Pointers and Pro-Tips for Performing the Perfect Wedding Ceremony





Top 10 Wedding Officiating Questions of The Year (Part 1)

by Mark Allan Groleau in Officiating Best Practices
December 10, 2019

When you’re new to officiating weddings or you’ve never officiated before, you’ve got a thousand questions.

Great – we have that in common! I’ve got a thousand questions too! That is, I get asked a pile of questions every week. As a trainer and coach of wedding officiants all over the world through my full online course and coaching package, I’m always working to help newer officiants cut the long and heavy learning curve. I made a ton of mistakes when I was starting out, and I want to share with you all the things I’ve learned so you don’t have to learn by making mistakes.

Why should we both suffer?

Getting a thousand questions means tending to hear a number of them over and over. Here’s Part 1 of the Top 10 most frequent questions I’ve gotten this year – with my quick-hit, hot-take responses. (And sometimes with links to a blogpost with a longer, more detailed answer.)

#10: If I’m both the parent and the officiant, how do I pull double duty: walk my kid down the aisle and start the ceremony?

I love this: so many dads and moms officiating their own kids’ wedding ceremony! Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. I’m a professional wedding officiant and Dad to a five-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl. Even with, like, 15 years to prepare and hundreds of weddings as practice, I don’t think I could officiate my kids’ weddings without collapsing into a blubbering mess.

Emotions aside, when you’re both the parent and the officiant, this presents a unique logistical challenge that I get asked about all the time. Typically, the wedding officiant is at the front, and the parent walks in with their son or daughter on their arm.

But how do you both start the wedding ceremony and walk into the ceremony during the ceremony?

Actually, this is where the method I teach is perfect for this situation.

Whether you’re the parent or not, I always recommend/advise/insist that you, the officiant, have two-to-three minutes of opening remarks with the guests before the ceremony actually begins.

You want to open with a fun call for a response (“Good afternoon, everyone! Oh c’mon you can do better than that – good afternoon everyone! That’s better!”), then you introduce yourself in a sentence (not with a biography), and tell guests that before we begin, they need to know two things: whether or not they take photos and that they need to turn off their phones.

So the above needs to happen whether or not you’re the parent. Just do that. It’s the absolute best way to start the ceremony.

But here’s where things diverge.

When you’re the officiant and not the parent, now you’re finished the opening remarks and you simply say: “Are you ready to get these two married? Ok. With that, let’s begin!” That’s the cue for the processional music. And that is when the ceremony actually starts.

But when you’re the officiant and the parent also walking in, first you playfully tell everyone something like, “We’re going to get started in just a couple of minutes. But as Dad of the bride, I’m going to have to leave you now because I’m proudly escorting the bride down the aisle today. Are you ready to get these two married? Alright… see you in just a moment.”

You’ll most likely get a lighthearted cheer, and then you can exit at the side (Don’t go back up the centre aisle! No one does that until the recessional!). Head to the back or wherever everyone’s waiting for the music and the big entrance. Just coordinate with the DJ or band some sort of signal from the wedding planner that you’re all ready to start.

“But what happens when you get to the front with your kid?”

When you get to the front, simply stop at the front row of seats, give him or her a peck and hug, and take your place at the centre. Then gesture for the wedding couple to take their places in front of you, and then you can assume your officiant role as normal from there.

This is touching and beautiful, and everyone will love how seamless and moving it is how you switched roles from officiant to bridal escort and back to officiant again.

If you’d like a more in-depth breakdown of how to start the wedding ceremony and what to say in those opening remarks, check out my article here and my YouTube video here.

TL;DR (Too Long;Didn’t Read): When you’re the parent and the officiant, do your opening remarks, then playfully excuse yourself and head to the back. Enter with your son or daughter, and when you get to the front, take your officiant post and gesture for the wedding couple to take their places in front of you.

#9: Does the wedding officiant usually go to the wedding reception?

