As the international icon of democracy and peaceful resistance to oppressive rule, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Prize by Her Majesty the Queen in December 2011 and HE Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State (1997-2001) accepted the Prize on her behalf. I was privileged to be the Toastmaster at this event. We hope that the Burmese heroine will be able to collect the award personally on her visit to London this June.
A Toastmaster’s Preamble
The professional “Toastmaster” must not be confused with “Toastmasters International”. Whilst we are engaged as announcers and event managers at formal occasions, those who join the global Toastmasters club seek to improve their public speaking skills and we have no formal connection with them.
Although the Society of London Toastmasters was formed 60 years ago, the role of the Toastmaster has evolved over many centuries.
Toasting the Gods
The taking of wine, Toasts and drinking a person’s health can be traced back to the early Greek and Roman civilisations where many surviving mosaics indicate the raising of goblets and drinking either a friend’s or a God’s health by holding the goblets aloft.
At ancient Greek banquets the host would toast to the health of the guests to assure them that the wine they were about to drink was safe. In those days, spiking wine with poison was a common way to dispose of an enemy. It therefore became a symbol of friendship for the host to pour wine from a decanter or common pitcher, drink it before his guests, and satisfied that it was good, raise his glass to his friends to do likewise.
Improving the wine
We go from poisoning the wine to improving it. For centuries, the beverages served to guests were mead, porter, sack or very poor wine. In the middle ages at great and noble houses, someone was appointed to look after the cellars in the big houses and he would experiment with various flavourings in the wines to improve their flavour. At banquets, he would have before him a large bowl of the brew and in smaller bowls would have herbs and spices. He would take a small piece of bread, hold it before a fire or in a flame until it was toasted; he would then dip that into the herbs and spices and stir it into the bowl of wine. This man was known as the ?Master of the Toast?. It was a highly skilled occupation much prized for its talents.
The formal banquet
The wine-blender of old was the modern toastmaster’s predecessor. In the houses of Spanish and Italian nobles he was called the “Manager”. The English version of this majordomo in the 17th and 18th centuries was the “House Steward” nowadays called the “Butler”. In addition to the duties of wine management, the butler would also announce guests arriving for dinner who would then be greeted and received by the host.
The red coat
The origin of the distinctive redcoat worn by the Toastmaster is generally accepted as being introduced by a Toastmaster William Knightsmith in 1894. Expressing concern at being dressed like a head waiter or butler, his wife suggested that he wear a red coat to stand out. On the occasion at which he changed his coat to a red one the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) admired it and commented favourably on it. Subsequently, the ‘hunting pink’ tailcoat became the adopted form of dress for Toastmasters (the name is derived from Mr Pink, the tailor who designed them). It is also accepted that William Knightsmith was the first to be recognised as a bona-fide Toastmaster setting the standards for others to emulate.
Note: In the City of London the ‘hunting pink’ tailcoat is generally not worn because the law stated that the hunt was not allowed to pass through the City. Toastmasters in the City sometimes wear a sash of red and white under their black tailcoat.
In its modern form it is an exclusively British occupation, carried out by some 500 professional Toastmasters throughout the country, many of whom belong to an affiliation like my own, the Society of London Toastmasters. Rather like regiments of an army, at the last count there were 14 such organisations, all formed since our own inception in 1952 and each proud of its heritage and high standards. In the interests of harmony, I have collated this story of the Toastmaster’s genesis from their various websites and declare my gratitude.
What is the difference between a Toastmaster and an MC?
The professional Toastmaster is trained in the protocol, craft and procedures of state, civic, corporate and social events. His genesis can be traced back to the staging of banquets of royal and noble households in the middle ages. He will be attired in a distinctive red uniform and will make scripted announcements in a formal manner. He will belong to a professional body, institute or collegiate guild who will have admitted him having achieved a required level of experience and standard of performance under examination.
The MC (Master of Ceremonies) on the other hand is not bound by any professional code of behaviour, has no specific uniform and delivers a performance in an informal style. The objectives of both types of performers are the same: to advise and guide guests, introduce speeches and entertainment and run an unrehearsed live event to a planned timetable. The nature of the event and wishes of the hosts determine which style will be appropriate. Toastmasters are able to adopt either persona or act as a hybrid as in “firm but friendly”.
