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What’s the deal with toasting, anyway?

A toast is a drink raised in the health or honour of someone. Such salutes are typically accompanied by some heartfelt words or tokens of advice. Toasts are a common component of social gatherings, including retirement parties, milestone birthdays and weddings.

Toast of the town

It’s difficult to pinpoint who originated the practice of toasting. Several ancient societies would raise a glass in honour of deities or special guests. Ancient Greeks offered libations to the gods as a part of ritualistic practices and also as a point to drink to each other’s good health. Ancient Romans at one point instituted a practice that all people must drink to Emperor Augustus at each meal.

The term “toast” has an interesting history. Dating back to the 16th century, “toast” refers to a piece of toasted bread. A piece of toast was commonly added to wine during this time because wine was quite inferior in quality then compared to modern vintages. Stale bread was placed into the jug to soak up acidity and improve the flavour. The wine also improved the palatability of the old or spiced bread. According to National Geographic magazine, by the 18th century, the term “toast” had been transferred from the floating piece of bread to the person honoured by the toast. Eventually, “toast” represented the drink raised or the words offered with the gesture.

Preparing for a toast

Toasts can be off-the-cuff remarks shared in the moment, but for many special events, they should be prepared well in advance. Nowadays, some toast-givers devote extra time to preparing toasts, particularly because they know these sentiments can live on indefinitely on social media. Giving a toast can induce anxiety, but some nerves can be relieved simply by doing one’s homework and not procrastinating.

Writing tips

A person giving a toast is trying to gain the attention of a group of people who may not be very attentive. These tips can improve the content of the toasts and their delivery.

Keep yourself out of it

This toast is not about you. It’s about the people you are honouring. Therefore, do not make any self-congratulatory messages. Make it all about them. Obviously, it should be personalized, but you can put yourself into the toast without it being about you.

The hook

Open the toast with a good joke or anecdote which can break the tension that the person giving the toast may feel by getting a laugh right off the bat.

Keep it short

This is a toast, not a monologue. Be brief so that the audience doesn’t lose interest. Set a five-minute limit.

Wrap it up

Conclude the toast by tying the story back to the introduction and making sure to include the audience once more. This will help you get the biggest laughs and applause.