Some people are lucky enough to be able to speak candidly in front of a group, with grace and wit and impeccable timing. I hate them. I count myself in the miserable majority of reluctant public speakers, who freeze up and immediately lose 30 IQ points when faced with a microphone and a crowd that exceeds three people. If you’re with me, the greatest advice that I can offer you is this: Make sure to hit the bar before the stage. This is the intended order of things, and you should not try to interfere with nature’s course. With that being said, I have gathered up a few other hints for those of you who are dreading an impending toast that you must give, or planning for toasts at your own wedding. Here is a ‘Who, What, When and Where’ of Wedding Toasts, that I hope will be helpful.

Who: Anyone should feel welcome to give a toast, but nobody should feel pressured to do so. Traditionally, toasts are given by the Best Man, Maid of Honor, and the fathers of both the Bride and Groom. Today, many brides and grooms also offer a toast to one another, and/or their families and other wedding guests. Often, other guests want an opportunity to offer their wishes to the happy couple; and as the evening wears on, some people who didn’t initially wish to speak will feel compelled to do so after an extra helping of the bubbly. Trust me: The path to the microphone is paved with booze, so keep it flowing if you’re in the market for some memorable moments.

What: If you’re planning to give a toast, keep it brief and sincere. There is no need to be in the hot seat for more than a couple of minutes. Also, while it’s good to be candid, don’t be afraid to write down a few key points that you can glance at if you think you’ll be nervous. Introduce yourself in simple terms, (“Hi, I’m Mary. I have been friends with Karen since elementary school.”), without offering TMI for your general audience: (“She threw up in my car when we were 17, after drinking too many strawberry wine coolers”). Then offer a personal anecdote that illustrates the sentiment you’re trying to convey, and wrap it up with a wish for the couple’s future. Using quotes or song lyrics works well. Humor is welcome, but if you feel forced or unnatural when trying to be funny, it will show. It is best to simply be yourself, and to say something genuine and kind. I am not a big fan of the public roast, unless it is so well executed that it actually paints its victim in a flattering light. Otherwise, embarrassing stories should be shared at the stag parties or somewhere else that’s out of earshot of everyone over sixty or under twenty. Finally, DON’T bring up past romances, or inside jokes. Nobody will appreciate it; least of all the Bride and Groom.

When: It’s up to the Bride and Groom whether the toasts occur during the rehearsal dinner or the wedding reception, or both. My advice when making this choice is: If you think that there will be quite a few toasts beyond the traditional ones listed above, it might be better to have the majority of them at the rehearsal dinner so that there is more time for everyone to mingle and make fools of themselves on the dance floor during the reception. You may want to leave just the Father-of-the-Bride toast and the couple’s toasts for the wedding day and have everyone else speak the night before. Either way, they should happen during a natural gathering time for the group, such as before or after the cake cutting or at mealtime. If you’re not having a sit-down meal, it’s a good idea to choose a time for the champagne to be served, at which point the appointed person (often the Best Man) will signal the beginning of the toasts by tapping his glass, and start with his own.

Where: If there will be a microphone available at your toasting venue (and I strongly recommend having one, if only for dear old Granny’s sake so she doesn’t have to keep yelling, “WHAT? Speak up Sonny, and talk into my good ear!”), it should be placed in a central location in the room where everybody will be able to see it. If there is a stage, that works nicely although it can be intimidating for those guests who want to say something but hate being on stage (I can relate). Alternatively, if you are having toasts during a time when the group is seated, people can stand up at their tables and speak from there if the layout lends itself to this system. This can offer a welcome change of perspective throughout the party.

For more additional tips on handling wedding toasts, check this out!

Cheers!