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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: Can I refuse to give a wedding toast if I am too shy?

I've already tried to get out of it, but the groom insists. Is there a polite way to decline and still maintain the friendship?

Ani Castillo

Dear Ellen,

I’m going to a close friend’s wedding in June and he wants me to give the toast to the bride. I told him I have severe stage fright but he insists. Is there a polite way to get out of it, and still stay friends with him and his wife to be?

Thanks, Mr. Terrified

Dear Mr. Terrified,

You are in good company. According to the Internet, singers Lorde and Adele have both been known to throw up before going on stage. British actor Stephen Fry got so scared about performing in a play in London’s West End in 1995 that he fled the country and ended up in Bruges, Belgium. He needed 17 years before he was ready to get back onstage. Another British acting god, Laurence Olivier fought off paralyzing stage fright by standing backstage and furiously addressing the audience as “you bastards!”

I’m sure your stage fright is just as real as theirs, but there’s no need to repeat such behaviours. If your stage fright is bad enough to make you vomit, want to flee the country or erupt in profanities, then the polite thing to do is tell your friend you can’t toast the bride for medical reasons — and then produce a doctor’s note. Seriously, if you’re that incapacitated, it wouldn’t hurt to see someone and talk about it.

But if it’s just normal performance anxiety, which most human beings have in one form or another, then you have to swallow your pride and do it anyway.

It doesn’t matter if you’re tongue-tied, awkward and bound to make a fool of yourself. People love that kind of disastrous display at weddings. And no matter how ridiculous you look or feel, the speech itself can still be a resounding success.

All you need to do is prepare. Write your speech ahead of time, and practise delivering it. If you don’t know what to write, ask for help from a witty friend who also knows and loves the bride and groom, or use a professional wedding speechwriter, which you can find online at or any number of other websites (it’s a growing business, which only proves my point that this is a very common problem). Look at samples of their work, and make sure they fit your budget. If you decide to use someone, and they’re any good, they’ll interview you about your relationship to the couple, and draft something you can deliver with pride.

Finally, here’s the advice I give myself when I’m nervous about speaking to a group: “It’s not about you, you narcissistic idiot! Stop thinking about yourself, and stick to the material!” Rather rude, but as long as you restrict it to quiet, personal use, you are most welcome to it.

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