What should a couple look for in a Toastmaster?
The attributes a couple should look for in a Toastmaster are an engaging warm personality, a strong, clear, well-spoken voice that commands authority, a smart appearance, a knowledge of the customs, religious traditions and protocol of the wedding, relevant experience and membership of one of the respected professional Toastmaster organisations. Also important is to have confidence that the Toastmaster will be able to handle the unexpected.
What are the benefits of having a Toastmaster at an Asian wedding?
Are toastmasters trained in the etiquettes of different Asian ceremonies?
A Toastmaster is an asset to any kind of wedding as its stage manager but particularly beneficial to Asian weddings which invariably involve large numbers of guests, colour, loud noise, spectacle and occasional chaos despite the most careful planning. There are centuries-old, sometimes long, often complicated ceremonies and rituals to introduce. There may be a “western” civil wedding to handle on the same day as well. There will be multiple photographers and video cameramen with their lights and equipment. Often dhol players, musicians and sometimes Bollywood dancers are engaged. Catering is always a feast of many dishes or courses. Guests may not arrive on time and will be reluctant to remain quiet during speeches. Large groups of family members will want their photograph taking with the couple. There may be language problems and family sensitivities of which to be aware. With such a complex production, only the most experienced and calm Asian Wedding Toastmaster will volunteer to manage the myriad of elements, many in conflict. It is essential he understands the basic ceremonies and customs at least of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim cultures and indeed if asked, can comfortably and authoritatively advise families on how they should be performed and what allowances should be made for timing, sequencing, effectiveness and issues about space.
How far in advance should you book a toastmaster?
Toastmasters are booked up to two years ahead, so it is never too early to engage one. It is advisable, if you can organise it, to meet with the prospective Toastmaster before commitment. Ask for testimonials from his previous client couples and then follow up by having a friendly chat with them.
What uniform do toastmasters wear?
A professional Toastmaster will by custom wear a red (“hunting pink”) tailcoat over black trousers; around the neck will be a white bow tie, winged collar, white marcella shirt and waistcoat. This attire ensures he will stand out in a crowd of any size. Occasionally it may be preferred for the tailcoat to be a black one. It could also be requested for the Toastmaster to wear full Asian dress, shalwar kameez or similar. Whilst this may well be respectful, stylish and topical, the effect is to lose both the identity and with it the friendly authority of the Toastmaster among the guests and in diminishing his role, this style is therefore not recommended.
How far do most Toastmaster travel?
So long as English is the spoken language, most Toastmasters will travel anywhere in the world to perform their craft and it is always a great honour to be invited to participate. The principles of guest and event management are identical regardless of location or culture. Obviously, budgets need to accommodate the consequential extra demands of time and distance.
What are the duties of a Toastmaster at a Wedding Reception?
A Toastmaster’s work at the venue starts one hour before any of the family or guests arrive, to check the elements are all in place or ready and that banqueting and technical staff are working to the same timetable. Some of the details on the Toastmaster’s checklist will be:
- Cloakrooms : are they open and clean?
- Test the microphones.
- Is the florist going to finish on time?
- Is the mandap complete?
- Enough chairs? Reserved seating for close family and late-comers?
- Ramps for wheelchairs?
- Note position of the fire exits.
- Where does the string quartet/harpist go?
- How do the lighting and air-conditioning controls work?
- Has the cake (and knife) arrived?
- Table plans? Place cards? Favours? Photobooth?
- Liaising with photographers, videographers, the DJ, the Pandit or the Imam
As the eyes and ears of the couple, the Toastmaster will ensure all these items are, or will be at the right place at the right time.
Let’s Assume a Typical Hindu Wedding.
We’re ready to go and the Toastmaster will orchestrate the sequence of events as follows: As the guests start to arrive they need to be separated and guided. The groom’s family will be assembling in the car park and the Toastmaster will go out to greet the groom and tell him how prepared the venue is, how the bride’s family are, how the timing is going and give him an estimate when he should advance to the entrance. Now back to the bride’s family, making sure they are ready at the doors inside to receive the Barat.
