In companies around the world, a season of festivities is about to begin. A calendar of special professional dinners and holiday parties will take place from now through the beginning of January.
Many of those events will involve a toast. This is a time when people raise their drink glasses (with or without alcohol) to acknowledge a special occasion or to honor people and their accomplishments.
If you will be the person who gives that toast, be prepared. Think about what you may want to say, and consider writing down your ideas. That way, you can glance at your notes before you speak. You will not be tongue-tied at a moment when all eyes and ears are on you.
Consider these suggestions:
- Keep the toast short. Speak for no longer than a minute or so unless the occasion is formal and you are giving the only toast. In that case, you can speak for several minutes. If dinner is awaiting people on plates in front of them, show mercy and speak briefly.
- If you are the host or sponsor, mention what an honor or delight it is to host the distinguished [talented, fun-loving, successful, brilliant, supportive] group surrounding you.
- If you are not the host or sponsor, thank that person, commenting specifically on some aspect such as the bountiful table, beautiful setting, or feeling of welcome the host shared.
- Use a phrase that brings people into the toast, something like "This is the moment when we honor the team's successes in 2010. . . " or "Please join me in raising your glass in celebration of our . . . "
- Use humor if you can, but avoid sarcasm. A toast is a feel-good message. It should not bite anyone.
- Avoid references to people and events that some guests, such as spouses, will not recognize. Identify people with phrases such as "our chairman, David Blake" and "our biggest client, XYZ Company."
- If several toasts are being given, feel free to speak only a sentence such as, "To Margery, who catches every error before our customers get a chance to" or "To our designers, people who listen to all our problems–and solve them!"
- Feel free to use or build on other toasts or famous quotations, like this: "Henry David Thoreau said that it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. I am proud to acknowledge that we acted wisely this year, even in the face of tremendous challenges." Search the Internet or a book of quotations for suitable lines to build on.
- Don't toast yourself. That is, don't focus on yourself. A toast is to celebrate others.
Do you have suggestions or horror stories that will help others toast confidently and professionally at business events? Please share them.
Note: Although toasts may not fall firmly under the topic "business writing," they are business messages at company events. That is why I wrote about them here.