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The most important rule of toasting is that a “toast” is not a “roast.” A toast is intended to be a tribute to the person being honored, or to the evening and its hosts. A gentleman would never seize upon it as an opportunity to embarrass, belittle or, even worse, ridicule the person or the occasion. When a gentleman has been asked to give a toast, he does not assume he has been asked to be a stand-up comedian. He says something kind, complimentary, and mildly amusing. Then he raises his glass; and he sits down.
n A gentleman plans his toast ahead of time, even if it is in the 90 seconds before he stands to deliver it. An extemporaneous toast, delivered on site, is always a toast doomed for disaster.
n A gentleman’s toast is always brief, and to the point. Two or three well-structured sentences will always do the duty. He sticks to the text he has planned, and does not venture from it.
n At family occasions – such as signal birthdays, wedding receptions, bar or bat mitzvahs, or golden anniversaries – a gentleman remembers that there are people other than family members in the audience. He does not tire them, or make them uneasy, with insider jokes.
n On public occasions – such as testimonials, fund-raising tributes, and retirement dinners – a gentleman keeps his remarks general. He does not attempt to prove, from the podium, that the honoree is his personal friend. He assumes that his presence there is proof enough.
At an anniversary dinner:
“Hal and Harriette, many of us here have never known you when there wasn’t the two-of-you. But for all of us – through all the kids, and the weddings, and the reconstruction of that house out on
At a civil-union ceremony:
“Jack and Joe (or Jane and Jane), the two of you have an energy that energizes us all. Let’s pray the dogs (or the cats) have the energy to live with the two of you, for years to come. We all intend to be there. We are glad to be here today.”
At a funeral reception/wake:
“Fred met me at the front door when I came to Doorgates, Enterprises. He was going to be my boss, but the first thing he taught me was how to use the coffee-maker. That’s the kind of person he was. He knew the business up and down; but he also knew it in and out. He taught me a good lesson, every day.”
At a ceremonial dinner (where an anecdote is always appropriate):
There are many traditional responses to a toast, such as “Skoal” or “Prosit.” For English-speaking people “Hear! Hear!” usually remains the best.
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