Thursday, October 26, 2017

Tips for Non-Professional Officiants

Written by  David Egan

Officiating a wedding is an honor and a privilege, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Here are some tips to help you knock it out of the park if you’re asked to officiate for your friends.

Your primary task is to act as facilitator. The essence of a wedding ceremony consists of the sharing with the guests of what it is that the couple believes about marriage, and the promises they are making to each other about how they will comport themselves in their marriage. Their guests are present not as audience but as participants, to hold the couple dear and prepare to support them in their marriage. It is to you to carry the couple and their guests through the ceremony as easily and as smoothly as possible, setting the tone, conveying the language, and directing all of the action. It’s a big job!

Being heard – Unless you’re a Broadway-trained actor, see if you can arrange for sound reinforcement so you can stay in your normal speaking voice. That will allow you to use your best inflection and concentrate on the message rather than on being loud enough to be heard. The best tools for the job are a wireless lavalier microphone connected to a quality amplifier and speaker. DJs can often provide this equipment as part of their service.

If you’re working without sound reinforcement, speak twice as loudly and half as fast as you think you should. Guests don’t have the text in front of them, so you need to clearly convey both meaning and tone.

Dress for success – You want, on the whole, to be invisible, and to not (God forbid!) upstage the couple! While some mainstream clergy wear vestments and a stole to symbolize their office, it’s rare that a non-professional can follow suit, so to speak, and have it look right. Basic black is always a good thing, and less skin is better than more skin, no matter the tone or venue of the ceremony.

Delivery – A wedding ceremony is a Really Important Thing. This is neither the time nor the place for stand-up comedy. Jokes and humor take attention away from the ceremony, and can easily go bad. Having said that, you don’t have to be stiffly formal. Think solemn without being somber. You want to be confident, relaxed, and comfortable, with poise and grace. The quality of your preparation has everything to do with all of that, so…

Practice, practice, practice! The more you practice delivering the ceremony out loud, the better your delivery will be on wedding day. You want to be able to speak the words clearly and with ease, infusing them with meaning.

If possible, practice the ceremony in the very space where the wedding will take place. You want to energetically own the space. The more comfortable you are in the space, the better you’ll do in the moment.

A bonus of lots of practice: you’ll know the text well enough to keep strong and extended eye contact with the couple and their guests.

Text preparation – Print the final copy of the ceremony out in a text size that you can comfortably read. Highlight words or phrases that call for special attention. I like to mark punctuation with a Sharpie so I give pauses their due and regulate my breathing accordingly. Put the text in an attractive black notebook or folio or some other good-looking covering.

By the way, officiating with your iPad might seem oh so au courant, but there are functional and aesthetic pitfalls. My advice: don’t do it.

A final pro tip: Be sure to tell the guests to be seated once the ceremony has begun!

Do all of these things and you’ll be the perfect paradox: unnoticed and yet at the center of it all, creating an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Next time: DIY dos and don’ts.

David Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a historic Baltimore wedding and event venue. Visit, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook! Send your comments and questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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