Let’s say you’re officiating a wedding. You make the last check of the five details, walk to the front of the room, turn, see 100+ people looking back at you, and take a breath to start the wedding ceremony.
Here’s where the Choose Your Own Adventure begins. (Remember those books? Did I just date myself?)
Scenario One: You say, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today….” Okay, let’s reserve judgment on your choice to start the ceremony that way. (For now.)
The question is: what do the guests know about how they are to behave and feel during this ceremony?
Answer: reserved. Quiet. Like an audience. And if that’s what you and/or your couple are going for, you can stop reading now because you’re gonna get exactly the result you want with that opening. A nice tame group of listeners. Cheers – have a great week!
Okay… if you’re still here – hi!
Scenario Two: Now imagine you say, “Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to an event years in the making. Let me hear you, now! Are you ready for Jill and Andrew to finally get married?”
What do the guests know about how they are to behave and feel during this ceremony?
They’re going to cheer. And holler. And maybe even whoop. They know right away: the officiant sees me. We have permission to participate. We’re an active part of this ceremony. This is a celebration!
So if that’s what we’re going for – if that’s the vibe we want – then we don’t start with declarations like, “Welcome to the wedding of Jill and Andrew” or “Hi everyone, thanks for coming. We are gathered here today….”
The first thing we say in the wedding ceremony is: a question.
It’s a question that can only be replied to with a rousing “YES!” from all the friends and family and guests.
The question is: “Are you ready for Jill and Andrew to finally get married??”
(Of course… make sure you change “Jill and Andrew” to the names of your couple. Otherwise it will make things really awkward.)
And now the guests are all in. They’re with us. And they’re grateful we’re made the wedding ceremony about them, too.
When I started out officiating, I learned this the long way. I learned it by comparing my first many weddings to each other. Sometimes the guests were a bit uptight. Other times they were really rowdy. What was the difference? Was it the decor? The seating? The echoiness of the room? The weather?
Sometimes a number of factors contribute to how free and relaxed the guests feel during the wedding ceremony. But soon I suspected the algorithm was me, and I started to test it. And yep: in the weddings where I opened with just, “Hi everyone, welcome to the wedding of…,” the guests were a bit muted; when I opened with that YES!-inducing question, the guests laughed harder, cried freer, and cheered louder.
Boom. It was about the permission I was implicitly giving them. The tone I was setting for their level of participation.
“Okay, Mark, great. So that’s the first thing to say. But, wasn’t this post called What to Say and Do to Start the Wedding Ceremony?” What’s the do part?
‘Glad you asked. The first thing to do will come easy when we open with the cheer-inducing question.
The first thing we do when we take the front and turn, and see all those people looking back at us tense and anxious and tight as a drum is: smile.
Give everyone a huge smile for a few full beats. When we do, we’re prepping them in advance to answer us back when we ask them the cheer-inducing question. We’re inviting them in.
And then we say the thing. “Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to an event years in the making. Let me hear you, now! Are you ready for the wedding of Jill and Andrewwwwww?”
Let the cheering and the hollering and the whooping – and the celebration – begin.
It’s how I start 100% of my ceremonies. And now you have my secret.
Bonus! A word on Opening Remarks
So, usually, the above part happens – the “first thing we say to start the wedding ceremony” – before the processional where the person getting married comes down the aisle after his/her wedding party.
Most of the time I’m standing up there with the groom and his groomsmen for these first words. Technically, the ceremony hasn’t started yet. It’s that part of the ceremony called the “opening remarks” or “announcements.”
Here are the two things the guests need to know before the processional starts – the two things we tell them in the opening remarks.
1. Guests may (or may not) take photos.
In our planning session with our couple, we will have asked them if guests are allowed to take pictures. This is where I tell guests either:
- “The couple have said we are permitted to discreetly take photos, but please, let’s not get in the way of the professionals,” OR
- “The couple have asked that we not take any photos, so please put all your cameras and phones away.”
2. Please turn your phones on silent mode.
Regardless of whether or not guests are permitted to take photos with their phones, as officiants, we need to remind everyone to turn their phones off or to silent mode.
Pro-tip: this is a good time to make a joke like, “Especially the groom. And groomsmen. C’mon guys, is everything off?”
With those things out of the way, I then say the magic words that are the real cue to get the processional started: “With that, let’s begin.” The music starts, and here we go.