The Toastmaster will ask the dhol players, Groom and family to come forward and invite the Pandit to start the welcome ceremony at which the groom will be denied entrance. He will watch that the doors do not break under pressure and keep wedding guests away from blocking the hotel entrance so it can still function normally! He will invite guests to come in for the ceremony, bride’s side will be left; groom’s on the right. The Pandit will be in control for the arch ceremony after which the principals arrive at the mandap while guests take their seats.
Now the Toastmaster will address the guests politely requesting that they should respect the ceremony, remain quiet, not get up to take pictures or approach the mandap unless invited and then introduce the Pandit who commands the next hour and a half while the Toastmaster stands at the rear of the room to admit and seat late-comers.
Soon into the ceremony, the Toastmaster will cue the Bride to make her entrance with her mamas, having made sure she was ready to come before the ceremony started.
After the ceremony, the Toastmaster will stage manage the posing of family groups at the mandap working through prepared lists from each side, making sure no time is wasted at this stage by guests chatting to, or greeting the couple or showering them with gifts. This is a hugely important role of the Toastmaster : to keep things moving at a stressful time.
The Toastmaster will invite guests who have been photographed to go for buffet lunch then retrieve them afterwards for the Vidai/Dholi at the mandap ensuring the limousine is outside with its driver and the Pandit ready to perform the departure ceremony and that he has the essential coconut for the front wheel of the car ceremony. With not a dry eye in the house, the Toastmaster ensures there is a direct path for the couple to exit the building safely and that children do not risk injury by stopping the car making progress.
As the car disappears for a short tour (round the block), guests are advised by the Toastmaster to either now assemble for a civil ceremony or more likely to relax and return for the wedding reception proper in the evening.
The evening reception, with its banquet and Ball follows a more traditional format except that the cake is usually cut immediately upon the announced entrance of the Bride and Groom. Once again and throughout the evening as during the day, the Toastmaster will stage manage set piece moments, briefing the guests in advance of what is about to happen, announcing the speeches, the first dance, the entertainment and being on hand to answer questions, direct late arrivals and to help with seating and access.
What other duties can a Toastmaster carry out?
There should be no duty left to undertake or the Toastmaster would have overlooked an expectation so going the extra mile would involve a really good Toastmaster for example discreetly offering to assist the formal speakers with their material and if time permits, might listen to their rehearsal. The Toastmaster might also distribute payment to various artistes on behalf of the couple or take round the guest book for signing from table to table.
What is a receiving line?
A Receiving Line is where a group of hosts formally receive a line of guests who are announced by name by the Toastmaster after the wedding ceremony or “going into the wedding breakfast”. The host group usually comprise (in this order) Mother of the Bride, Father of the Bride, Mother of the Groom, Father of the Groom, Bride and Groom. Guests are encouraged to keep moving, only to shake hands or kiss briefly and all are deterred from chatting. The perfect line should see guests move through at the rate of one every 10 seconds. A receiving line should not last longer than 30 minutes which suggests it should not be undertaken if guests number greater than 200. Because of the large numbers at Asian weddings and the unavailability of Bride and Groom at the most suitable moments, it is a rare feature.
How long do Toastmasters stay at a wedding?
The Toastmaster will stay until all the formal aspects have been completed and the dancing is underway with the DJ in control, unless of course there is to be a fireworks display or a helicopter departure, in which case guests will need to be advised, moved, guided and protected from danger!
Are You Seeking an Asian Wedding Toastmaster To Manage Your Wedding?
Richard Birtchnell is a specialist Asian Wedding Toastmaster and can help you and your Asian Wedding. Call NOW 0207 730 3725 or email us if you need some guidance and help.
He is predominantly a professional practitioner in presentation and proper procedure, primarily an expert in protocol, privilege, priority, precedence, procession and propriety.
After preparing preliminaries with the president, principal or producer, and prefacing with his preamble, he will promptly proclaim: ?Pray silence!? then pronounce, project, praise, promulgate and propose in precise, profound prose.
