Wedding Speeches 101: A guide to writing and delivering a great Wedding Toast

As a natural go-getter, I like to be prepared for things that come my way. But as I get older and more mature in life, I’ve come to learn that there are some things (read: most things) where you won’t be prepared for something you encounter, and you’ll have to find a way to learn it on the fly. For me, one of those things I had to learn was how to deliver a wedding toast/speech.

Over the past year, I’ve been fortunate to be asked to deliver two separate toasts/speeches at weddings for my friends Charlie and James. While both environments were a bit different, the process for which I wrote my speech and the guidelines I followed were the same.

As a consultant, when I have to do something I’ve never done, I tend to gravitate towards processes and approaches that have worked in the past to spur my thinking before developing my own approach. When I started writing my first speech last year I realized how difficult it was for me to start because I didn’t find a ton of other frameworks available. I wanted to share what I’ve developed in hopes that it helps those out there who like to do something similar. While everyone is truly different, and this is certainly not perfect, my hope is that gives you a good starting point for which you can tailor to fit your needs.

The Writing Process

Step 1: Write out EVERYTHING. By Everything, I really mean everything! Sentence fragments, adjectives, real sentences, superlatives, whatever. Brain dump all of your thoughts about the individual onto pen/paper

Step 2: When you think you are done, try to organize your thoughts into a list or some form of bullets, and start reading through the list to see what you like or don’t like. Consider also trying to look for themes/groupings of your thoughts. Here are things to consider adding to your list:

– Stories about the bride/groom from any shared experiences you have

– Direct quotes that you can remember

– Lessons or things they have taught you

– Stories about how they met, or first impressions when you met the bride or groom

– Things the bride/groom has taught you and/or others

– Analogies, metaphors or examples that explain/articulate the bride/groom

– Compliments for the bride/groom

– How bride/groom has positively influenced you and others

Step 3: After reading through and grouping, try coming up with 2–3 key themes that you want to focus on in your speech. Feel free to also start eliminating things that you don’t think make sense or don’t seem to fit with those themes

Step 4: Start writing. Whether it’s in sentence/paragraph form or just done by key bullet points. Don’t worry about erasing, editing, heck, try not to even use the backspace bar. Don’t worry if it’s too long or not coherent enough as you’ll have time to edit later on. In both cases, I’ve actually had more success writing the body of the speech first before going to the introduction and conclusion. Finally, I like to write mine out in paragraph form because it meshes well with my speaking style. Try to determine which is best for you, and go with that approach

Step 5: Once you get a working draft, start by practicing it out loud, and hearing how things sound. From there, you can go back and take out things that don’t sound right or add things that sound better.

Step 6: Once you get a good draft, get some feedback — I recommend going to someone who knows you and also knows the groom/bride. I would be as specific as you can in the type of feedback (ex: does the content make sense, or does the flow make sense) but give them leeway to deliver their thoughts. You want to give them a bit of focus but don’t lead the witness too much. Finally, I don’t recommend going more than 2–3 people of feedback or it will just turn into a never-ending game of revisions.

Step 7: Practice! Practice the material in a manner that is best suited for you. It may mean reading the speech verbatim, it may mean remember certain parts/quotes — people learn and practice differently so you’ll need to think about what is best for you. At the very least, practicing will ensure that the first time you read it will not be when you have to do it in front of a live audience.

Parting Tips:

It’s Not About You — The day is about the bride and groom first and foremost. I say this because a number of my first drafts I tried to include a lot about my relationship and it quickly became the “Al show” which is not the purpose. If you’re ever in doubt, just remember what the focus is supposed to be on.

Use some self awareness — You know yourself better than anyone else, so dig into that self-awareness muscle and put it to use. Do you operate best when you ad-lib? Consider coming up with a skeleton speech but leave in blank spots so you can think on the fly. Are you a mess without notecards or a written speech? Take the time to write one out and don’t feel guilty for reading your notes. Are you more at ease when you know everything that you’re going to say? Practice in advance! Everyone is different, so find the approach that works best for you.

