Intimate dinner parties, cocktail soirées, annual office events—holiday gatherings are the perfect time to propose a toast to your host and the holiday season.

But, unless you’re a skilled public speaker, seldom does an effortless, eloquent “cheers!” happen by accident, and it’s not a bad idea to do a little planning before you get to the party. Here’s everything you need to know before you raise your glass.

Timing is Everything

Generally, a toast is given as a welcome, before starting to eat, or during the dessert portion of the meal. If you’re at an intimate gathering, a toast is best given at the start of the meal to set the tone for the evening.

Keep in mind that it’s appropriate for the host to offer the first toast—so if it’s your party, plan accordingly. If you’re a guest, and you notice that the host has no plans to make one, feel free to do so. It’s a welcome and appropriate way to recognize and thank her for bringing friends and family together.

Get Their Attention

Striking your glass with a butter knife, whistling, or raising your voice are all ways to get the group’s attention—and they’re all inappropriate. Instead, plan ahead by selecting a few guests to help quiet the crowd or simply stand up from your seat and raise your glass. Either way, you’ll slowly gather their eyes and ears.

It’s equally important to hold everyone’s attention once you start speaking. Make a point of connecting personally with each guest by making eye contact with him or her—it will make your toast come off with sincerity and fondness.

Keep it Short and Sweet

A toast does not, in fact, should not, have to be lengthy to be purposeful. A few simple comments about the reason for the gathering and a nod to the holiday season is perfect. No roasting, no stories, no 10-minute orations on why you love everyone at the table.

Most importantly, make sure your kind words are heard! Speak loudly and slowly by using your entire mouth and moving your lips. A trick I often tell people is to imagine that you have a marble or dime in between your back teeth—it’s public speaking 101, but it’ll help you keep from mumbling.

The Rules of Cheers!

It’s actually not necessary to clink glasses after a toast. Why? Well, just imagine how well your toast would go over if you shattered your host’s expensive crystal with a hard, swift clank. Instead, simply raise your glass, pointing in the direction of your fellow guests.

Similarly, having champagne or another alcoholic beverage in your glass is not a requirement—you’re welcome to propose a toast or give your neighbor a “cheers” with the drink of your choice. In a pinch, you can even use an empty glass. (That said, a good hostess should make sure glasses are filled prior to offering a toast!)

Accept with Grace

If you’re the host, and someone makes the effort to honor you with a toast, be gracious and grateful—now is not the moment to deny any accomplishments or praise coming your way. Stay seated, smile, and refrain from sipping your drink until the speaker has completed her thoughts. And (assuming you haven’t already done so at the beginning of the event), offer your thanks in the form of giving the next toast. Be heartfelt, true, and express gratitude for the evening’s festivities and success.

Toasting is a wonderful way to welcome guests, honor friends, and herald in the holiday season. Here’s to a beautifully executed toast and a fabulous holiday. Cheers!

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wesolowski.