Note: For the purpose of this article I refer to the bride and groom, however the advice given can easily be adapted to bride/bride and groom/groom couplings, and for any type of marriage-like ceremony (commitment/renewal of vows).
The first ever ceremony I conducted, the couple said they didn’t think they needed a rehearsal. I was freaking out on the inside (I was the one who needed a rehearsal!) but I accepted their wishes and went along with it.
The ceremony was a success and I’ve even married two couples who were guests at that ceremony. However, when I received feedback from the couple after the wedding, the one thing they said they would change was they would have done a rehearsal. They were nervous on the day and discovered at the last minute that they each had different ideas of how their ceremony was going to work. This put unnecessary stress on them at the time they should have been relaxing and enjoying themselves. A rehearsal would have ironed out these misunderstandings and made them feel more calm and confident in what they were doing on the day.
This made me realise that the rehearsal is far more than a simple run through of where to stand and how to walk in. It’s really about making the everyone feel in control and the bride and groom can really concentrate on each other rather than being distracted by logistics.
Ever since that first ceremony, except in special cases (such as elopements or very simple ceremonies with no wedding party), I always recommend either an onsite or off-site rehearsal prior to the big day.
So here are my…
Top ten tips to get the most out of your big day
These are the tips and advice I share with couples at the rehearsal which usually takes place in the week prior to their marriage ceremony. Some of them are practical, others are to help calm the nerves and ensure you’re truly present and enjoy the moment.
1. It’s Not A Performance
This is my number one tip for a reason. It really is the main thing you need to remember, especially if you’re the nervous type.
You are not actors with lines you need to learn and directions to follow. If you fumble over your words or trip while walking down the aisle, it’s ok. We stop, take a breath and keep going.
You’re guests are not sitting there with a box of popcorn and a ridiculously oversized cup of Coke expecting to be entertained. They did not buy tickets and they will not be critiquing your performance over drinks at the reception (if they are, you probably shouldn’t have invited them). Your guests love you and feel privileged to have been invited to share and celebrate this special moment with you.
So, remember… it’s your moment. You’re human. Be yourselves.
2. Choose a Side
If you don’t know what side the bride/groom traditionally stand on, then it obviously doesn’t matter. So do whatever feels best for you.
My husband and I each have a ‘good side’ that is (fortunately) opposite to each other. So it was a no brainer for us which side to stand on.
Other things to consider:
- If the bride is entering from the side rather than the back it makes sense for the groom and groomsdudes to be on the other side. This gives the groom a great view (without having to turn around) and gives the bride and her babes plenty of space to get into position.
- Is the bride wearing something in her hair? If so, it should be facing out towards the guests (and photographer).
- Is the bride wearing her hair down somewhere it’s likely to be windy? If so, face into the wind so it blows behind and doesn’t get stuck in her lippy.
3. Work Out Your Walk
A run-through of your entrance is one of the most important parts of the rehearsal. Depending on if you have bridesbabes and how many you have, you’ll want to work out spacing so that you achieve just the right timing. Decide on a landmark (a pole, a tree) that acts as a cue for spacing. Once the first bridesbabe reaches the landmark, the next one starts, etc. etc. until the bride has made her entrance too.
This also includes working out positions for the full wedding party once everyone has reached the front. I like a ‘V’ shape with the bride and groom at the centre and the bridesbabes and groomsdudes at an angle towards the guests.
And when it comes to how to hold the bouquet it’s pubes, not boobs. No further explanation required.
4. Don’t Overthink the Handover
A traditional ‘giving away’ by the father of the bride is a rarity these days, but many brides still like to have their dad/mum/step-parent/sibling/child escort them down the aisle. And when they reach the end many couples totally overthink it and don’t know what to do.
The natural thing to do is for the bride to farewell their escort with a kiss and/or a hug, for the escort to greet (shake hands, kiss on the cheek) the groom (essentially handing the bride over) and then can take their seat.
Easy as that.
5. Take Your Time
You’ve been planning for months and you’ve been getting ready ALL day. But trust me, once that music starts and the bride is walking down the aisle, time seems to speed up and before you know it, it’s all over. So… take your time!
No need to power-walk down the aisle – this is your moment. Work it!
