If you have occasion to give a wedding toast this season, you might want to leave out the story about the time you, the groom and the rest of the guys got wasted at that strip club.
As spring brides begin to walk down the aisle, best men, maids of honor and other wedding guests across the nation are busy penning good-luck speeches. But as weddings continue to become less formal and more festive, it seems that some speechmakers are forgetting the difference between the reception and the bachelor party.
"Stay away from past relationships and really wild spring breaks," recommends Sharon Naylor, author of "Your Special Wedding Toast." (search) "Don't say, 'We never thought he'd settle down because he's such a hound.'"
Although experts warn against trying too hard to be funny, bringing up old flames and making off-color remarks, TV producer Joe Long loved it when his buddies broke all the rules at his nuptials.
After setting the tone by entering the reception with "Rat Pack" music playing in the background, three of Long's friends proceeded to take turns covering his entire life story from childhood through his early professional life, talking about all the women he had dated and even telling how they urged him to give up on his wife-to-be, Denise.
"All three talked about different things. All focused on the women in my life. One talked about how when he met Denise he tried to convince me not to be with her," he said.
Long, 36, described the speeches as "neat and different and pretty funny." But not everyone at the family event was pleased.
"My father-in-law wasn't happy," he said. "But Denise thought it was funny. She knew that there were times that they told me to move on already."
Etiquette expert Elizabeth Howell (search) said making speeches in honor of the bride and groom is a sweet practice that nonetheless often goes awry.
"The toast is one of those very nice traditions that we've maintained," said Howell, of the Emily Post Institute (search). "If anything's changed it may have changed for the worse, in that people are trying to turn it into a comedy hour."
Naylor recommends that toast-givers plan a blend of funny quips and heartfelt sentiment — but warns that the problem with humor is that everybody has a different sense of it.
"Some people have a very dry, cutting wit, or tell off-color jokes. You're gonna offend everyone [with that]," she said. "A good speech will delight everyone in the room."
Although a few laughs can liven up a staid wedding speech, Howell said if being funny doesn't come naturally to you, don't try it on a couple's big day.
"Go with the sentiment. It's not like a wedding has to be a humorous occasion. It's romantic. It's exciting. No need to try to make it the entertainment of the reception," she said.
Toast-makers should also remember that the spotlight is on the bride and groom, not the speaker.
"It's about the wedding, not about when you were six," Howell added.
Lesley Carlin, co-author of "Things You Need to Be Told: A Handbook for Polite Behavior in a Tacky, Rude World!" (search) said the toast her brother-in-law gave at their wedding is the perfect example of how to do it.
"It was great – a little bit funny and little bit sentimental. He touched on family, my grandparents, where we met," she said. "He wasn't trying to go out and be super stand-up comic guy."
But Long said that with so much focus on the beautiful bride, the toast is the one part of the event that's more for the groom and his pals.
"I don't really think there is such a thing as an inappropriate speech – anything goes. Everybody there at the wedding is really for the bride – most people know that. A lot of people don't even know who the groom is. It's nice to get a little insight into who he and his friends are."
Carlin, however, is adamant that "anything" certainly does not go.
"You want to make it nice for the groom," she said. "You don't want to go all out and embarrass him."