Pre-Ceremony Checklist for when a Friend Conducts the Wedding Ceremony
Often, people assume that all an Officiant does is read a script and fills out the marriage licence, so they think, 'Hey, why not just get a friend to do the ceremony!" The Friend assumes their job starts when they are standing at the ceremony site and the music starts. However, there is so much more!
Well Friend, here is a quick list of 30 items that will help you prepare BEFORE the ceremony starts. The 'job' begins 30 minutes before the ceremony. So, if the ceremony starts at 6:30 pm, you should start doing all of these checks at 6:00 pm.
(That's right love, put down the glass of wine, stop hugging and visiting the guests, you've got a job to do!)
1. Wedding Planner/Coordinator: Check in with the Wedding Planner/Coordinator, if there is one. Depending on their level of experience, they may take a lot of these items off your to-do list. Ultimately, they can be your lifesaver, and key for small and big logistics like doing a weather check and working with the venue for Plan B if necessary.
2. Rings: Does the correct person have the rings? Do they know how to properly present the rings so their backs are not to the guests? Ask them to open the box or empty the bag that the rings are in and remind them to KEEP these items. Your hands will have the portfolio and perhaps microphone, so it becomes cumbersome to take the actual box or bag.
3. Microphone: Check the microphone and ensure that it is loud enough that the couple will not have to hold it too close to their faces. They do not want to look like they are rapping their vows! A louder setting allows for the microphone to be held lower, so it is not as intrusive in the photos.
4. DJ: Check in with the DJ to let them know when the cues are for the ceremony to start.
5. iPAD: If the couple has a friend playing music on an iPAD or from a phone, obviously you will also provide them with the cues for the music, but also ensure that they have the pin for the device so it doesn't get locked and request that they lower the music rather than stop it entirely. This makes it less abrupt.
6. Photographer: Check with the photographer to see if they have any requests such as asking the guests to not use flash on their cameras or for the guests to refrain from taking photos all together. I request that the guests do not take photos during the procession. The auntie sitting in the aisle around four chairs down is the biggest culprit for jumping out with her camera and ruining the professional's shot. Yes, that beautiful photo that the couple has paid good money for a professional to capture.
7. Signing Table: Is there one? Venues that do not hold weddings regularly will often forget to set one up. Will the wedding party be standing in front of the table and will you need to speak to those people ahead of time to discuss where they will move to while the signing is taking place? If the couple is sitting down, is the table turned so that they will not bang their shins on the table leg?
8. Marriage Licence: The couple will have picked up a marriage licence prior to the ceremony. This is often in an 8x10 manila envelope from City Hall. Make sure that this is on the signing table and available before the legal Officiant arrives and that it contains the Officiant's final payment inside.
9. Officiant: Notify the couple once the Officiant has arrived to put their minds at ease. Take the Officiant to the signing table to get the licence because they will need to fill out some of the forms prior to the ceremony starting. You will also want to review your ceremony with them to ensure that you have covered all of parts required by the Marriage Act.
10. Vows: Make sure you have the couple's vows in your binder, so you can hand it to them during the ceremony.
11. Readings: If anyone is being called up to doing a reading - where are they sitting, do they have the reading on them? Have you discussed where they will stand and how to get the microphone for a smooth transition?
12. Ritual Items: Will you be releasing doves or butterflies and do you know how to do this properly? Will the couple be doing a wine exchange, sand ceremony, sweets exchange, sake ritual, wine box presentation, or lighting a unity candle? Do you have all the of these items on the table including the lighters for the candles. Envision how those rituals will play out and if you have all the items required for it to go smoothly.
13. Ceremony Site: This is a visual review of the area to check to see if there are blinds that need to go down, or if the decor has candles and water vases that you need to be aware of so you don't bump into them or be aware of their potential as a fire hazard for flowing dresses.
14. Ambient Noise: Ambient noise, sometimes called "background noise" such as the air conditioning unit, or a neighbour doing construction next door to your backyard wedding. It can ruin the energy or vibe of the ceremony. Listen to what noises might become especially distracting during the ceremony when the room is silent and determine if you can adjust any issues ahead of time. This is especially true if the ceremony is taking place near a water fountain and you need to request for it to be turned off for the duration of the ceremony. Another example is when the ceremony is taking place in a restaurant and noise from the kitchen can interfere.
15. Lighting: Stage lighting might be directed too intensely into your faces or cause anyone wearing a suit to melt. Its more beneficial if adjustable lights are directed up from the sides rather than straight down to prevent sinister facial shadows. If the wedding is outdoors, be aware of changing up the ceremony site when trees or other shadows may make for blotchy images on the couples faces in their photos. Some dimly lit ceremony spaces may also hinder your ability to see your ceremony to read it and you'll want to be aware of this before you start.
