Picture this: you're at your dear friend's rehearsal dinner, drink in hand, meal finished off, waiting for dessert. Surrounding you are some of your best friends from college--the girl who you would always turn to when you had a broken heart, the guy with whom you made out with once and managed to stay friends, your senior year roommates. You're relaxed, a little tipsy, and having a blast. The best man stands up and starts saying something, but you're not really paying attention--he has a tendency to be long-winded, you figure you'll pick it up in the middle. Suddenly the friend to your left--the one who would always make you ask the teacher for a group assignment extension or select you to tell your poor friend that her boyfriend wasn't as faithful as she thought--is nudging you insistently. "You have to go up!" she is saying. You roll your eyes, wondering if she's confused you with the maid of honor. I don't think so, my friend. You've been toast-bombed.
When a wedding role is offered, typically the rules of bridal and grooms' parties apply--the maid of honor and the best man give the speeches at the reception. Beyond that, brides and grooms will dictate beforehand what, if any, responsibilities are due to their lucky friends. However, there is one crucial moment many wedding attendants fail to prepare for--the open ended invite to give toasts to their friends.
Sometimes this can occur at the reception, in which case the pressure tends to be much less severe, the alcohol is flowing much more freely, and the number of guests who will actually be focused on what a person is saying after the three primary speeches (best man, maid of honor, father) drops about 95%. But when it occurs at the rehearsal dinner, one of the members of each sides' wedding party had better be prepared to suck it up and take one for the team. Otherwise, you'll have the awkward situation I witnessed at one rehearsal dinner (I wasn't a friend of the bride--I was there as a date of the groom's friend) where the best man invited the bride's side to say a kind word about her and was greeted with silence and a bunch of embarrassed faces. To which he then uttered the classy, situation-saving phrase "I guess her friends don't like her that much!" Awkward on every level possible.
So what to do if you're on the spot and surrounded by a wedding party who hates the spotlight? First of all, if no one is saying anything for your friend, I vote that you say something--anything--on his or her behalf. Even if it's a bunch of jibberish, they will love you for standing up for them, and while they may not remember what was said, or even the actual act of saying it, it's better than them remembering the moment forever with embarrassment.
Second, if you have a minute or two (it's best if someone goes ahead of you), follow these four steps:
1. Pull out one memory you have of the friend. Bonus points if it involves other people at the rehearsal dinner. Extra credit if it involves the fiance! Summarize it in your head within four sentences.
2. Explain how that memory best represents your friend in your mind (hopefully it's a positive spin and not "this is why she can never keep a job").
3. Bring in the finace by describing how he or she helps bring out that side or compliments it.
4. Close it up by expressing your happiness the couple found each other.
Want to see it in action? Take a look at Sally giving a speech at Brynn and Brad's wedding.
"Hi everyone. I'm Sally Smith, an college roommate of Brynn's. One of my favorite memories of Brynn was when we pranked the guys next door by stealing all of their furniture during a party they had. None of them even noticed it was happening until we were walking out with their last sofa cushion. Little did we know who we were dealing with when the next morning we woke up to our entire dining room set placed upside down outside the entrance to our apartment complex. Luckily, not only was the prank war just getting started, but a relationship was too. One of the guys we pranked was Brad. And that night, not only did Brynn find someone with a love of jokes and pranks rivaling hers, but our friends finally found someone who could keep up with the girl whose sense of humor we loved so much. Brad, we couldn't be happier to be welcoming you to our circle of friends. But we warn you, watch out for your living room table. Cheers!"
Keep it to one memory and make sure you make a point to welcome the bride or groom into your circle, and you're golden. And if you don't have time to pull together a story, a compliment, or even your dignity, stand up, tell the couple you're happy they found each other, and raise your glass. Hopefully when it's your turn at the head table, your friends will return the favor. Bottoms up!
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