Toast, Not Roast

National etiquette expert Elaine Swann gives her top tips for making a memorable speech
Giving a toast at a wedding is an opportunity to raise a glass and honor the newlyweds with words from the heart. Photograph: Erin Hannum

“I GOT INTO THE INDUSTRY by being a student of etiquette first and foremost,” says Elaine Swann, who is a nationally recognized etiquette expert as well as the founder of The Swann School of Protocol based in Carlsbad, California. Having gone to charm school as a young adult and then dipping her toes into the pageant scene before being trained as a flight attendant, her experience in social protocols are enough to make Emily Post beam with pride. Swann has two books on social graces and countless students thanking her for everything from readying them for a debutante ball to etiquette in the corporate world, so we couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to give advice on toasting the couple on their big day.

STAY POSITIVE. Swann’s No. 1 rule when giving a speech or a toast is that you should never bring up any embarrassing information. “Don’t talk about exes, previous relationships or hard times that they have had with someone else. Don’t talk about misbehavior that could be embarrassing to the couple or the family. This is a toast, not a roast.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Think about what you want to say in advance. Swann says that you don’t need an entire speech at the ready — a notecard with a few bullet points will suffice. “You can write them out or have them in your mind, but be prepared,” she says.

BE PROACTIVE. Find out in advance when you will speak. Confirm with the bride and groom before the wedding or find the wedding coordinator on the day and get the final details about exactly when you are supposed to go on. Be proactive.

Illustration: Rachel Idzerda

MIC CHECK. If you are handed a microphone, use it. “It’s rude to decline the use of the microphone if that is what the couple are requesting of you,” says Swann. If using a microphone is the way that they set up their event, you should do what they ask.

KEEP IT SHORT. Remember that you aren’t the only one speaking, so be mindful of the length of your talk. Swann’s advice is to keep it under three minutes. And don’t forget to raise your glass at the end of your speech, and invite everyone else to do so as well.

Learn more about Elaine Swann at