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Make the Most
Of Your Roast
June, 2015

Celebrate the honoree
by keeping your quips gentle and brief

As speech forms go, delivering an effective roast may be one of the hardest formats to master. Well-delivered roasts are actually rare. Simply put, most roasts are not well done, though they may leave their intended subject fried or singed.

A Roast is an event intended to honor and gently tease the recipient. It's done to celebrate, recognize and fete a man or woman in front of their peers, family and friends. It’s not done to punish the recipient, but rather to praise the honoree, as a form of tribute.

The best roasts encapsulate the essence of the honoree, celebrating his or her work, style, personality and idiosyncrasies. They are also delivered with love.

Beware: Roasts Can Lead to Beefs

Sadly, I've attended roasts where the roasters made up false stories about the recipient, with no basis in fact. I’ve also attended roasts where roasters disparaged the recipient with raw language, taking a mean tone and omitting humor altogether. And I've seen roasters get their facts wrong, seriously undermining their own credibility and detracting from the quality of the roast as guests question whether the roaster even knew the intended that well.

Recipe for a Roast: Research

The best roasts are prepared in advance. (In fact, a common mistake by many is waiting until the last minute to create their roast.) When planning to participate in a roast, start by setting aside time in advance for researching the party to be roasted. What do you know about them already? Start by collecting bits of biographical facts such as where they were born and grew up, where they matriculated, what degrees or past positions they have attained. What organizations did they serve? What awards have they received? What about their family? Their style? Unique tendencies, peccadillos or idiosyncrasies? How about their hobbies? Favorite teams, songs, charities or projects they are involved with? Are they known for any signature figures of speech or favorite phrases?

You may want to mind-map all that you know about your intended. (I recommend the site www.mindmeister.com) Put their name or picture in the middle of your blank page and draw spoke lines outward to what you already know about them. Now, ask others what they can share about the subject? Research them on the 'Net. View their facebook page or LinkedIn profile. Ask their friends, co-workers and family about them for well known and lesser known material.

Now, look for interesting connections between morsels. What items jump out at you in terms of contrasts or overall themes? Is there a common thread? Are the contrasts stark? Each can lead to humor.

When I roasted an outgoing district governor my research uncovered a lifelong fascination with photography, travels to foreign countries, a tendency to wear bow ties and suspenders regularly and an interest in storytelling. I was able to create humor about each of these topics.

Success Through Excess 

In Roasts, as with humor in general, laughter comes from the art of exaggerating. If the recipient is known for a tendency, take their predilection to the extreme. For instance, one honoree was known as an inveterate club builder. Naturally, we gently teased her for some of the more obscure, esoteric or extreme clubs she purportedly formed: she formed one on a bus, one in an airport and one while standing in line at a bank. I assigned funny names to these would-be clubs for additional laughs! (Was it true? No. Was it plausible…absolutely!).

Homegrown Humor

If you're going to roast someone, be original! This means avoiding what is considered "hack" humor — clichéd old jokes that you’re simply recycling by attaching your honoree’s name to. Customizing is cool! Lazily appending someone's name to generic humor is actually disrespectful. If you're using hackneyed humor which has lost its oomph, it's time you fire your two co-writers…Copy and Paste. Be original!

Unlike revenge, a dish best eaten cold, roasts should be served warmly. Your roast should warm the hearts of all who attend and especially the heart of the honoree. Use humor that is gentle, positive and that has universal appeal. Don't attack the honoree or his family. That's not funny or artful, it's mean spirited and undermines the good will of the event.

A Sweet Aftertaste

You can tease, jostle and joke about an honoree but be sure you end it with love. According to Dennis Dawson, DTM, Past District 57 Governor, "you should always end well; conclude with sincere appreciation." Dennis also advises that the best levity is found in brevity, "Know when yo'’re done, and stop."  And remember, as a roaster, it's NOT about you. It's about the honoree. You're one of many roasters. Never lose sight that you're there to celebrate the guest of honor, not draw attention to yourself.

Success is in the Balance

"Try to strike a balance between humor and praise" suggests Distinguished Toastmaster Arvind Nair, District 41's 2014-2015 Secretary and the president of Bombay Toastmasters in Mumbai India. He prefers gentle humor, especially for those for whom humor doesn't come naturally. 

Distinguished Toastmaster Nikhil Salvi, VP-Education with Dadar Toastmasters Club and also a member of the Mulund Toastmasters in Mumbai, concurs. "Rather than just focusing solely on humor and jest, I strive to add humor to the honoring I do through praise."

The Rehearsal Dinner

The best roasts represent the culmination of research, creativity, crisp editing, practice and finally a virtuoso performance at the actual event. As such, practice is essential. That’s when you master the timing, pauses, emphasis on laugh lines and overall tone. Executive speech coach Patricia Fripp says, "The more you rehearse before a small practice audience, the more fun you and the audience will have. As Oscar winner Michael Caine says, "Rehearsal is the work; performance is the relaxation.""

If you intend to use props, rehearse with them as well. Your finished roast should resemble a tight set from a comedienne or comedian on a late night talk show. Every word should carry weight so the roast can be delivered succinctly.

Past International President Bill Woolfolk, DTM of Point of Order Toastmasters (6028-4) in San Carlos CA, has roasted and been roasted. He recommends the book We’re roasting Harry Tuesday Night by Ed McManus and Bill Nichols as helpful for all roasters.

And In Conclusion...

Remember that you are just one of a series of roasters. Honor the event by delivering just your best material and sitting back down. Your goal isn’t to speak the longest, but to generate laughter and love in your brief moments in the spotlight. In this case, less is more!

When You’re the Recipient of a Roast


Digestifs and Demeanor

Sooner or later you may be the roastee. As the recipient of others' roasts, you may be allowed or even expected to respond before the event ends. Whether you're allowed rejoinders during each roast or are accorded a "last word" after the others have had their say about you, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • You’re always on stage. While being roasted many eyes will be on you. Try to enjoy the experience, whether or not the roasters hit their mark with skill or taste. One roaster played a very long version of "It's A Small World After All" to me…on her accordion as her tribute.

  • Use discipline, concentration and patience to smile and savor every second of it. Be gracious!

  • Take the high road! Show your confidence by being able to laugh at yourself and the barbs others throw your way. And when you get a chance to respond, be classy in your remarks. Dazzle them with your good taste and wit.

  • Thank everyone — the roasters, their collaborators and the audience too. Successful roasts are the result of the collaborations of multiple chefs.

— Craig Harrison DTM, PDG

DTM and Past District Governor Craig Harrison of Lakeview Toastmasters in Oakland CA (2767-57) has roasted and been roasted over his 22 years in Toastmasters. As a professional keynoter and emcee he strives to blend gentle humor with a touch of class to generate good will for all. Visit www.ExpressionsOfExcellence.com for more speaker and leader resources.

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