If you’re a friend or family member of the newlyweds, then this is a no-brainer: you’re invited, you know lots of people there, and you go and party with them all night!

However, many of us are hired and paid by the couple. That makes us just one more wedding vendor in with the army of other vendors helping to pull off their day: the florist, the decorator, the planner, the photographer, the caterer, the band, etc.

The couple may invite you to attend the reception out of politeness. Most of my couples do. I always politely decline, joking that they’re the only people I know and it would feel more like wedding crashing.

Sure you would get to know people at your table. Sure you might end up making a whole bunch of new friends. But the truth is, that’s true of the hired florist and the decorator and the makeup artist, too. And the wedding officiant has as much business being at the reception as the hired florist and decorator and makeup artist – which is not very much.

Wedding receptions are expensive. Chances are your couple has agonized over who not to invite and painstakingly pared down the list. So do them a favour and say, “That’s so generous of you, but I’ll be heading out shortly after the ceremony.”

Your couple may love you, but they’ll likely be relieved they won’t have to wine and dine you with their closest family and friends.

TL;DR: You can politely decline to attend the wedding reception in the same way they politely invited you. Most professional wedding officiants don’t attend.

#8: What does the officiant say in the ceremony if the couple aren’t religious?

As time goes on, society as a whole is getting less religious in practice. And that means wedding couples feel like a lot of the language of traditional ceremonies doesn’t reflect them in any way. Even a decade ago, a lot of couples felt obligated to just stick to the God stuff they didn’t even really understand – and just get through it. But now, couples are realizing: they can choose the kind of ceremony that really feels like… them.

Most of the couples who hire me have found me online. And if a couple is searching online, that means they didn’t have a minister in their contact list. And if they didn’t have a minister in their contact list, it’s because they’re probably not practicing any religious tradition. So most of the couples who come to me politely ask, “Can we leave out religious language? Would that be okay?”

My answer is always yes. Because I believe that not being religious should not be in impediment to getting married. And I also believe that if you’re not religious, your wedding is not the time to foist a buncha language on you that doesn’t connect with who you already are.

Now, most of us have never seen or attended a wedding ceremony that’s not religious, so sometimes it’s hard to conceive of one.

This leads to the million-dollar question: If the wedding ceremony is not religious, what to do? And as the wedding officiant… what to say?

For every wedding I officiate, I tell the couple’s love story. Which means I give them a bit of homework: a questionnaire asking how they met, what their first date was like, and how their proposal went down. I ask what they love about each other. And then I ask them for a few email addresses of friends and family who they know will say amazing things about them as a couple and I ask those friends and family, “What do you love about these two? What makes them so great together?”

Then I talk about what makes today so monumental in their ongoing, unfolding story: commitment. I make a few remarks about how they want to stand here today and make a promise to always be there for each other, and they’ve invited us here to participate in that.

And then we get on with the vows and rings and whatever else they’ve decided to include in their ceremony.

I talk for about 10-12 minutes; it’s fun, it’s moving, and it’s all about the couple.

So: what to say if your couple aren’t religious? The sky’s the limit. My recommendation: tell their love story. Tell everyone what they love about each other. Do some research about what their nearest and dearest love about them. Talk about promise. And commitment. What’s happening in this ceremony today and why it’s so pivotal for the couple. Add whatever else you think fits the couple and reflects who they are, what they believe, and what they’re about.

There are two ways you can get my full script for yourself and actually use what I say word-for-word with my full support: my full script + phone call coaching package gets you my full wedding ceremony script, and my full online course Unboring!Officiant teaches you how to write all the sections I just talked about with skill and flair and includes a full wedding ceremony script plus 10 love stories as well. If you don’t want to start with a flashing cursor and a blank screen, you might want to check that out.

There you have it! You don’t have to say anything that the couple doesn’t want you to. And you don’t need to fill the ceremony with fluff to just take up 15 minutes. With a little thought and a little prep, you can write about your couple and thrill everyone at the wedding.