Don’t rush your vows – hold hands, look into your partner’s eyes and mean each word as you say it.
Hold your partner’s hand and linger there with the ring before pushing it on. This also gives your photographer a chance to get a good shot (avoiding awkward posed shots – hate them!)
Same goes for signing the paperwork. This is the first chance you have to speak to your husband/wife – enjoy it.
And sure, your parents are in the front row, but your first kiss as husband and wife is one of the only times a full-on PDA is totally acceptable. Pash on!
6. Look At Each Other
It’s very natural to look at the person who’s talking (the celebrant), but do you really want to spend one of the most important moments in your life looking at some person you’ve only known for a few months and may never see again?
This is YOUR moment. Sure there are other people there, but this marriage is between the two of you, so focus on your partner and give the moment the attention it deserves.
P.S. This is particularly important during the vows and ring exchange. A good celebrant will give you a little reminder off mic if your eyes start to wander. A bad celebrant will think it’s all about them and insist on telling corny jokes throughout your ceremony. Not cool!
7. Feel All The Feels
Laugh, snort, sniffle or all-out ugly cry if you need to. I always have tissues on hand (and usually stick one in the Groom’s pocket too). Tears are easily wiped away and make-up is easily fixed.
Quite frankly, if you don’t show any emotion at all it’s weirder than if you sob the whole way through the ceremony. So let go and let it flow.
8. Something Will Go Wrong
No matter how much you plan and prepare, something will go wrong. Whether it’s the weather, the dj playing the wrong song or a kookaburra swooping your guests (I kid you not), it’s going to happen and there’s not a lot you can do about it.
I often find that these unplanned and unexpected upsets make for some of the best memories of the day (and a great story to tell the grandkids).
If you start by expecting something to go wrong, you’ll find that when it does happen, you’ll take it in your stride rather than letting it ruin the moment.
9. Avoid the Awkward Exit
The end of the ceremony can be a bit awkward as couple and guests don’t really know what to do.
With a church wedding it’s easy. You walk back down the aisle out the doors of the church and then everyone comes out and congratulates you.
At civil ceremonies I find that guests are often so unsure what to do that in their effort not to do the wrong thing, they do nothing. AWKWARD!
So it’s up to the couple to initiate what happens next.
There are a couple of options:
- You can walk back down the aisle and have your celebrant encourage guests to follow behind, all meeting at the back for a hug and hello.
- You can simply just move forward towards your guests and start by greeting those in the front row (usually parents and family members, so it makes sense).
Both options work well. Just make sure you have a plan.
Or… surprise your guests by ending your ceremony in a completely unexpected way, like Sarah and Ryan did.
10. Forget the Run Sheet (for just a bit)
I have seen so many couples barely make it back down the aisle before they’re fretting over who should be where for the family photos or discussing the seating plan with the venue manager.
You just got married! Sure there’s lots to do and you don’t want to fall behind, but seriously… take a breather and enjoy the moment. Let your guests give you a hug and tell you how great you look and how happy for you they are. Look your new husband/wife in the eye and marvel in the moment. The rest will fall into place, I promise.
Sorry (not sorry) to all the wedding planners and venue managers who will hate me for this one.
And now some tips for the bride, the groom, the guests and the rest…
For the Bride…
Be Ready for the Ring
Don’t forget to put your engagement ring on the other hand before the ceremony. And an application of hand-cream can help the wedding band slip on nice and smooth.
For the Groom…
Be a Gentleman
Your bride is likely in heels and often in an impractical dress. So… give her a hand!
Be a gentleman and escort her to the signing table and get her seated before you sit down. And then after you’re done, help her back into position.
And have a hanky (tissue or pocket square) handy. The bride usually doesn’t have anywhere to stash supplies, so it’s up to you wipe away any tears (hers or yours).
For the Bridesbabes…
Make Sure the Bride is a Babe Too
Keep an eye on your bride and make sure she is looking HAWT at all times! This includes fixing flyaway hairs, wiping smudged lipstick and making sure the dress is arranged nicely during the ceremony.
If you’ve let her go through half the ceremony with lipstick on her teeth, you’re fired! Just kidding (… kind of).
P.S. Any good celebrant will be looking out for these things too.
Confiscate Her Phone
The last thing the bride needs on the big day is Uncle Bob calling her six times because he needs directions to the venue. Take her phone off her and take her calls only passing them on to the bride if ABSOLUTELY necessary.
For the Groomsdudes…
You may think you look cool, but it’s a fine line between looking like a wedding party and a security detail.
Don’t Forget the Rings
If you’re the groomsdude that has been entrusted with the rings, make sure you have the rings.
And you know that bit where you pretend you’ve forgot the rings because it’s really funny? Don’t. It’s not.
I recommend having the rings loose (ie. not in their boxes) or in some kind of small pouch tucked in your jacket pocket. When the time comes, simply take them out and have them ready to pass to the bride and groom one at a time. The celebrant will let you know when it’s time.
For the Wedding ‘Party’…
You’re not called a ‘party’ for nothing. Your job is to keep it fun for the bride and groom, especially pre-ceremony. The lead up to the big day is usually stressful and the day itself is often spent anxiously waiting around. Keep it light, keep it fun. Have a champas or a beer (just not too many or your celebrant can’t legally marry you!).
For the Guests…
The guests obviously aren’t at the rehearsal, so I very politely give them these tips before the ceremony begins.
Fill All the Seats
Of course everyone is being polite, but once the immediate family and any less mobile guests have chosen a set, get a wiggle on and fill the rest.
It’s a really bad look to have empty seats in your wedding photos, so you’re actually doing the couple a favour by taking a load off.
P.S. Any good celebrant will make sure all seats are filled before the ceremony starts.
Turn Off Your Phone
It’s crazy that this needs to be said, but I’ve had ceremonies where even though I have asked for everyone to turn off their phones, the mother of the groom’s phone has rung from the front row mid-ceremony. It is so distracting and can really ruin the flow of the ceremony. Turn your phones off!
Feels Not Photos
The bride and groom have specially invited you to be a part of their special day, not to watch it through the lens of a camera or through a screen on your phone. Even if just for the ceremony, put your phone/camera down and just enjoy it (it also looks better in photos if every guest isn’t holding an phone in the air).
If you insist on taking photos and the bride and groom are cool with it, just be mindful to stay out of the way of the professional photographers. They’re there to do a job and it’s very hard to get that snap of the bride as she steps down the aisle if Aunty Betty has bobbed out of her seat and stood right in front of the bride to ensure she gets the perfect shot.
The couple have hired professionals to capture how the day looks. Your job as a guest is to focus on how it feels.
And finally, things any good celebrant will check with you before the day…
Sometimes between the time you book your celebrant and when the ceremony actually rolls around, the time may have slightly changed. A good celebrant will always confirm timings and often even ask for a copy of the invite so they have EXACTLY the same information as the guests.
I always double-check timing at the rehearsal and on the day I arrive approximately one hour before the ceremony start time. This allows for some contingency for traffic and still gives me plenty of time to set up before guests start arriving.
Either at the rehearsal or on the day, I talk to the relevant people to decide on cues for the brides entrance and for music. This may be with the venue manager or simply a trusted friend who is willing to wait and give me a thumbs up when the bride has arrived.
Pronunciation of Names
Some names are very straight-forward, some require a bit of practice. I always get ask the bride and groom to teach me how to pronounce their names properly and even record it on my phone and write it down phonetically in the ceremony on the day to ensure I get it right.
It’s a good idea to give your guests clear instructions on what you expect from them and what happens next. I always ask the couple if they are happy for their guests to take photos and/or share to social media and very politely express those wishes at the start of the ceremony.
At the end of the ceremony your celebrant can give guests instructions on where they should go next and at what time, tell them what to do with those rose petals/bubbles/confetti and when, and I often stick around to help round up guests for a group photo.
Dress Code, Colours & Theme
One of my worst celebrant nightmares is to arrive at the ceremony in the same dress as the bridesmaids or the bride. Even the same colour would be bad. For that reason, I never wear white and always ask about colours so I can coordinate, but not match (if you know what I mean). Same goes for dress-code and theme.
If you’re using recorded music in your ceremony check out my 5 Steps to Creating Marriage Ceremony Music Magic