Give a Great Toast for the Holiday

During this holiday season, most of us face the prospect of attending parties, family gatherings, New Year's celebrations and yet another year of social events. These events often have a ritualistic quality to them--standard gifts, predictable conversations, and well-meant goodbyes. But did we do anything to make these occasions more inspiring? Often the answer is "no."

I was at one such event this year--a business luncheon--and as we were putting on our coats to leave a colleague came up to me, glass in hand, and said, "We are on top of the world! Do we realize just how fortunate we are? We live in a country that is one of the best in the world; we are thriving as a company that has had a year of extraordinary growth; and we have the privilege of knowing and working with each other." I thought, too bad he didn't deliver that short speech to the would have been inspiring.

This year, raise a glass and speak up to offer a toast. You will create a memorable moment for those in the room and a center-stage opportunity for yourself. Just follow these five steps.

1. Seize the Moment

A toast or tribute is best done when a group of people has finished a meal or is at a crucial moment in an evening--for example, at the "witching hour" on New Year's Eve. Don't speak until you have the full attention of the room. Silence the chatter and draw all eyes to you by clicking your water glass with a knife, clearing your throat, or standing up.

The biggest challenge is to be brave enough to speak up at this critical time.

2. Begin with a Grabber

Your opening should draw everyone in. One of the best ways to do this is to refer to the people in the room. You might begin with the words "All of us are here today for our annual holiday dinner." Or if it's New Year's Eve, you might begin: "We have come together this evening to celebrate a year that holds great promise for us all." In other words, the opening should be an inclusive statement about the people gathered together.

3. Move to Your Message

The next and most important part of your remarks is your message. This should be an inspiring idea you want to leave your audience with. Capture it in one sentence, and it will be more memorable.

Let's say it's a holiday gathering and you are toasting the hostess. You might say: "If there is one person in this room who has brought us together, it's our Mom." Or a New Year's message might be: "As we look ahead to 2016, let's focus on all the ways we can make this world a better place."

4. Structure Your Script

Your message gives shape to your talk, so find three to five points to prove it. If it's the tribute to Mom, tell those gathered at dinner all the things she did to bring the family together and make this year's event so meaningful. If it's the New Year's toast, you might tell the audience that "there are many ways we can make the world a better place this coming year." Then go on to show that "we can take more time to love those around us ... those who are different from us... those who are coming to our country from afar .... and those we will never meet. Take time to love the world in all its diversity."

5. Close with a Call to Action

The end of a brief toast or tribute involves a call to action. Having shared your message with your audience, ask them to raise a glass of wine or champagne in honor of the host or hostess, or as a tribute to the New Year. And conclude with a statement about the future, such as: "We look forward to being together again next year." Or: "The world will be a better place if we all see it as one."

These five steps will enable you to offer an eloquent toast on any occasion, and ensure that you are appreciated for having had the courage to stand up and express what others may have thought....but only you put into words.