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What does it take to be a toastmaster?

With the wedding season in full flow, we asked wedding toastmaster and master of ceremonies John Driscoll about his role


What does a toastmaster do?

Perhaps the first thing to clear up is the difference between a wedding toastmaster and a master of ceremonies (MC) as many people wrongly assume I just turn up in a red tailcoat and make a few announcements on the day.

An MC often acts as a host for a special evening, such as a charity event and is not unlike a compere, complete with a dash of humour, as well as overseeing money-making moments such as an auction.

A wedding toastmaster is more concerned with the meticulous planning, overall etiquette and ensuring that everything a couple wish to happen, actually happens on their big day.

How did you become a toastmaster?

I fell into the role by accident, five years ago.

Having had a background in nurse education, and being used to public speaking, I was approached by a family member to act as a toastmaster for their wedding.

Researching what this entailed (good old Google!) revealed a number of training opportunities and I took a four-day intensive programme. I now belong to the British Toastmaster Circle for my ongoing development.

What do you enjoy about the role?

It really is an honour and a privilege to be asked to officiate at what is a really momentous occasion in the life of a couple and their families. In this respect, a professional wedding toastmaster needs to be passionate about their role. I say to all my couples that I am there to carry their ‘worry bag’, freeing them up to really enjoy the day with family and friends.

That ‘worry bag’ can sometimes become quite heavy at our first meeting but I encourage discussion about their fears and concerns. What I enjoy most is the feeling that in most cases the couple will have themselves designed ‘the day of their dreams’ and for me to support that delivery along with all the other suppliers that contribute to the day.

I also have to have a ‘plan B’ should timings begin to go awry and carry every conceivable item that might be needed on the day in the boot of my car! This can range from sewing threads, buttonhole pins, cleaning agents for spills, to spare cufflinks and pocket tissues.

A professional wedding toastmaster always has to be prepared for the unexpected! But the most enjoyable aspect is the reaction of the couple on a job well done as I make that first dance announcement (my last announcement), inviting the pair onto the floor together for their first dance as a married couple.

What’s the strangest request or situation you’ve ever had as a toastmaster?

One of the trickiest situations I once faced was immediately prior to the entrance of the bride and groom into the room, was to threaten to remove the groom’s mother from the top table who had become abusive to the bride’s parents.

Diplomacy is always part of the professional toastmaster’s repertoire and needing to work in a sensitive but firm manner when issues arise that threaten to spoil the day, particularly with estranged family members and when alcohol is flowing freely.

Other situations to deal with were not letting an aunt contribute with an impromptu speech at the couple’s request, and ensuring a groom had a photograph with a very large eagle (and not spoiling his suit) during a falconry display on the lawns of the venue.

And what’s the best thing about the job?

It doesn’t matter how experienced a toastmaster is, every wedding is unique. I still have an adrenaline rush and suffer inwardly with nerves on the arrival of the happy couple and worry excessively about fluffing my lines as there are so many ways to introduce couples, and not always Mr and Mrs, particularly in same sex marriages. But that uniqueness keeps my toastmaster role fresh and ensures I cannot be complacent.

I always get a lump in my throat when the couple look at each other, so much in love, when reciting their vows. I suppose I simply love being surrounded by love on the day.

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