The Secret to Giving a Memorable Toast (With Video)

April 11, 2018

There will likely be a few times in your career – and, outside of your career as well – that you’ll have to give a toast.

Perhaps you are honoring an employee with an award. Or speaking at an employee going-away party. Or, in your personal life, giving a toast at a wedding.

For these toasts, you’ve probably heard the advice on what not to do – don’t speak too long, don’t read off notes. But what should you do?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes, in the LinkedIn Learning course Communication Tips Weekly, has the answer: focus on the how.

Why “the how” is the secret to giving a great toast

In her course, Bailey-Hughes gives a great example of this. Imagine you are a sales manager and you are honoring a salesperson named John for having a record quarter. Yes, obviously you are going to cover the “what” – John is being honored for closing 50 deals in a quarter.

Great. But what’s much more interesting is how he did it.

“Did John make 400 cold calls?” Bailey-Hughes said in her course. “Did he have lunch with 50 clients, which meant that some days he ate lunch three times? You could even make a lighthearted comment here about how he alone could keep local restaurants in business... This is where your presentation gets interesting.”

Specifically, focusing on the how makes your toast better for these three reasons:

    1. It humanizes the person.

If a salesperson sells 50 percent more than everyone else, it can feel like they are just a superman or superwoman. If positioned incorrectly, it can actually reinforce a fixed mindset – Sheryl sold the most because she’s the best salesperson.

Focusing on the how eliminates that and shows Sheryl as a human like anyone else, who figured out something that worked and ran with it. It makes the accomplishment much more tangible and gives more appreciation for Sheryl's hard work.

    2. People can learn from it.

Along those lines, a toast is about honoring the person you are toasting. But, particularly in a work setting, you’d like to provide value to the audience in the room as well.

If you focus on the how, you essentially outline a playbook others can follow. So, if Sheryl was successful because she led with the product demo first in her sales calls, other salespeople can learn from that and apply it to their sales calls.

    3. It keeps the focus on the accomplishment.

Some of the worst toasts are when the person makes it about everything other than the person they are toasting. Perhaps they talk about themselves or the award itself or how they selected the winner — all of that is indulgent, cringe-worthy and, frankly, boring.

If you build your toast around the how, you eliminate that problem. It forces you to focus on the most relevant information: the person being toasted and their accomplishment.

For example, let’s say you are having a send-off party for an employee and you want to toast them. By focusing on their how – as in, how they had the impact they had during their tenure – you keep the attention where it belongs, while telling an interesting anecdote along the way.

Bottom line, yes you should follow the don’ts you’ve heard about giving toasts: keep it short, don’t rely too much on notes, etc. But always remember the one big do – focus on the how.

Want more short tips like this one? Check out the LinkedIn Learning series, Communication Tips.

Other LinkedIn Learning weekly series include: