You’re asking your friend or relative to officiate your wedding ceremony—good call! It’s a popular choice right now. In fact, more than half of all weddings are officiated by a friend or relative, and many of those people will be doing it for the very first time.
But there’s another unfortunately popular trend that goes with this—all those YouTube and TikTok videos featuring first-time officiants bombing and creating frustrating or awkward ceremony moments.
I have good news for you: your friend or relative can ace your wedding ceremony on their very first time. It just takes a little know-how and a guiding hand.
1. Help Them Get Started
When friends and relatives turn to the internet for help officiating their first wedding, I’m the guy they find. That means I get the same panicked emails again and again.
“Oh my god, I’m worried sick! My bestie asked me to officiate her wedding, and of course, I said yes. It’s an honor! But when I sat down to figure out the ceremony, I realized that I don’t know what I’m doing! Help!”
As a teacher of new officiants, I need to fill you in on a secret about the person you asked to lead your ceremony. When you asked your loved one to officiate your wedding, they happily said yes. They were honored and thrilled!
Then they went home and hyperventilated into a paper bag.
Of course, you’ll never know that because they’re not going to tell you! They’re going to smile and tell you they’ve got it handled. They don’t want to burden you! Meanwhile, they’re searching the internet and wondering if you understand the magnitude of what you asked them to do.
The best thing you can do when you ask your friend or relative to officiate is to help get them started.
There are loads of resources out there for first-time officiants, including books, online courses, and live coaching calls by seasoned pros like me. Consider gifting them with a little officiant’s toolkit or shoot them an email with some helpful links. It will make them feel both honored and appreciated for all the hard work you’ve asked them to do.
2. Sit Down Together for a Ceremony Planning Session
Couples often have one big complaint after their wedding ceremony. Either the officiant didn’t do something the couple wanted, or the officiant did do something that the couple didn’t want.
There’s an easy way to avoid this problem: sit down with your officiant and plan the ceremony together.
This ceremony planning session typically takes about an hour, and the ideal time to schedule it is around four weeks before the wedding day. It’s well worth your time.
First, your ceremony planning session will make sure the ceremony contains only what you want and none of the things you don’t want. Start the meeting by imagining it’s your wedding day (half an hour before the ceremony, to be precise). What is the wedding party doing? Who is greeting guests? Is there music? Are drinks being served? When are you arriving?
From there, sequentially move through everything that you want to happen, considering various start times and elements to when you head back up the aisle at the end. That way, you’re leaving no stone unturned. Your officiant is literally taking note of everything you want—and don’t want!—in your ceremony.
There’s another benefit to this meeting, too. When you schedule it a month before your ceremony, you ensure your officiant isn’t procrastinating!
Now, you might be thinking, “The person I chose would never leave this to the last minute!” Let’s assume that’s true. You’d still be surprised at the number of first-time officiants who started working on the ceremony a few days before the wedding.
When you meet a few weeks before the ceremony, you’re gently nudging your officiant to start preparing. And you get peace of mind knowing they’re not cobbling your ceremony together at the last minute.
3. Let Them Write Your Love Story
You’re planning a wedding day that’s filled with great experiences for your wedding guests. Your ceremony should complement the rest of your exciting day. There’s one great way to guarantee that your ceremony will be fun and moving—let your officiant tell your love story.
Sharing your story will make your officiant worth listening to. Humans are wired with a hunger for stories, and I assume most of your guests will be humans. So, if you want a non-boring wedding for your guests, we’re going to need fewer platitudes and more stories. Instead of their minds wandering away, your guests will be riveted and moved.
Another thing your story will do is make you excited for the ceremony. In the minutes before the processional, a lot of brides and grooms feel dread about the upcoming formalities. But when you know you’re going to be the center of a fun and engaging love story for your guests, you’ll feel excited to get up there! The vibe will be far less uptight.
Sit down and write out how you met your fiancé, how the first date went, and how the proposal happened. Ask your fiancé to do the same on their own. Then, send each of those writeups to your officiant. They can use your tales to write a fun and moving story that will bring some serious moxie to your ceremony!
4. Read Your Script Beforehand
After the ceremony planning session, your officiant went off and created a detailed script filled with all the stage directions and elements you discussed. How do you make sure your ceremony is exactly what you want? Ask to read that script ahead of time. Even though you had a meeting, there could still be elements missing or wording you don’t like.
As a professional officiant, I always ask my couples to proofread their script. Don’t feel bad about asking to see it! It’s not micromanaging; it’s a professional standard. You’re making sure the script is perfect for you.
5. Have a Well-Planned Rehearsal
Rehearsing your ceremony is essential, especially for an officiant with no experience. The thought of rehearsing can be a drag, but the answer to painful rehearsals is not forgoing the rehearsal—it’s a fun, well-organized one!
With your finished script in hand, your officiant will be able to run a rehearsal that’s tight and doesn’t take long. They will gather everyone and outline what’s going to happen in the ceremony. After that, it’s time for a walk-through of the processional and any other moving parts. There will be a lot of laughing and ironing out the kinks before you finally nail it. After all, every single detail is already written down and decided. All you have to do is follow the directions in the script.
After practicing, everyone will know what they’re supposed to do and can lose the stress. Now your wedding party and your first-time officiant will be as excited for the ceremony as you are!
When you see viral videos of first-time officiants ruining a wedding, remember that this doesn’t have to happen to you. They weren’t prepared. A little know-how and guidance will help your first-timer ace your ceremony.