TL;DR: Tell your couple’s love story. Say what they love about each other. Talk about what others love about them as a couple. Say a few words about promise and commitment and what’s happening here today. And anything else that feels true to who they are.

#7: How early should the officiant arrive at the wedding?

I’ve written an entire article about the last things to check before you kick off the ceremony, but there are plenty of things to do before you check those last few things.

The first page of my own wedding script in Google Docs looks like this, and it details all the tasks I need to complete so everyone feels 100% ceremony script

In the half-hour or so leading up to the wedding ceremony, I have lots of people to check in with and lots of details to nail down so there are no unpleasant surprises in the ceremony.

I check in with the audio person to make sure my microphone situation is sorted out. I check in with the DJ or live musician to make sure all the cues are clear. I make sure whoever is supposed to have the wedding rings does have them. I check in with the wedding planner, and the photographer, and the videographer. I check to make sure the legal paperwork is where it should be. I even make sure the aisle is wide enough of there are 3 people going down together side-by-side.

Depending on the size of your ceremony and the number of people involved, your list may look just as long as mine; it may be shorter. But basically, you’ll want to have completed all those checks about 20 minutes before the ceremony starts. And you’ll want to have built in some time for some of those checks to reveal some hiccups. (“Oh no! We forgot the license!” or “Oh no! the mic isn’t working!” or “Oh no! The couple didn’t tell me they wanted that song for the processional!”). Never expect everything to go smoothly. After all, that’s why we’re checking.

Which means: you’ll want to show up at least 45 minutes early. Do all the check-ins, make sure everything is in place and everyone has what they need and knows what they need to know. Then in the 15 minutes before the ceremony, you can get in the zone to totally crush it up there from the very first word. And you’ll need that time to decompress – especially if those checks led to some unexpected running around.

TL;DR: You should arrive 45 minutes before the ceremony start-time. Do all the checks, then spend 15 minutes going over your opening, and you’ll be relaxed and ready to go right on time.

#6: Does the wedding officiant socialize with the guests before the ceremony?

This dovetails nicely with the previous question. When all your checks are done and you’ve got 15 minutes to spare, what do you want to do with it?

As with so many things, I say: do what feels best for you here. It’s the same advice I give grooms: when your bride is in her suite getting those last-minute touch-ups with her friends and she’s draining the last few drops of her prosecco, what do you want to be doing in that time? Some grooms want to soothe their nerves by playing host and milling around with wedding guests in the time leading up to the ceremony. Other more introverted grooms say that would be a nightmare and they’d rather be in a private room sharing a bourbon with their Best Man. I say: do what’s right for you and fits with how you’re wired when you’re nervous.

Same for wedding officiants. Will putting yourself in a conspicuous spot and getting into conversations with wedding guests be a good way for you to tone down those pre-ceremony jitters? Then do that! Wanna do some social media posts or Instagram livestream the moments before you need to start corralling everyone at the back? Do that! Wanna be alone with yourself and zen out before you get up there and all eyes and ears are on you? Then you guessed it: do that.

I tend to check in with the groom and make some light conversation with him and his party if they seem open to it. In fact, some grooms flat-out need my support and presence during that time. But about 10 minutes before the ceremony, I like to stand slightly apart from all the action and make sure my opening lines are well-rehearsed. See, I have this recurring nightmare where I’m seen chatting and Instagramming before the ceremony and then I get up there and stumble all over my words because I wasn’t as ready as I could be. So I always detach a bit and get in the zone. This pathology keeps me from getting sloppy. Or so I tell myself.

Nothing is more important than being 100% prepared when you take that deep breath and take centre-stage. As long as you feel you’re ready, then chat away if that’s what feels best.

TL;DR: Don’t feel like you need to talk with guests, but do that if it helps with the nerves. Just make sure you’re 100% ready to kick off the ceremony, and don’t sacrifice anything for that.

Part 2 is coming soon!