How to Make a Good Toast—From an Etiquette Coach

Before raising your glass to celebrate the new year, polish your toasting skills with tips from an etiquette coach.

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While it seems straightforward enough, it turns out that giving a strong toast involves much more than simply standing up and saying whatever pleasantries come to mind. “The perfect toast is short, funny, and heartfelt,” says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York. According to Napier-Fitzpatrick, a successful toast requires practice, is about three minutes long, and follows a specific structure. With New Year’s Eve upon us, make sure you’re prepared to raise your glass by knowing exactly how to give a toast speech.

1. Follow this formula. The contents of your toast should include a hook, a bit of background (“why you’re giving the toast or how you are connected to the person you are toasting,” Napier-Fitzpatrick says), a story, and a finish. In terms of the story, Napier-Fitzpatrick says that you can share one or two funny anecdotes, but do not embarrass anyone or make guests uncomfortable. Watch out for these table etiquette mistakes you really need to stop making.

2. Practice, practice, practice. “Prepare the toast ahead of time. Write it down and rehearse it. Read it at least five times,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “Do not, however, read your toast when the time comes to make it. You can put your toast in bullet points on note cards to take with you in case you freeze,” she says.

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3. Take a stand. When the time comes to speak, and you know what you’re going to say, “begin by standing up if you are at a large gathering or sitting at a table with a dozen or more guests,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “Do not clink your glass to get their attention; simply raise your glass toward the center of your room to indicate that you are about to begin.”

4. Stay cool. For those who have never given a toast before, take a deep breath to steady yourself. “It’s natural to be nervous about giving your first toast,” Napier-Fitzpatrick says, “but it is an honor to give a toast, and if you realize that the toast is not about you (but about the person or occasion you’re toasting), it should help.” Make sure you never, ever break these wedding etiquette rules.

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On New Year’s Eve, either the host of a party should give the toast to thank their guests, or a guest should give the toast to thank the host. “The host’s toast can be as simple and traditional as, ‘Happy New Year,'” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “If attending a party on New Year’s Eve that is hosted by a person or couple, proposing a toast to him or them is a nice way to show your gratitude for bringing everyone together for such a special celebration.”

To finish on a high note, ask your audience to raise their glasses with you. Cheers! Next, learn the 50 little etiquette rules you should always practice.