How to Officiate a Wedding with (or without) a Microphone

As wedding officiants, we have so many ceremony details to prepare and fuss over: the script, the rehearsal, the processional, our outfit, our speech, the license…. And a lot of the time, we can totally forget about this one major item until the moment we arrive at the wedding venue: the microphone.

And chances are, our wedding couple hasn’t thought about it either. That’s our job.

This is where we wedding officiants can come in at the top of our game. Let’s not leave the mics as an afterthought or a last-minute detail. Briefing our wedding couples on the style of mic they can choose and the benefits and drawbacks of each is a big step towards wedding-day peace of mind.

When it comes to microphones for the wedding ceremony, we need to ask our couples four questions during our ceremony planning session.

First, will I, your wedding officiant, need a microphone in order to be heard in your wedding venue?

Second, if yes, who is in charge of the mics? The venue, or a DJ?

Third, who else will need to be mic’d up for the ceremony? You two (the couple)? Are there going to be other readers or ceremony participants? 

Fourth, what style of mic would you prefer for each person?

“Gulp. That conversation can go in a lot of different directions.”

You betcha.

If we’re going to adequately and confidently talk through each of these questions with our couple, we wedding officiants need to be well-versed in just what using each kind of mic means, and for whom.

Having worked with every style of mic in every sort of wedding, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly to using microphones in wedding ceremonies.

Here are all the details to consider when choosing a mic style for the officiant, the couple, and any other wedding ceremony participants.

1. Mic’ing up the wedding officiant

What style of mic to use? We don’t need to be divas about this, but we will each have our preferences, for sure! Ultimately, though, I’d say the decision is the couple’s to make. After all, we are working for them to make their day perfect, not the other way around.

However, I do have one non-negotiable. (Read on to find out what it is.)

Let’s start with mic styles. Here are 4 kinds of microphones for amplifying the wedding officiant, and these are all the things to consider when choosing between them.

Option 1: Handheld microphone

This used to happen to me many, many times. Until I started being explicit about it.

The couple and I would talk through all the mic details, and they would tell me, “We’ll make sure there’s a cordless mic there.” When I wa starting out, I was satisfied and thought we could leave it at that. “Fine. No cord. Great.”

But then I’d show up at the venue and that’s exactly what I would get: a cordless mic. That’s all. No stand.

So officiant beware: many people use the word “cordless” as another word for “handheld.”

At the end of the day, though, cord or no cord, that’s not the important thing. It’s not like the wedding officiant is pacing or stalking the stage like a stand-up comic or a motivational speaker. The wedding officiant is pretty stationary. So why would a wedding officiant care about a cord or no cord? It’s irrelevant.

The real question is: why on earth would a wedding officiant have any reason to hold the mic?

I’m against it.

So now, I say, “Cord or cordless – doesn’t really matter….”

Here’s what does matter.

Option 2: Microphone on a stand

I’m gonna just say where I stand on this: let’s get that cordless or corded handheld mic on a stand. (That was a pun, there. See…?)

If it’s a handheld mic on offer, I don’t just prefer a stand for the mic. I insist on it.

This is just about my only logistical non-negotiable in the whole wedding ceremony. I must be hands-free. I don’t care what style of hands-free. But I’m not holding a mic during the ceremony. And I’ve never had to. All my couples have ordered a stand or another style when I explain why it’s important to me.

First of all, being hands-free means I can use my hands and be more engaging when I’m talking and telling their story.

And second, it means I’m not juggling the binder and the mic, which would be awful when it comes time for the ring exchange, or when I hand them their vows to read, or if it’s windy and the pages are blowing.

Here’s a drawback to the mic-on-a-stand option, though: it comes between us officiants and our couples. Literally. It’s in the middle of us. And it’s pretty ubiquitous in all the photos.

Some couples will care about how invasive a mic stand can be. Some won’t at all. But this is the drawback to the “mic-on-a-stand” option, and it’s important to brief our couple about it. “With the mic on a stand, it’ll be right there between us the whole time, and it will show up in the pictures.” Now they’re informed and they’ll make the decision that’s best for them.

So in the hierarchy of mic’ing up, the mic-on-a-stand option is preferable to the handheld option – which for me, actually, isn’t even an option I’ll consider.

But there’s one step up from that.

Option 3: Headset microphone

I call it the Britney Spears mic. Am I dating myself?

Some venues or DJs will offer the kind of mic you strap to your face. Once I was even given an old Logitech headset mic – the kind video gamers use. (Minus the headphones, thank God.) No worries. Again, it’s the couple’s show. Not mine.

As nice as a good headset mic can be, there are a couple of possible drawbacks to consider about officiating with a headset mic.

First, haven’t we all seen a public speaker fighting with the headset mic during her whole talk? For some reason, those things don’t tend to fit all heads equally. Or they just don’t get adjusted properly ahead of time.

So let’s make sure that our headset mic fits like a glove and that it can endure the inevitable back and forth of our head as we swivel between looking at each member of our couple.

Second (also related to proper adjustment), headset mics can really add a mean hiss or lisp to our voice. Because the mic is just inches from our mouth, it’s crucial to do a proper soundcheck ahead of time. Not just to eliminate any obvious ringing. But to make sure we still sound like ourselves when we start talking.