16. Temperature: Full rooms can get warm very quickly and you may want to request the air conditioning be turned up or windows opened. If ceremonies are outside, you may want to request that water is made available to the guests while they wait.
17. Venue: Meet with the venue coordinator to see if they have any directions for the guests that they want you to announce such as clearing the room after the ceremony to set up for the reception or limitations on not taking cocktails outside of the building.
18. Flowers: Around 10 minutes prior to start time, check in with the wedding party to make sure that they are ready to go. If they have bouquets, get them out of the water so they are not wet and dripping on the dresses. Make sure everyone has their boutonnière pinned. This last one always tends to be a last minute rush for people such as the dad's. I don't know why.
19. Attendance Check: Determine if all of the VIPs have arrived or if there are any key people who haven't yet arrived to know if the ceremony will be delayed. Check with the venue coordinator to estimate the number of guests expected to arrive and the number of chairs that have been set out to know if the empty chairs are simply extras.
20. Chairs: If everyone is sitting, are there enough chairs or do more need to be put out? Is the aisle wide enough? This is especially relevant if anyone is walking out with both parents on either side of them. Is the wedding party going to be standing too close to the first row of chairs and essentially blocking those guests (typically the VIPs for whom the front row was reserved for) and does that row need to be removed?
21. Seating Guests: It is your job to get guests seated 5-10 minutes before the ceremony starts. Ensure those who have reserved seats are sitting in them (I've found grandma in the back when she should be in the front!) and encourage guests to sit in the aisle seats if they are open as this looks best in photos.
22. Standing Guests: If some guests are standing and some are sitting, make sure that any elderly, pregnant, etc. people get a seat and ensure that guests clear a space for the wedding party to enter through.
23. Bar: If the guests are having cocktails prior to the wedding starting, you'll want to start the process of getting guests seated 15 minutes before the ceremony starts as they will be louder and slow to move when wrapped up in conversations. Before asking them to sit, ask the bar to stop serving as many will immediately go to the bar to get another drink as soon as you ask them to take their seats.
24. Wedding Party: Make sure everyone who is in the procession is lined up and prepared to come out. The key culprits may be the couple's parents who are often out mingling with the guests when they need to be in the back and ready to go down the aisle.
25. Men in the wedding party: Because they have pockets, they may have their cellphones on them. Remind them to turn the ringers off, or better yet leave their cellphones, keys and wallets in the back or with someone so they don't look bulky in their suits. Suggest that they all stand with their hands crossed in front of each other for consistency and not in their pockets. Other checks: gum out, sunglasses off, and button up the first button on their suits.
26. Women in the wedding party: Typically the person standing next to the bride will be in charge of fixing her dress's train and taking the bouquet when the bride needs her hands to either read her vows or exchange rings. Remind her to get the bouquet back into the bride's hands as soon as the ceremony ends as the bride often forgets to take it back.
27. Dogs in the wedding party: If the couple's fur-baby has been allowed to attend and potentially may have a role to play such as bringing up the rings, make sure that they have been walked and have had a chance to relieve themselves. If they have attachment issues, they could also require a guest to be their care taker and offer the pet a non-squeaky chew toy to maintain their attention.
28. Children in the wedding party: Children over the age of 5 years of age are mostly going to be fine unless they have anxiety. Any child younger than 5 yrs may need extra support. Make sure these little people are familiar with you so they feel comfortable coming down the aisle towards you. Bribe items that can be left on the chairs as a treat when they make it down the aisle work well too as long as they are not sticky and hard (as in it won't make a noise if banged on the chair.) Make sure these items are available on the chairs before you start.
29. Housekeeping: Make all housekeeping announcements before the wedding party comes out such as camera usage, phone ringers off, social media tags, where the washrooms are, where to go after the ceremony, where to go for group or family photos, etc.
30. MOST IMPORTANTLY - Remind guests to sit down once the wedding party and couple have arrived at the front of the room. When Friend's perform the ceremony, this is the number one rookie mistake that they make because they are so focused on getting right into the ceremony.
Alright, I lied. You may want to start sooner than 30 minutes prior, especially if the couple hasn't hired a professional Wedding Planner/Coordinator. Also, these are just a few things off the top of my head, but there may be more to address when you arrive depending on the venue.
These checks will help alleviate the chaos that happens right before the ceremony, so the guests, wedding party, and couple are relaxed and comfortable. I honestly believe they make a difference for how the ceremony turns out, so I hope they are helpful. Good luck!
Photo Credit goes to the magnificent Maddie Mellott Photography @maddiemellottphotography