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The Recipe to Crowd-Pleasing Holiday Toasts
by: Michael Varma
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Raise your glasses (the right way) to 2010.
Raise your glasses (the right way) to 2010.

As a professional magician I’m constantly asked, “Can you show me a magic trick?” I smile and consent to conjure up a miracle or two. It’s an occupational hazard. As a Toastmaster I’m constantly faced with requests for similar command performances – for instance, to stand up and “say a few words” at family gatherings, or holiday meals, or to give a toast to the New Year. If you anticipate you’ll share the same fate, remember to be prepared and follow the ABCs of toasting. To begin a well-thought-out toast, consider the following three A’s: audience, agenda and ability:

Audience
Parties and gatherings are a melting pot of ages, genders, relationships, educational levels and ethnicities; all these folks carry high expectations for the host to speak with poise and confidence. Feeling the pressure? Take a deep breath... exhale. Release that mental stress by asking yourself some questions beforehand about the audience you’ll be speaking to that evening. Answer those questions and your anxieties will vanish as fear of the unknown dissolves, especially when you stress the positive.

For example, you might ask, “What is the age range of this audience?” Answer: 20 to 40-year-olds. So you say to yourself, “Yeah, no kids!” Or you ask, “What’s my relationship to the people here tonight?” Answer: They’re friends and family. So you say to yourself, “Great – no co-workers or boss!”

The more you know about your audience, the easier it is to create the appropriate content for your toast.

Agenda
Toasts are most engaging when three primary elements are clearly defined: Why are we celebrating? Who are we honoring? And what is the point you as the toaster want to make? Knowing what you want to say keeps you calm, even while standing in front of a party of people with all eyes focused on you.


Ability

Whether you’re an executive used to talking to a crowd or just starting out, be sure to evaluate your skill level. Some people get very nervous when they have to talk in front of a group. Even seasoned speakers frequently talk too fast, causing spectators to ask their neighbor, “What did he say?” By honing in on your skills through practice, you can build the experience and self-confidence necessary to communicate effectively.

Be Brief
Two minutes is a terrific target time for a tasteful toast. Keep your remarks short and simple and your toast will have a greater effect. If you hit five minutes, the snore bore alarm will begin to sound.

Be Bold
Enunciate clearly and project your voice to the back of the room to ensure everyone can hear your words. Display poise and confidence.

Be Done
When finished, sit down. Avoid the urge to take a bow or return for an encore performance

Communicate
Your first remarks before the midnight hour will slow the hands of time, and party participants will gather round for a message of inspiration. A short joke will bring laughs followed by a few seconds of silence. These golden ticks of the clock are when people will look to you for your next witty comment – it’s human nature. In this pivotal moment you control the room and set the mood. Say something pithy and spirits remain light; say something serious and people become reflective. Take advantage of this precious time and use it wisely. Know what you want to say before you say it.

Commemorate
The New Year means a fresh start for many people. It’s a time to remember the past before stepping into the future. It’s also a time to acknowledge the struggles you’ve encountered and obstacles you’ve overcome. Place your thoughts on paper and you will be poised with words that honor the sacrifices and commemorate the victories.

Celebrate
When both hands of the clock point to 12, you can celebrate the fact that everyone’s goals will be established and resolutions made. Give a toast to motivate listeners to be better in their personal and professional endeavors and to face the future with confidence. Raise your glass to celebrate the achievements to come.

Merely reading this article will not make you an expert or smooth-talking toasting machine, but it will start you on the right path. Similarly, I can read how to perform a magic trick but it requires practice until polished to a quality performance level – that’s no illusion. Make a resolution to follow the three ABCs of toasting and practice in front of friends or family, and your audience will cheer as you bring in the New Year.


Michael Varma is a freelance writer, professional magician for more than 20 years, and an award-winning distinguished Toastmaster and knows what it takes to entertain an audience. Varma is a published author of educational puzzle books and games and frequently performs at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif.
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