Every writer has a personal strategy for composing toasts. Some eschew tradition entirely while others cling closely to the guidelines that have been passed down for generations. Finding what works best for you may take time, but this quick guide can help you when you need to write a toast to a friend or associate.
The first step when writing a toast is to consider your audience. Who are you writing this toast for? What is the occasion? Keep your audience in mind when deciding what you want to say, because this will impact the tone you use and the topics you talk about.
Toasts can be generic, but this type of speech is almost always directed at a specific person or several people. This unfortunately means that a good toast can only be used once. However, the format of a toast can usually be reused, which can cut down on the time it takes to write this type of speech.
When you write your toast, it isn't necessary to write it chronologically. You should probably start with the center of your toast, which is where you will talk about the deed or event you wish to draw attention to. If you are singing the praises of the host of a party, you might tell a story about something they've done. If you're wishing two newly married people a happy life together, then you could talk about how they met. For a boss or respected elder, a story about the effect they've had on your life is probably most appropriate. You need to limit yourself to one event in order to make a concise toast, so pick a tight topic that is directly relevant to the situation and appropriate for all people in attendance.
Once you have a strong center, you can go back and figure out how you will lead into your story. Toasts generally start by demanding attention with a stock phrase, such as "I would like to propose a toast." You then identify whom the toast is to, be it an individual or group. You should also introduce yourself and your relationship to the person being toasted. This introduction might include a joke, but it should lead straight into the story you have composed.
The last thing you should write in your toast is an ending. The ending of a toast is sometimes the most difficult to pull off because your ending must be clear enough to let the listeners know that your speech is over. It must also, however, make the point of the story you told clear and relevant to all the people you are talking to. You can help yourself along when you reach your ending by lifting your glass and drinking, physically signifying to others that you are finished. Mastering this step takes practice, but looking at and analyzing great toasts can help.
Sometimes it is easier to understand this type of composition with an example, so consider the following case: Joe, the best man, needs to write a toast for his friend Matt's bachelor party. Joe happens to remember a time when Matt ran away from a girl when he was very young. Joe decides to lead into this story with a funny opening line. He also decides to close with an invocation to continue partying, because this is a toast for a bachelor's party.
The toast itself, then, might go like this:
"Everyone, if I could have your attention please, I'd like to propose a toast to our friend Matt who will be leaving bachelorhood quite shortly. As the best man, it is my responsibility to embarrass the daylights out of him, so I'd like to tell you a story. I remember when Matt and I were five and we were playing in a park. A little girl came running up to us and Matt, who was never a ladies' man, starts backing away like he sees a shark. That little girl caught him and planted a kiss right on his lips. Matt, in a true show of manliness, started crying. Well, you've come a long way since then, Matt, and while all of us wish you'd run away to drink with us instead of hanging out with your future wife, we're pretty sure we won't miss the crying part...especially since we've got some girls here tonight who would love to kiss you in your last hours as a bachelor. So, here's to you, Matt: let's drink our beers and drive the man to tears!"
In summary, when you write a toast to a specific person, you need a beginning, middle, and end. Your beginning grabs attention, your middle includes a story, and your end tells people you're done talking. With those three elements, nearly anyone can compose a great toast.
Index of Example Toasts