Develop a style — Just like authors and writers have their own unique writing style, you too will have a style when you deliver your toast. Take time to develop an idea about how you want your speech to be remembered — if you need help figuring out your style think of 3 adjectives you want others to remember you as. Personally, I strive for a blend of inspirational, genuine, and gratefulness, and make sure that the words, stories, body language and non-verbal cues I use convey that.

The Friend/Gramdma Test — When you are 75–80% there I recommend asking for feedback, and getting it from two perspectives, known as the “Friend Test” and “Grandma Test.” First, ask a friend for feedback, who knows the bride/groom well, and get their feedback to the question “Is what I am saying going to resonate with the bride/groom?” Second, ask someone for feedback with regards to the “Grandma test.” For this, ask someone who your trust and get their feedback to the following question; “Is what I am saying going to resonate with someone’s Grandma in the audience?” If you get feedback that passes both of those tests, you’re going to have something that resonates with a wide spectrum of the audience.

Be Who You Are — How you say it is just important as what you say. Said differently, if you speak in a manner that is consistent with who you are, it’s going to make whatever you say that much better. For instance, I’m not a funny person by nature, but people still managed to laugh at things that I said in both speeches. This goes for being sentimental, thoughtful, and anything else. You will be all of those things not because you try to be, but because when you speak in an authentic and genuine voice the words will ring true, and that will resonate with those emotions inside the audiences’ head and heart.

Making Fun of Others — It’s perfectly fine to rib or make fun of the bride/groom, but remember, the majority of the audience won’t have context because they either A) don’t know them or B) don’t know you (or both) If you are going to make fun of someone, try to make it in a way that everyone understands

Understand Storytelling — If there is a way to tie together the start and the finish that really helps conclude your speech and nicely weaves together a coherent story and jabs the listener at the end in a way that makes them go “aha!” It seems small and silly, but people latch on to things like that and it sticks with them. If you need help understanding basic elements of storytelling, I recommend Durate’s book on storytelling as a great starting point.

Everyone gets nervous, but remember this is familiar –Talking about something or someone that you know really well is probably much easier than talking about someone or something you do not know well at all. Remember, you know this topic pretty well! Sure, we all will get nervous, but remember this is not something foreign, but rather, something very familiar.

This is a special day, in which people are already feeling excited and happy. Whatever you say is going to fuel that excitement and happiness. It’s like if you were running a marathon, and everyone else started at mile 1 and you started at mile 10. Instead of having to run 26.2 miles, you only have to run 16.2

Lastly, It’s an honor and a privilege to be asked by someone to deliver a speech so make sure to enjoy it. When in doubt, smile, show gratitude, laugh, and have fun with it! With a little planning, practice, and self-reflection, you’re going to deliver a toast that will serve as a thoughtful and meaningful contribution to a very special celebration.

Getting up to speed on diversity and inclusion

If you live in the Bay Area, it’s hard not to open your Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook feed and see another article or story about tech companies and diversity and inclusion. And while there are many well-documented struggles and frustrating stories, there are positive ones, such as the work of Freada Kapor Klein, tech leaders who take a stand for diversity, and s the work Paradigm is doing with other tech companies to name a few. There’s also been a number of VCs who have done their part, especially in helping newly formed companies start off on the right foot. For instance, Hunter and Satya over at Homebrew posted a great primer on how to get up to speed on diversity, with a focus aimed at early stage startup founders .

While not everyone is in a position to enact sweeping changes with how their organizations create diverse and inclusive workforce, many of us have the opportunity to learn and engage on the issue. Admittedly, I did not know enough about these issues until a few years ago when I was at a networking event and an officer from a diversity organization pulled me aside and educated me on some of the issues that Asian-Americans face in the workplace, particularly in rising to the ranks of senior leadership positions within organizations.

