Several years ago I found myself needing to give a toast in front of a bunch of co-workers. I was able to give one, but it certainly wasn’t pretty. I vowed never to be in that scenario again. If ever again asked to make a toast, I would be ready. Likewise with a joke. Everyone should know how to give a toast and tell a joke. Let’s discuss.
Give a Toast and Tell a Joke
The situation in question involved a new job. This was my first (and so far only) job where I inhabited an office environment. I had been an “operator,” a special operations instructor, and self-employed…not exactly the white-collar type. After flying into DCA airport for my first day at work I was in for some culture shock.
I arrived late at night and immediately went to a luxury hotel for a two-week stay at my company’s expense. The next morning I learned that I now worked in a big, glass building in pricey “Old Town” Alexandria, VA. Our office shared a wall with a fancy cafe and bar. Almost every other employee spoke several languages and had multiple degrees, including Rhodes Scholars and Ivy Leaguers. I felt like an “outdoor cat” that had slipped through the door.
About six months into my stay at this organization, we did a company outing. The entire group – roughly half men and half women – was small enough to fit into an average sized DC gastropub on a weeknight. Shortly after we arrived the Old Man looked at me, his newest employee, and in a cheery voice said, “Justin, give us a toast!
Learn It Before You Need It
I was able to give a toast that evening. I had learned a couple bawdy toasts in the military. Confidently – over-confidently – I raised my glass and gave a toast that I won’t repeat, but that you can probably find here. At the end of it you could hear a pin drop. To this point I still hadn’t quite figured out civilized culture, but I should have known better.
Fortunately for me the Old Man was a former submariner. He broke the silence with a hearty laugh and a slap on the back. The party went on and everyone tried to forget my terrible toast. But I didn’t forget. I vowed never again.
Most of you LOVE reading about guns and gear. This site dedicated to espousing some less sexy, but way, way more likely skills. Some of you are probably in need of some better, deeper, broader interpersonal skills. These skills are invaluable to community building.
Learning to give a toast is an excellent place to start. If you’re ever at a wedding, wake, party – whatever – and asked to give a toast, be able to stand up and knock their socks off. If you’re nervous about public speaking (many of you probably are) giving a quick, well-rehearsed toast will help you get started overcoming this fear.
Giving a Good Toast
If you’re asked weeks in advance to give a toast at your buddy’s wedding, you better prepare something personalized. Here I’m talking about the off-the-cuff toast. You can make something up on the fly but it probably won’t be as memorable or endearing as a good one. Before you offer your toast, here are a couple very malleable “rules” to giving a good toast.
First, in most instances you’ll want to stand up. If you’re at a friend’s house for dinner and there are four of you around the table you can skip standing. Second, get everyone’s attention. You can do this by rapping on the side of your glass with a piece of silverware – it works. Wait until conversation dies down before beginning.
If you’re giving a toast to a large group and are the first one toasting, take a tip from my friend Rich Brown. Announce that you will be giving a toast in five minutes, advise everyone to use the restroom and top off drinks as needed. Next, speak loudly enough for everyone to hear. This is good advice no matter the audience. Now you can give your toast.
My last advice would be rehearse – and practice – as often as you can. If you know you’re going to a party where toasts might be given, rehearse. Be ready to give it when you arrive, not fumbling for the words. Also, practice! Don’t miss an opportunity to raise your glass and give a toast. You’ll get better at it, I promise.
Examples: My Favorite Toasts
I’ll give you my favorite toast. It’s an old Irish toast, and it’s short and very easy to remember. This one funny because the last line is a bit surprising. It also implies that everyone in the room is part of a group, appealing to everyone’s really basic desire to belong. People LOVE this toast.
May those who love us, love us.
If they can’t love us, may God turn their hearts.
If he can’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles [pregnant pause],
So we will know them by their limp!
I have a backup, too – another Irish toast. It’s a bit shorter, so it doesn’t pack quite the punch, but it’s clever and light-hearted. I’ll use it if time is short, or if someone steals “my” toast. Here it is:
May the saddest days of your future,
be no worse than the happiest days of your past!
If you don’t like mine, do some Googling. There are plenty of funny toasts, and plenty of poignant ones, or you can write your own Learning a little toast like this requires almost no effort, however it can really make you look like a hero when you bust it out on demand without warning.
Tell a Joke
You should be able to give a toast…and tell a joke or two. Being able to make someone laugh is a very quick way to build rapport; people like others who can provoke laughter. I’m not a natural joke-teller, but I keep a few on hand and I’ve rehearsed them pretty well. I also never miss a chance to practice – all of my friends have heard these jokes, so they are well-worn when the time comes to tell them to someone new.
There are several types of jokes. I recommend having at least one long, story-format joke, a short joke, and a dirty joke. I love long jokes, maybe because I love the places where they are appropriate. These are venues where time is on your side: campfires, cocktails with friends, parties, etc.
I think having a dirty joke is important, too. Your other jokes should be clean enough to tell in any environment. A dirty joke can help shore up a relationship by showing you aren’t too uptight, and that you understand when telling it is appropriate.
Example: My Favorite Joke
My favorite long, story joke is about a horse. It takes maybe five minutes to tell, but I also have some parts that can come out as needed to shorten it up. Feel free to steal it…or find your own!
A farmer is walking through is fields. He comes across his horse.
