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ceremony planning tips

9 Dos and Don'ts for Planning Your Ceremony

Photo: Carlie Statsky Photography

Do: Get to know your officiant ahead of time.

This is the person who is going to lead you through the emotional commitment you're making, so it's crucial they're someone whom you're completely comfortable with. And if you get to know them ahead of time, your ceremony will feel personalized and authentic. It doesn't have to be formal; you could meet them for coffee or take them up on their offer for premarital counseling (it's not just for couples with issues!).
Tip for the taking: If you're not required by your religious institution to use a particular officiant, you could choose someone you're already close with, like the pastor of your childhood church or a friend who has known you both forever. Just check what the requirements are for getting them certified in your state, if they aren't already.

Don't: Pick a spot that's far away from your reception.

Keeping your ceremony space close to your reception is the easiest way to simplify your planning and cut down on logistics, like figuring out how your entire bridal party is going to get from the ceremony to the cocktail hour. Book a ceremony venue that's nearby or at the same place as your reception and you'll have more time for things like photos and mingling with your guests at cocktail hour.
Tip for the taking: Choosing a ceremony spot at your reception venue is the easiest way to cut costs on your entire wedding. Just by following this piece of advice you'll save on your venue rental, transportation, even photography and videography costs.

Do: Pad in time when you're getting ready.

Between hair, makeup, photos and travel to the venue, there are a lot of prewedding to-dos that can potentially put you behind schedule and make your ceremony start late. In many cases, you only have the ceremony space for a limited amount of time, and you don't want to make your guests waiting on you. Typically hair and makeup take about 45 minutes each, so plan two-and-half (or even three) hours just for beauty.
Tip for the taking: Ask each pro for a realistic time estimate on how long it will take and then add on 15 to 30 minutes just to be safe. That way, if everything runs smoothly, you'll still have some time left over if something unexpected sets you back.

Don't: Spend your entire décor budget on flowers for the entrance.

Start with decorating high-impact areas like your aisle and altar, since these are going to draw the most attention from both guests and the camera. Then, use the rest of your ceremony decor budget on the entrance, chairs and ceiling. A flower-entwined trellis and petal-covered aisle are classic ceremony decor ideas, but you can go as simple as hanging paper lanterns from the aisle chairs or as elaborate as draping the space from floor to ceiling.
Tip for the taking: If you're just planning for a few arrangements, work with a florist to figure out what you'll need. But for a more complex design, enlist a floral or event designer to help you create and execute your vision.

Do: Offer comfortable seating.

If guests are comfortable, they'll be able to focus on just enjoying your ceremony, which can really set the vibe for the rest of the day. That might mean adding colorful cushions to your church pews or exchanging wobbly plastic folding chairs for something sturdier. Think about the setup too -- there should be enough space between chairs and rows, so guests have some legroom.
Tip for the taking: If you're planning out your ceremony space yourself, follow this guideline: There should be at least 10 square feet per person, and an extra 20 to 30 square feet for the altar and bridal party to stand.

Don't: Get too hung up on your program.

Your programs can include anything from song lyrics to your love story. But before you start penning an encyclopedia-length pamphlet, you should know there's nothing wrong with sticking to the basics, like the names of your bridal party members, the order of events and info on any readings. So don't stress about putting down every thought, or worry about giving acknowledgements to every guest (save all that for toasts or give a personal thank-you at the reception). That way, you have more time to focus on things like picking the perfect processional music instead.
Tip for the taking: These days, a lot of couples don't even have programs at all. We love the idea of one large chalkboard sign at the entrance with all the ceremony info instead.

Don't: Insist your shy friend do a reading.

Before you choose your readers, think about whether they're the right person for the role. And don't take it personally if someone declines because they're not up to it. If a reader isn't comfortable speaking in front of a lot of people, they may get nervous, which could mean a lot of awkward pauses, an unsteady voice or a total freeze-up. Your readings will go much more smoothly if your readers are confident and excited to do it.
Tip for the taking: Finalize your selections at least a few weeks ahead of time, so your readers have time to practice. That way, they won't have to be glued to the paper or stumble through the words.

Do: Have a backup plan if your ceremony is outside.

Prepping a plan B in case of rain, snow or whatever the weather may bring is a must, and that might mean reserving an indoor alternative or a tent. And you should also think of ways to make everyone as comfortable as possible for your outdoor ceremony. That could mean reserving heat lamps to ward of chills in late fall or buying parasols for a hot summer day.
Tip for the taking: You can get a feel for what you'll need by doing a walk-through at around the same time as your ceremony (if you did all your venue visits in the evening, you may not have realized there's no shade over your ceremony space at your early afternoon start time). And keep an eye on the weather leading up to the day of for any sudden changes.

Do: Outline traditions in your program.

Including your cultural traditions is a great way to personalize your ceremony, but it will be hard for your guests to feel included if they have no idea what's going on, like if you're putting your own spin on the unity candle or reciting a reading in another language. A note in the program explaining the traditions you've chosen is all you need to help guests follow along.
Tip for the taking: Ask your officiant to give cues when a tradition is beginning or when you're transitioning from one tradition to the next.

-- Simone Hill

See More: Wedding Ceremony + Wedding Vow Ideas , Wedding Programs