As the son of two immigrant parents, an aspiring future leader, and someone with the privilege of being highly educated, it humbled me that I could be so ignorant to such an important issue that was so critical to my own life, but more importantly, to people around me that I cared about. Since then, I’ve tried to not only educate myself on the issues, but move progress forward in creating diverse and inclusive organizations that I’m a part of while helping others become as educated as possible on this issue.

Because the United States continues to become more and more diverse, and because of the diversity challenges that tech companies (see most companies) have faced, the topic of diversity has become front and center. There has been an increased attention and coverage around these issues which has led to some signs of progress for some organizations. The reality is that there is still much work to be done, and it’s a great step to hire a Chief Diversity Officer or revamp your hiring practices, if we really want to see meaningful and impactful change there needs to be more support and action from all of us.

So, if you’re interested in learning about the issues, getting involved, and making an impact, what can you do, and how can you start?

First and foremost, if you want to get great content on key issues start listening to the conversation, especially for people like Tristan Walker, Erica Joy, Carissa Romero, Candice Morgan, Leslie Morgan, Hunter Walk, and Joelle Emerson. I started doing this and my Twitter feed (shoutout to Nuzzel, which aggregates that top stories in your feed) started giving me way more content on these topics than ever before.

Second, check out some of the articles below. I’ve categorized them by topic type, and it should get you up to speed on a variety of issues, first-person stories about the struggles and challenges, ongoing initiatives, best practices, and data and research.

Third, there are some great organizations who are trying to tackle various issues around diversity and inclusion as it pertains to the workforce. The main causes and objectives differ, but they are worth checking out to see if there are any that directly align with your mission or values. Consider supporting them if that’s the case.

Code 2040

Black Girls Code

Dev/Color

Consortium For Graduate School Management

Forte Foundation

Ellevate Network

Girls who code

Last but least, take action. Hunter and Satya’s post outlines some things you can do. For those who are managers, leaders, or HR professionals, Google actually released a ton of free content on some of their HR practices which includes some of their work on diversity issues. These are small things we all can do our part to be educated and aware of the issues and challenges.

Finally, my list of people working on this issue is not nearly exhaustive, nor is my knowledge of resources and research so please feel free to share other pertinent information.

As an eternal optimist, I’m hopeful that change will happen. And while it requires a top down, bottom up and middle out approach, there’s no reason we can’t take it upon ourselves to learn about the issues, be allies, and do our part to enact positive change.

Data and Research on Diversity

First Person Stories

Recruiting

Unconscious Bias

 

 

Best Practices

 

 

 

Ongoing Initiatives

Paying it forward and opening new doors

9 years ago in the fall of 2007 I took Professor John Gallaugher’s Computer’s in Management Class. During the class, we learned about key concepts such as network effects, Moore’s Law, and supply chain integration, and covered innovative technologies being used by companies like Netflix, Zara, and Amazon. John was light years ahead of his time, and has since authored one of the best textbooks that covers’ disruptive and innovative technologies and case studies on companies that leverage them.

Anyone who knows my background knows I wasn’t the best student. While I loved to learn and took school seriously, I was deeply immersed in my various extracurricular pursuits, such as student government, service trips, and athletics. However, I was fortunate enough to sit in Computers in Management for long enough to realize that technology was going to play an important role in business in the future and that it was something I should pay attention to. As a result, I started studying concepts like social networks and digital technology and stumbled across Twitter in 2007 and LinkedIn shortly thereafter. Seeing the power of these social networks (as well as just being a college student with a Facebook account) showed me that these things had the potential to forever change society and business, but if it weren’t for Professor Gallaugher’s enthusiasm and excitement behind his teaching I probably wouldn’t have looked twice.

 

Eventually, I decided that my interest in solving problems, working on teams, and gaining diverse experiences was perfect for consulting but it was John’s class that pushed me towards a career in technology. I was fortunate that there happened to be a company (Deloitte) on campus recruiting for technology consultants, and after successfully navigating the recruiting process I would land an offer.