“Hey, Horse, how you doing?” he says. Horse replies, and the Farmer notices liquor on the horse’s breath. The Farmer says, “Horse, I think you need to cut back on the drinking.”
Horse replies, “I agree, Farmer. The farm is great – there’s plenty of sun, plenty of rain, sweet grass, and a good barn. The only problem is…well, I’m a little bored. What would you say, Farmer, about buying me a bass guitar? I think it would give me something constructive to do with my time.”
The Farmer thinks about it for a little while, and says, “You know what? You’re a fantastic horse, and that’s a small investment to keep you happy.” So the farmer buys the horse a bass and brings it out to his pasture the next day.
The Horse is elated. The Farmer leaves him to play with his bass. A few days later the Farmer stops back by the pasture to check on the Horse’s progress. Unfortunately the Horse can’t makes heads or tails of the bass guitar.
“Farmer, I hate to ask for anything more, but I really feel like I could use some lessons.” Thinking it couldn’t hurt the Farmer agrees. The next day a music teacher shows up to help the Horse.
A few weeks later the Farmer is back in his fields and hears a bassline coming across the pasture. He walks over and discovers that the Horse has actually gotten quite good with the bass. Not only that but the Horse has also almost stopped drinking completely. As the Farmer is walking away he comes across the Cow.
“Hey, Cow, how are you?”
“I’m well,” responds the Cow. “I love the farm, and I’m loving the music here. And the horse seems healthier and is always in a better mood since he started playing music. Say, Farmer…you wouldn’t be willing to get me a guitar, would you?”
The Farmer says, “you know, a month ago I probably would have said ‘no.’ But it’s done so much good for the horse it’s probably worth it. Sure, Cow, I’ll buy you a guitar!” So the next day the Farmer shows up in the pasture with a guitar. He leaves it with the Cow and checks back a few days later. Predictably the Cow has no clue how to play a guitar.
The story repeats itself. The Cow asks for a music teacher, the Farmer agrees, and a few weeks later the Horse and the Cow are both playing pretty well. The Farmer runs across the Chicken and – you guessed it – the Chicken wants a drum set. The Farmer obliges, chicken needs an instructor, etc. Soon the Horse, the Cow, and the Chicken are all playing really well.
The neighbors begin to hear the music coming across their fields and invite the Horse/Cow/Chicken band to play in their barn, for their daughter’s wedding. It goes swimmingly, and there is a pub owner in attendance at the wedding. He says to the Farmer, “the band is really good – they should play my pub!”
So they do. They play the pub, which leads to bigger and bigger gigs. Pretty soon they are playing sold-out shows. People love the Horse/Cow/Chicken band.
They are playing a mid-sized, regional arena when a promoter walks up to the Farmer. “Farmer,” he says, “your band is amazing! People love this stuff. Let’s go on tour and make some real money.”
The Farmer, being a great farmer, says he’ll have to check with the band. They agree unanimously that, “Yes! We should go on tour!”
So, the band goes on tour. Japan, Australia, France…people go crazy for the band. They are in London, getting ready for the tour’s final shows then the Horse gets a phone call.
“Horse,” he hears on the other end of the line, “I have some bad news. Some horses were being taken to market. There was an accident and well, your mother, father, and your colt are all dead.”
The Horse is devastated. He goes to the Farmer. The Farmer understands and says, “go home and take care of yourself. We’ll get a backup bassist and be fine without you. I’m sorry, Horse.”
So the Horse flies home. As soon as he lands he finds a flurry of messages on his phone from the Farmer. He calls the Farmer who says, “I have some more bad news, Horse. They found the Chicken this morning… He was in the bathtub of his hotel room. There was…a needle in his wing. The Chicken overdosed. I’m sorry.”
The Horse is now even sadder. He feels the first pull back toward a hard drink. With business to attend to he pushes the urge aside. He makes arrangements for his family and steels himself for the funeral. The next day the Horse is getting dressed for the funeral when he gets a phone call from the Farmer.
“Horse…I’m so sorry,” begins the Farmer, his voice cracking. “It’s the Cow. She was so upset by the Chicken’s death – and under so much pressure from the tour, well… The Cow killed herself last night, Horse. We just found her body in her hotel room.”
The Horse thinks about going out for a drink. “No, be strong,” he thinks, and pushes the thought aside.
“I’ll be home soon,” says the Farmer, who is also terribly upset.
The Horse proceeds on with the day, attending his family’s funeral. He goes to bed. The Horse wakes up to a frantic phone call from the Promoter.
“Horse, I hate to have to be the one to tell you this but…” The promoter falters, then carries on. “The Farmer…he was flying home last night and I just got word that his plane crashed into the Atlantic.”
Devastated the Horse hangs up the phone. He realizes that he’s lost everything and everyone. His family is gone, his band is gone. Even the Farmer is gone. The Horse really wants a drink now.
“Screw it,” says the horse. “I’m going to go have a drink.”
So the Horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “why the long face?”
Give a Toast and Tell a Joke
Male or female, young or old, you should be able to give a toast and tell a joke. We all spend a lot of time focusing on how to make ourselves more capable in really unlike scenarios. We should also probably spend at least a few minutes making ourselves better at things that happen all the time, like human interaction.
Being asked to give a toast isn’t super common…but when you are asked don’t find yourself in a flop sweat wondering what to say. Stand up confidently and impress everyone to death. If you don’t know how – or just aren’t great at it – learn to give a toast and tell a joke. You’ll be better off for it!