.