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Special Guest Post: Alison Rosen Tells a Tale of Public Speaking

By Alison Rosen

I’m one of those weirdos who actually enjoys public speaking, so I was surprised, early this summer, when the thought of giving a toast at my sister’s wedding began to fill me with dread. It wasn’t so much that I had to stand up in front of people and talk—I’ve been doing variations of that sort of thing on TV, on the radio, on podcasts, in front of strangers, in front of stranger’s pets, for years—it’s that I wasn’t sure what to say.

My sister is younger than I am and early on I decided I’d talk about how I had a good run being the older sister, but somehow the tables had turned and I found myself looking up to her and learning from her. Specifically what she taught me was how to find and recognize a soul mate.

But as the wedding grew closer I began to fear my toast was cliché and predictable. “I bet every older sister gives this toast!” I whined to a friend who’d stopped listening. You see, I didn’t just want to give a good toast. I wanted to give The Best Toast Ever Delivered In The History of Sisters Giving Toasts at Weddings. Plus, to my dismay, I learned at the rehearsal dinner that my sister’s and her husband’s school and work friends had a cornucopia of day-to-day anecdotes to draw on. How was I to compete with stories of my sister improvising a bumblebee Halloween costume while abroad in Italy, or her and her husband’s shared love of the zoo? I didn’t know they loved the zoo. I assumed they were merely lukewarm on the zoo. I was a fraud.

I slept the uncomfortable sleep of someone who hates her toast and woke up unrefreshed but so pressed for time that I couldn’t write a new one. This was probably for the best since—and this is something I’ve learned, which you should be aware of too if you are giving a speech—as the big moment gets closer you will begin to doubt everything, and ideas which normally you would laugh off will suddenly seem good, and vice versa. If you’re like most people, there’s a tiny saboteur in your brain who will become louder as you become more nervous. Your task is to ignore this jerk and trust the material you prepared.

I ended up giving the toast that felt the most honest to me—about what I’d learned from my younger sister—and it went well and everyone cried. Despite my fears about it being trite, I realized, ultimately, it didn’t really matter whether people had heard similar speeches before, because all good wedding toasts are variations on a theme. The most important thing is that the words and sentiment were genuine and heartfelt, which they were. Plus, if all things go as planned, this is the only time I’ll be toasting my younger sister’s wedding. If not though, I’m definitely working in bees and zoos.