15 Rules for a Memorable Thanksgiving Toast

A few years ago I tried to give a short toast before a Thanksgiving meal and it bombed.

I talked about things my family didn’t care about. I started venting about my flailing career and it got a little awkward. Nothing wrong with complaining a little bit, but during a Thanksgiving toast is not a good time. I vowed never to let it happen again. And it hasn’t since

My last Thanksgiving I gave a more lighthearted speech and it went well. I threw in a surprise for some laughs and I nailed it. Hearing other people laugh at a toast is a joy that is hard to describe.

That’s why you have to let go of your fear and embrace how much it can help other people at the table. I think a really good toast will have more impact than the meal itself. It sets the tone and makes the food taste better.

That’s what we all want from a Thanksgiving meal. Memories that stick with us and makes us look forward to the next one.

Here are 15 most important rules you should follow before your next Thanksgiving meal toast to your family.

1. Know Your Audience

Whether you are speaking to your friends family or your own you can’t present your toast the same way. For instance I went to a friend’s meal when I first moved to Texas. I talked about being grateful for my job, which is nice but the friend that invited me just lost his job.

Very bad timing.

You won’t know details about everyone’s life, but it’s good to ask questions to the people you are visiting with so you have a good idea of what’s going on in their lives. I’m a believer in God, raised Lutheran, but I no longer go to church. I usually pray in my backyard, under my favorite tree. If the people you are with are big believers in God then use terms they understand. Make sure you stay true to yourself and only say things you believe in. People love when you deliver a caring and authentic grace.

2. Cover Key Points

When you give your short toast before a meal I would suggest not winging it. It’s important that you cover your key points.

You should stick to one key point and two supporting ideas around it.

Why does this point matter to you?
What story can you tell to explain your point?

I usually focus on family at Thanksgiving, but you might just want to focus on gratitude.

I actually like to write down my key points because it helps me remember them. I usually just dot them in my journal. When it comes time to give my toast and I cover 70% of what I wanted then I feel satisfied.

I try to not put too much pressure on myself to be perfect. I just want my gratitude to shine through.

3. Feel Grateful

To give a really good toast before a meal you must let gratitude bubble up inside you. If you go into the toast with a “I don’t care” attitude it will be hard to be genuine, which is the most important part of a good toast.

Even if you are having a tough day you can still be grateful for a small list of things. It’s this list that will help improve your mood and bring your “A” game to the meal.

4. Make a Gratitude List

Make a list of the things that you are most grateful for. It’s this list that will guide your Thanksgiving toast.

Here are my top 10 and they always make me feel better no matter how down I feel. I even have an upset stomach today and this short list picked up my spirits.

  1. Building a fort with my oldest son
  2. Playing cars with my youngest son
  3. My wife’s laughter
  4. The ability to take a deep breath
  5. Rainbows
  6. Salamander I found in my backyard.
  7. My coworkers weird laughter that always makes me laugh too
  8. Someone bringing cookies to work
  9. My A/C
  10. Walking my dog

Just writing this list made me forget about my stomach issues. Listing things you are grateful for is really is an amazing tool that can be applied in any situation.

5. Be Playful

Sharing a heartfelt toast at Thanksgiving doesn’t mean it needs to be serious. I try to throw in a joke or two like a couple years ago I told my family I was grateful for karate chops.

Not lying.

They laughed because it caught them off guard.

I felt like being silly and it just popped out.

I watched a Bruce Lee movie earlier that week and I felt grateful for his movies. They energize me.

You can use humor to help lighten the mood and get people trying to add their own jokes to yours. They riffed on their own silly things they like. Someone said cyclops, one handed touchdown catches, and good hair days.

After the meal my cousin made everyone laugh about me liking Karate chops. It was a very playful Thanksgiving.

6. Tell a Short Story

A good story usually grips people the most. It could be a story that is about one family member or a story about how a family member helped you.

I once told a story about how my son helped me stay humble. He was tuning me out because I tend to lecture if I’m not careful.

One afternoon a neighbor came to the door to drop off cupcakes. He handed the cupcakes to my son and he began to walk away. I reminded him to say thank you.

Later that night at dinner I explained the importance of saying thank you. He looked at me and said, “All you say is blah blah blah.”

