|Illustration, of course, by Norman Rockwell|
It's also time for a traditional toast. You might think toasting is only called for at a wedding, but why not raise your glass in honor of the 50 other people gathered at your house armed with yams, green bean casserole, and striped Jell-O filled with green grapes? A perfect opportunity to test your mettle as a public speaker, without the stress of 200 eyes on you and a once in a lifetime moment in the balance.
A. Plan It. Prepare for it ahead of time by practicing at home. Let the host know in advance, even a few days in advance, that you'd like to toast the day. Let them announce you. If you're at your house, at least warn your spouse what you're about to do.
B. Full Attention. You may see it on TV, but hitting your glass to call for quiet can lead to a major disaster in real life. Set the dinner up so everyone sits at the same time, or, if you're having it buffet-style, wait until all are seated with their first round. Its OK if a few have started eating, or even left to get seconds. A Toast isn't a prayer, it can happen at any time. Just stand, raise your glass, and say "I'd like to propose a toast". Soon, the group will quiet and start staring at you.
If not, look at the loudest person there, and ask "Uncle Larry, would you help me get everyone's attention? I'd like to prepare a Toast." He'll likely be glad to oblige, and be the center of attention for a moment.
If they still won't listen, sit down and wait for the Tryptophan and alcohol to kick in. Either they'll be docile enough to listen, or you'll be too sleepy/woozy to care.
C. Be Thankful. It's Thanksgiving, after all. You're thankful for your guests, your ability to be with family and friends, and hopefully most of the food. If you're toasting an individual, tell a brief story illustrating why you are toasting them.
D. Beware Humor. Much of what we consider humor today is steeped in sarcasm, back-handed compliments, and public embarrassment. Now is not the time to accidentally, or purposefully, hurt someone's feelings or raise the level of a 20 year feud.
E. Be Short. Most toasts are simply one or two sentences. If you're going over 2-3 minutes, you're likely going much longer than you need to, and needlessly creating antsy guests who are all beginning to think "Okay, already. Shut up!" Not the best mood for a toast.
If it's on honoring toast for a deceased (or soon to be, I suppose), and you're reminiscing a bit, you could stretch it to 4-5 minutes, as long as you're telling an interesting or beloved story. Just don't let it last long enough to be their eulogy.
F. Signal the Drink. Restate who you're toasting after the body of your toast, with a final, closing honor. Lift your glass high, and conclude. "To Aunt Bonnie, and her world famous candied yams!" Take a small sip, and sit down.
Your Toast may lead to other toasts, so set a good example. Don't make it about you, or soon there will be a litany of folks congratulating themselves on their great sales year, weight loss, or new Corvette. (Although, if you're a motivational speaker, this could be a good self-esteem building exercise.)
A Toast should be an honoring, unifying event. And with the mix of in-laws, soon-to-be ex-husbands and wives, and teenage daughters who have brought their tattooed, pierced, leather jacket-wearing boyfriend of the month to dinner, honor and unification is something to be thankful for.