There are occasions in life where you’ll be asked to make a toast. Weddings, graduations, engagements, anniversaries and retirement parties, for example. But if you’re one of the few people left who hasn’t given a TED Talk, the idea of toasting might be terrifying.

Toasting requires risk and courage, vulnerability and humor, and a certain amount of chutzpah. Here’s a basic guide to toast-making followed by 20 memorable toasts and quotes for all occasions. You’ll be ready to grab the microphone and win over the crowd with ease.

Toasting 101

Some basic tips for writing a toast:

  • Make sure you know how long the toast should be. There’s nothing worse than writing too much or too little. You may also need to ask about tone and know your audience. A bachelor party speech does not need a huge amount of sincerity, but a wedding anniversary would require a more poignant sentiment.
  • Like a good story, a toast should have a beginning, middle and end. Take us on a journey.
  • What is your relationship to the event or people? You’ve been asked to give the toast for a reason, so don’t forget to include your personal connection.
  • Use humor. Making fun of your friends is the cornerstone to a lot of relationships. It’s a fairly safe play to include an amusing anecdote about the person in question that might even be a little embarrassing. Obviously don’t reveal anything too shocking, but a little teasing is encouraged.
  • Try to memorize as much as possible. While it’s perfectly fine to carry note cards with you, you don’t want your head buried in them. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to practice.
  • End on a high note. Nobody like a Debbie Downer, so no matter the crowd or occasion, try to end on a message of hope or happiness.

For extra help on this subject I spoke to the New York Times Bestselling author of Men: An Owner’s Manual and ToastMasters Champion Stephanie Brush for her tips on how to prepare for a toast.

1.  Remember the train-wrecks

Pay attention to bad toasts you’ve seen. What went wrong? Were they painfully not-funny? Too long? Insincere? How could you have done it better? (Yes: You could have. TOTALLY.)

2. Add a personal touch

You are probably celebrating a special event or milestone.  Recognize that thing, but add something personal that only you could contribute. (“Sheila is the youngest person ever to get this award.  I’m her senior by ten years—and she’s my hero.”)
However…

3. Get over yourself

People who “fear public speaking” are people who think that it’s about them. Hello? The person you are toasting has done something special or represents something special. Focus on that. On imparting that message. Don’t worry about how you will look delivering the message.

4. Practice toasting silly stuff

It’s all about practice. Give a toast to your toast every morning, and imagine a small group watching. You can’t screw that up. Maybe your cat will gag; whatever. 

5. Drive sober

Be sober when toasting. A “stiff one” will impede your brain functions. 

6. It’s about inclusion

Remember, a toast is about love and sharing. Or barring that, respect. Or barring that, it’s something you have to do to keep your job or to not annoy your sister-in-law. 

In any case, it’s about inclusion —  reminding a group of people that they are part of a special moment in time. Look at their faces and share that moment. That is really the cool part.

Celebrity quotes

To help you get started on your toast, here are five celebrity quotes you can use as a jumping off point.

“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” — Carl Sagan

“Love is a lot like a backache. It doesn’t show up on X-rays. But you know it’s there.” — George Burns

“Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow internet, to see who they really are.” — Will Ferrell

“There’s no substitute for a great love who says, ‘No matter what’s wrong with you, you’re welcome at this table.'” —Tom Hanks

“To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase ‘terrible beauty.’ Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body.” — Christopher Hitchens

Classic toasts

In 1903 a book was published titled Toasts for All Occasions. The entire book can be read online for free here. Here are five quotes from this book — the bible of toasts.

“A good wife and health, are a man’s best wealth. What’s a table richly spread, without a woman at its head? Disguise our bondage as we will, ’tis a woman rules us still.” — Moore

“Here’s to the prettiest, here’s to the wittiest, here’s to the truest of all who are true, here’s to the sweetest one, here’s to them all in one — here’s to you.” — Author unknown

“Here’s to the girl I love, and here’s to the girl who loves me, and here’s to all those who love her whom I love, and all those that love her who love me.” — L.A Rogers

“Here’s to love, the only fire against which there is no insurance.” — Anon

“Now boys, just a moment! You’ve all had your say, while enjoying yourselves in so pleasant a way, we have toasted our sweethearts, our friends and our wives; we’ve toasted each other wishing all merry lives; but I know will propose to you the toast that is best — tis one in a million and outshines the rest. Don’t frown when I tell you this toast beats all others; but drink one more toast boys, A toast — to our Mothers!” — Anon

Poetry

Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but you can’t beat a little poetry when making a toast. It’s a wonderful way to begin or end a speech. Here are some great ones.

I Carry Your Heart (I Carry It In My heart), by E.E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you . here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

From Collected Poems, by Philip Larkin

In times when nothing stood
but worsened, or grew strange,
there was one constant good:
she did not change.

Another Christmas Poem, by Wendy Cope

Bloody Christmas, here again.
Let us raise a loving cup:
Peace on earth, goodwill to men,
And make them do the washing-up.

Leisure, by W. H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Quote from the poet Pablo Neruda

If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life

Snappy openers

And finally if you’re struggling for a witty opening gambit, try these five on for size (to be taken with a grain of salt…)

For those of you who don’t know who I am… how dare you?

I’ve known John for 15 years. I’ve liked him for eight.

I’m a man of few words…” then walk away

For those of you who don’t know me…This is what it looks like when I’m trying to avoid a panic attack.

Ladies and gents, you will be pleased to know that I am the final obstacle that lays between this moment, and the time that the bar opens.

Now raise your glass! Chin chin.

Watch this

Remembering: Katherine Johnson