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Published: Sunday, 12/3/2006

A toast to simplicity

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Here s to the person who knows how to give a good toast one that s heartfelt, socially and politically correct, and gets the job done in two minutes or so.

Be succinct, be brief, and be seated that s the advice of Scott Lockhart, vice president of education for the Toledo Club Toastmasters.

It s good advice anytime, but especially now, when glasses are being raised at holiday parties, family get-togethers, and December weddings and college graduations.

I find out as much as I am able to about the person, the occasion, and the audience, said Nobby Lewandowski of , Ohio, a former professional baseball player who went on to found an accounting firm in northeast Ohio and is now a motivational speaker, business adviser, and author.

If you ve been asked to give a toast or think you ought to be ready to say a few words at an upcoming event the rule think before you speak is a good place to start.

A member of the National Speakers Association, he recalled a toast he had given at a retirement dinner for a high school football coach. Mr. Lewandowski, who had played for the coach as a teenager, wanted to recognize the contributions of family, friends, co-workers, and former players who were in the audience as well as to honor the coach.

I thanked the audience for helping make him a successful football coach, and I thanked him for making us all greater men and better human beings by his influence, Mr. Lewandowski said in a telephone interview from Medina.

Be sincere and keep the message simple, he continued. Stay away from puffy words, he advised, and Speak as if you were having a one-on-one with people in the audience.

You could get a toast word-for-word from books that script comments for a variety of special occasions, but Mr. Lewandowski and others say it s best to use such resources just for ideas and guidance about what s appropriate. People like originality, he explained. People like things to be personalized.

Be cautious about the personal stories you share, however.

First, the comments should be in sync with the type of occasion at which they re given formal or casual, somber or lighthearted, a convention or a family reunion. Clearly, a toast at a bachelor party wouldn t be appropriate for a couple who are celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.

And beware of telling stories that would embarrass someone, or that only a few listeners will appreciate. The best man s toast may crack up the bride, bridegroom, and their attendants, but leave everyone else feeling clueless and left out.

Inside stories may create laughs among your buddies, but they may be better done at a private party, suggested Marja Wade Barrett, author of Business Manners For Success (Cincinnati book Publishing, 2004, $23.95).

The section of her book that deals with toasts includes a story about a man who was blackballed from a country club because of a toast that one member deemed inappropriate.

Ms. Barrett said the people who told her the story dropped the man s name, and to her shock it was someone she knew. This is a wonderful person. They would have been so fortunate to have gotten him, she said in a telephone interview from Fort Mitchell, Ky., in the greater Cincinnati area.

She speculated that he might have had one more drink than he should have before giving the toast. After one or two drinks you think you re charming and witty, and others may not think so, Ms. Barrett observed.

Several other experts also warned against combining alcohol and public speaking.

Mr. Lockhart, of the Toledo Club Toastmasters, said the worst toast he ever heard had to be at a wedding where the guy was stumbling drunk and made way too many off-color jokes. It was just inappropriate.

And Tony Slawinski, a past district governor for Toastmasters in northwest Ohio, southeast Michigan, and southwest Ontario, noted that when people are under the influence they have the tendency to ramble. They think a drink will calm their nerves, when it may do just the opposite, and panic can set in easily, he said.

Other forms of preparation are going to be far more helpful, according to Mr. Slawinski. Those include knowing generally what you re going to say before you begin, and, if possible, slipping away for a moment just before you give your toast to use the bathroom or take a deep breath.

He suggested that, as you begin speaking, look for a friendly face to help you relate to the audience as a whole and to build confidence. That s just for starters, though. Don t stare at that one person throughout your toast; alternate your gaze from the honoree to the audience overall.

Ms. Barrett stressed that it s important to address your remarks to everyone, because you re inviting all to join you in drinking to the honoree. (That person, by the way, is supposed to respond by thanking the person who gave the toast and the guests, and only then taking a sip. You don t drink to yourself, Ms. Barrett said.)

Experts advise you to keep the toast clean, noncontroversial, nondenominational, and short. Two to three minutes is about as long as crowds at a wedding reception or other party will tolerate, Mr. Slawinski said.

They want to get on with the celebration. They don t want to listen to speeches.

As a wedding photographer for 25 years, he s heard way too many bad ones. There have been quite a few weekends where you say, please let it stop, he admitted.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6126.



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