I was fortunate at the time to have multiple job offers, so before accepting my job at Deloitte I remember going to Professor Gallaugher’s office and asking him for advice on which job to choose. Regardless of the jobs I chose one of the biggest concerns I had was taking a job where I wouldn’t exactly know what to do. I remember John laughing at my question and telling me that I had what it took to figure it out, and in due time I absolutely would figure it out. He then went on to tell me a story about during one of his first jobs, he went out to a business dinner only to realize he had no idea how to order wine. Embarrassed, he went home and learned what to order so the next time he knew what to select.

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It’s a silly story but his message at the time which I still think about to this day is that it’s not about being an expert or knowing everything but being open to learning and being comfortable with not always having the answer but confident enough to go and find it. As a consultant, I like to say that part of my job is to be a professional learner. As someone who is still fairly junior in his career, my clients and my firm don’t pay me because I have every single answer to every single business problem, but rather, because I have the knowledge, resources and insights on how to learn what I can to solve anything that comes my way. Yes – there are still plenty of times at work when something is thrown my way that makes me a little uncomfortable, mostly due to the fact that it’s new, or not in my wheelhouse. But in those moments, I try to think back to the lesson Professor Gallaugher told me about ordering wine and focus on my confidence in my abilities to learn on the fly, be resourceful and use my brain to figure out what I need to get things done. Five years into this and I haven’t gotten throw out so I think it’s going OK!

 

Last week, I had the privilege to host Professor Gallaugher’s TechTrek class. Each Spring Break, he takes 24 students to tour some of the top tech companies on the west coast so students can learn about exciting developments in the technology industry and what a career at a company might be like. Instead of learning about how technology was impacting business as a student, I was at the front teaching students about this same concept from my own experience advising clients on this same topic, and to really come full-circle, delivering the lecture was almost the exact same way I learned from John 9 years ago. It was a very fulfilling and gratifying moment to know how far I had come, but also to have the opportunity to pass along my experience and thoughts to a group of incredibly intelligent, hard-working and motivated students who will one day start their own careers in tech. I’d like to think I was just as smart, intelligent and motivated as these students were, but I’m smart enough to know that is wishful thinking J

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Towards the end of the presentation, myself and my colleague Julio, a fellow Boston College graduate, had the chance to share some  advice to the students about things that would help them achieve their career goals. You can read about some of the lessons I talked about here, but one of the ones I thought was most important was about “Learning how to learn.” If you can learn how to learn, that skill will be valuable to the rest of your career and your life. For example, learning how to enjoy the process of learning, and learning how to adopt a growth mindset so you can continuously learn new concepts, skills, and ideas will open up opportunities that you may not envision for yourself.

It’s also a microcosm with some of the underpinnings of the advances of technology and innovation today. In today’s day and age, new innovation comes quicker and faster and with more impact. There are so many more tools and resources which make it almost impossible to know everything, and by the time you learn something it seems like there’s another product out that’s one version better. The people and organizations that thrive in this environment will be the companies who learn how to continuously learn, adapt and evolve over time. Or, to be consistent with the theme here, the ones who go from not knowing how to order off a wine to the ones who know how to pair a wine with a steak dinner.

One of the last but perhaps other most important lessons I talked about was keeping the door open and making it your mission to open new doors for others. When I graduated in 2010, there were only a handful of people who I graduated with from BC who went to work in tech. Now, Information Systems is one of the most popular concentrations in the Business School and companies ranging from startups to Google regularly take BC students. In fact, the top employer last year at BC was a software company. Long before today, John, and the other Professors at BC and a handful of alums were championing technology and doing whatever they could to help students launch careers in tech. Their efforts and tireless energy are the driving force for helping launch hundreds of BC students’ careers in tech – The doors they opened are why people like me have careers today, and knowing that makes me incredibly grateful for where I am, and motivates me to do whatever I can to open doors for others. Whether it’s a presentation to a group of students, a coffee chat, returned e-mail or networking request, I’m humbled and proud to open doors, because there have been so many that have been opened for me.