I was so mad. I sent him to his room. He stormed off crying. I went in to talk with him. He eventually calmed down and came back to dinner. We talked about how he could give me better feedback. He decided that if I lecture too much that he would dangle his fingers in front of his face and make them dance until I stopped lecturing.

His honesty taught me a valuable lesson and I wanted to share that with my family.

7. Show Detailed Gratitude

It’s important that you explain what you are grateful for, but explaining why you are grateful is paramount. It will help your family see the layers behind what it is that makes you feel thankful.

My cousin told me he was grateful for fly fishing. I didn’t even know it was at the top of his list. He explained how it helped him connect with nature and relax him when he felt stressed. His little extra details is what I remembered the most. How he bought his dog with him and once she fell asleep and rolled off of his paddle board into the creek.

As he talked about fly fishing. You could see this calm come over him. His face softened as he talked about catching a small mouth bass.

You can get 7 Days of Gratitude e-course to your inbox. If you read and apply each one you’ll boost your happiness and resilience. The reviews have been great.

8. Be Honest

When you share what’s in your heart then people will recognize this. They feel a pull towards your story.

It’s this pull that you want to leverage to create a memorable toast.

9. Focus on Others

You could focus on how great your life is or you can focus on being grateful for others. In my experience when you are grateful for the people around you it gets the best results.

You might want to focus on one person or everyone around the table. It helps to focus on the people who surround you because it will make them feel good and bring the energy in the room up a notch.

10. Keep it Short

Some of the most impactful speeches are brief. You don’t want to go on and on about how great your life is.

I would suggest keeping it under 2 minutes. By keeping it short you’ll only talk about what truly matters to you.

11. Have a Focused Start

If you have trouble with focus try picking a theme. It could be your family or God or the your life.

You want to pick a person or topic that is most near and dear to your heart. Make sure the theme encompasses what you want to cover.

Once you’re off to a good start you got over the biggest hurdle.

12. End Succinctly

“So then I went to the grocery store and they had my favorite type of bananas. I’ve been buying them from another..”

You don’t want to ramble and trail off. Like any good presentation try to end crisply.

It’s important that you end well. Make sure your final point is your most important.

For example if your about to end you look around the room and show appreciation for the people in the room. Smile at them. I like to look everyone in the eye and do a silent thank you as I go around the room. I think people can feel my gratitude when I do this.

13. Practice Your Toast

Taking a few minutes to practice my talk a couple days before the meal really helps me get an idea of what I want to include in my talk. It also helped with my mood. The more I think about how lucky I am he happier I feel.

I practice in my car. When I’m stuck I traffic the Monday before Thanksgiving I’ll just give my Thanksgiving grace to myself. It makes me feel good to practice because I’m talking about what I’m grateful for and I get to improve my delivery.

14. Pass the Ball

It’s good if you share your gratitude with others, but it’s great to let other people shine. You can pass the ball by asking someone else if they want to speak or if you pass the ball to your left and let everyone talk about what they are grateful for today.

15. Savor the Moment

It’s important you stay true to your values when giving a good Thanksgiving grace. You don’t want to talk about how grateful you are for your brother if he makes fart noises every time you try to have a conversation with him.

You should be honest and appreciative of what matters to you. That’s the stuff people will resonate with.

Remember no grace is perfect. It’s a time to help people see gratitude from your perspective.

Your Turn

What would you add to this list?

Here are a couple example graces you can give at your next Thanksgiving meal:

Extra Help:

Example Prayer

Dear Lord.

I want to thank you for all the people in this room. We are truly blessed. Last week when I was playing cars with Erik and Gavin I felt this warmth come over me. I felt like the luckiest man alive.

And now you bring all these wonderful people together to share this amazing meal before us.

Thank you.

I also want to thank you for farts that make my stomach feel better.

Example Thankful toast

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to be here today. I’m so lucky to have a son who enjoys school and another son that loves playing basketball. Every moment I get to spend with them makes me happy.

Thank you to Nikki (my wife) for making a delicious turkey and stuffing. She always brings 100% to everything she does.

I recently went to the kid’s birthday pizza place with the whole family. I remember telling myself I would never enjoy such a loud, booger and germ infested place. Now I’m able to go and I have a good time running around with them, just acting like a big kid.

I’m already looking forward to next Thanksgiving so I can spend more time with all of you during this great holiday.

You can get 7 Days of Gratitude e-course to your inbox. If you read and apply each one you’ll boost your happiness and resilience. The reviews have been great.