JOPLIN, Mo. —
Only a very small percentage of people can stand up in front of strangers and pull off a toast that strikes the perfect balance between humility and humor.
But for the rest of us, overcoming those sweaty palms and knocking knees takes a good amount of planning and practice in front of a full-length mirror.
What not to do
Michael Scott, the hapless leader of NBC's "The Office," probably gave one of the all-time worst wedding speeches when he stood up in front of a roomful of strangers to speak about the bride, Dunder-Mifflin employee Phyllis Lapin.
"Hi," Steve Carrell's character says, "I'm Michael Scott and for the next 40 minutes, I'm going to be your tour guide through the (life of Phyllis), one of the great, seemingly impossible, love stories of our time. Webster's Dictionary defines 'wedding' as the fusing of two metals with a hot torch. Well, you know something? I think you guys are two metals. Gold medals."
The speech rambles without direction, has no structure, possesses way too many opening lines and teeters on the edge of becoming a full-fledged roast, which, of course, is the opposite of a toast.
These are all traits that a good wedding or graduation toast should not have, says Willy Crane, president of the Greater Joplin Toastmasters.
"If you're at a wedding, it's a very special time for at least two people, possibly a lot more, so don't spoil that," he said. "Don't break out the dating war stories at somebody's wedding. Respect the people. Deliver something that honors that person, so they can remember you as caring enough about them to say something nice."
Time is key. If you're a guest of honor -- a best friend or brother -- you should speak for no longer than three to four minutes, tops.
"That's appropriate," Crane said.
If you happen to be the brother's second cousin, however, than maybe a minute, tops, is most appropriate. Or maybe you shouldn't be standing, champagne glass in hand, at all, unless specifically asked.
In most traditionally large weddings, the best man gives the first toast, followed by the fathers, the groom, the bride, the mothers and then friends, though no order is set in stone. Regardless, such toasts -- whether it's hoping for good health to the bride, the groom or the maids of honor -- should last no longer than a couple of minutes.