His prominent presence, profile and pragmatic proficiency in the programme will prevent problems, protect probity, and, preserving principle and pride, provide prestige to your production.
About the Author: Richard Birtchnell is not only a Master of Ceremonies,?but he is also the?London Toastmaster. If you want to make your?event one to run smoothly and on time, then why not?contact Richard to check his availability.
Saturday January 7th 2012
Lancaster London Hotel, W2
It is an honour to have been elected as President of the Society of London Toastmasters but a responsibility comes with the position ? to stage and host the Toastmasters? Ball which will take place on 7th January at the 5-Star Lancaster London hotel, Lancaster Gate W2. There, we Toastmasters will treat our clients, colleagues, families and friends to a wonderful high-quality banquet and entertainment.
Tickets are available for only ?75 for which you would receive a reception drink, a four-course dinner with half a bottle of wine and enjoyment of a musical cabaret, a magic act and dancing until the small hours.
You could win two British Airways Club World return tickets to New York, tickets to Test Match cricket at Lord?s, luxury hampers, champagne and dinner in top London hotels in the fun games we run during the evening.
Come and join us!
Chatham House, otherwise known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, awarded its prestigious Chatham House Prize for 2010 to His Excellency President Abdullah G?l of Turkey. Her Majesty The Queen as Patron presented the award and former Prime Minister the Rt Hon Sir John Major, as President acted as host. This splendid event was held at Banqueting House Whitehall Palace. I made announcements and guided the principals.
Photography is by Matt Link.
Richard Birtchnell Called to Lords
One day, I was performing at the House of Lords and the next at the iconic cricket ground of Lord?s. I need no reminding that it is an enormous privilege in my occupation to be regularly entering the private spaces of such institutions and for the briefest of moments, becoming part of their history.
Here for example I am in the Long Room at Lord?s, where for 120 years, every international cricketer has passed through, either to make an entrance onto the hallowed turf as a player or to enjoy its hospitality. The walls proudly display portraits of famous players, from WG Grace to Shane Warne. Lord?s was established in 1787 and is named after the MCC?s founder, Thomas Lord.
About the Author: Richard Birtchnell is not only a Master of Ceremonies,?but he is also a City of London Toastmaster. If you want to make your?event one to run smoothly and on time, then why not contact Richard to check his availability.
I recently had the privilege of performing in one of London’s finest and most-treasured banqueting halls, at the?heart of Lincoln’s Inn, the earliest of the four great Inns of Court of which Barristers and Judges are members.
It is in the Great Hall where graduating law students are called to the Bar and where debates, lectures and concerts take place. Its historic facilities are available for private hire and on this occasion I was Toastmaster at an awards dinner hosted by Euromoney Energy Events.
Photo: Richard Birtchnell toasting at Lincoln’s Inn’s Great Hall
Photo by Ally Carmichael
Wedding Toastmaster Duties
The following short video is of Richard Birtchnell, the London Toastmaster, explaining the wedding toastmasters duties.
An interesting and privileged assignment this week – acting as Toastmaster for the Inter-Parliamentary Union which traditionally hosts a reception at the Houses of Parliament for, among other dignitaries, Ambassadors and High Commissioners after attending the State Opening formalities. My task was to announce these distinguished guests to the hosts. Although most of them have difficult to pronounce names, I am spared risk and embarrassment because correct protocol dictates that Ambassadors are referred to by their countries – as in, for example, “His Excellency The Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany”. Incidentally, for anoraks among you, an Ambassador is ‘of’ the country and a High Commissioner is ‘for’ the country, as in “Her Excellency The High Commissioner for the Maldives”. In the picture I am with Jill Pay, the first woman to be appointed Serjeant-at-Arms, a position that dates back to 1415. She is responsible for security at the House of Commons and ceremonially carries the mace during the opening of Parliament and each day processes with it ahead of the Speaker into the chamber.
About the Author: Richard Birtchnell,?the?london toastmaster ?who covers? all types of events, from the State Opening of Parliament to weddings,?all over London and beyond. If you want your event to run smoothly, on time and with a bit of pizazz, why not contact Richard now?to check his availability.