And this leads to what I consider to be the best mic option for wedding officiants.

Option 4: Lavalier microphone (lapel mic)

The lavalier mic is king for a lot of reasons. It’s hands-free. It’s no-fuss. And it’s generally high-quality audio.

There are three factors to consider about wearing a lavalier mic.

First, we need to make sure it’s clipped onto our clothing good and tight. We don’t want the mic drooping or rubbing up against our clothes and making nasty background noise during the ceremony.

Second, we need to make sure our wardrobe can accommodate it. The box typically clips onto our belt or fastens somewhere in the back. It’s generally not exactly small or sleek. So that means making sure it doesn’t bulge awkwardly though our suit jacket or dangle askew from our skirt. We need to wear the right clothes and maybe plan for it.

And finally, we need to make sure we don’t wear the mic too far up or down our front. If it’s placed too far down, it has to be turned way up by the A/V person and that means it picks up a ton of other noise.

On the other hand (and I’ve learned this the hard way), if it’s too far up our front, the volume will swing back and forth wildly. This is most true for wedding officiants, because we are almost always reading from a script when we’re speaking. That means when we look out to the guests sometimes, our mouth is farther from the mic. But then when we look down to read from our script all throughout, our mouth is suddenly really close to the mic.

So when we do that sound check with a lavalier mic, let’s not just say “peanut butter” over and over with our chins and eyes way up looking out beyond the seats and satisfied that all is well. It’s important to remember that we’ll actually be looking down much of the time, too. The more accurate volume adjustment takes into account that we’re looking down. A really pro A/V person can optimize the lavalier sound system for both.

2. Mic’ing up the couple

In my planning session with the wedding couple, I always ask them what style they will choosing for saying their vows. Their answer has a direct effect on whether or not they’ll need a mic.

Here are my general guidelines for mic’ing (or not mic’ing) the wedding couple.

If the couple are writing and reading their own vows, they need to be mic’d up. The guests will be frustrated and pretty unhappy if they can see all the emotions happening up there, but can’t hear a thing.

However, if the couple are repeating after the wedding officiant, or just listening to our big long question and simply answering “I do,” then I generally don’t bother mic’ing them. It’s not like the guests are going to be leaning forward and grumbling, “What are they saying?? I can’t hear!” They’ll know what’s being said because they can hear the officiant clearly. And any immediate family (for whom hearing the words may be really important) will be either standing or sitting close enough to hear without trouble.

When the Wedding Couple Does Need a Microphone

If and when the couple are writing their own vows, and we’ve determined that the officiant needs a microphone, then the couple will need a microphone too.

What kind of mic does the couple need?

It’s rare-to-never that a venue or DJ has three lavalier or headset mics on hand. So even when the wedding officiant has a hands-free mic, the couple will almost always use a handheld mic.

So now we have a new question: who holds the mic for the bride or the groom when she or he is saying the vows? The officiant? Or the bride or groom?

This is a matter of taste, but I always let the bride/groom hold her/his own mic when saying the vows.

I find if very distracting for the officiant to be hovering over the bride’s shoulder, arm extended, during such an intimate moment between two people. And then in the photos, you see that disembodied hand protruding into the photo with a mic. Weird and creepy.

Plus, if even one guest for a single second during the vows thinks, “I wonder if the officiant’s arm is getting tired,” then that’s one thought too many about us. Everyone should be enraptured by what the couple – and only the couple – are doing in that moment. The self-written-and-read vows are precisely when we wedding officiants need to almost literally recede into the background. Not be hovering with a stick near the couple’s faces.

It’s far more natural for the couple to be holding their own mic, going at their own pace, moving their bodies as they feel they need to in the moment.

I never hold the mic for the couple, and I’ve never had a couple complain about it.

Here’s what I do. Either the mic that the couple will use for their vows is the same one I’m using on the stand in front of me, or their mic is on a short stand just off to the side within my reach. When it’s their turn, I hand him his wedding vow script, pluck the mic off the stand, and hand it to him. He reads, I take back the script, he hands the mic to his partner, I hand the partner the script, and I can step back while each of them reads.

3. Mic’ing up other ceremony participants

This leaves the final question of how we will mic up anyone else reading or speaking during the ceremony.

If the couple want someone else to participate, then either that person will be lavaliered up before the ceremony, or they’ll be coming forward to a mic at the front.

For all the same reasons I gave about why the wedding officiant should be hands-free, I always recommend that the reader or speaker come to a mic on a stand rather than grabbing a handheld or a table or something.

So sometimes that person will come to the mic we’re using to officiate. Or, if the A/V person can provide it, we may want to place the reader/speaker’s separate mic off to the side. This is a choice for the couple to make.

If it’s a separate mic for the reader/speaker, then we need to make sure her mic is in place, tested, and at the right height. We’re all set!

There are loads of choices when to comes to mics in the wedding ceremony. But essentially it just comes down to who gets mic’d up and how.

So we talk it through with our couple. Do the officiant, the couple, and any other readers need a mic? And with that decided, will they use a handheld, mic on a stand, headset, or lavalier mic?

With a commanding understanding of how each mic affects the logistics for each, we can confidently walk our couple through the options and help them make the best choice for their ceremony.