Whether it’s your childhood bestie or your older sis, when someone asks you to officiate their wedding, it’s obviously a huge honor. It’s also likely just a little bit nerve-wracking, too. After all, you’ll be in charge of leading the tone, pace, and mood of potentially one of the biggest days of their lives. No pressure or anything, right? Figuring out what to say if you’re officiating a wedding isn’t easy — but there’s no reason to stress about it. While weddings vary significantly from couple to couple by culture, religion, and style, and personal preference, experts say there are a few things you can fall back on to ensure the ceremony not only goes smoothly but is also super memorable for the spouses to be.
The first step, of course, is to think about the couple you’ll be celebrating. What brought them together? What are their common interests? Are there any songs, books, movies, or poems that come to mind when you think of them? The key to making the occasion feel special is personalization, so any unique details you can come up with will no doubt prove helpful as you plot out what to say.
Then, it’s time to think about the flow of the ceremony. That means piecing together how you’ll approach essential components (like the vows and the ring exchange) while also considering how you’ll incorporate intimate tidbits and stories, if appropriate.
Not sure where to start? Since most wedding ceremonies follow a pretty similar structure, here’s how to map out your speech from beginning to end.
The Research Phase
Rather than trying to guess what the couple wants, it’s best to talk to them directly to get a sense of how they envision their ceremony. Mandy Connor, owner and lead planner of Hummingbird Bridal and Events, recommends writing down a list of questions to ask them — perhaps about what kind of vibe they’re going for in the ceremony, or whether there are any specific memories or details they’d like to include.
"During my interview with the couple prior to creating the ceremony, I ask them questions about how they met, what are some of their favorite things to do together, etc.," says Desireé Dent, president and lead planner at Dejanae Events. "I also want to hear about their engagement and why they know this person is their soulmate. After learning about their relationship, I love crafting the story and sharing it with them during the ceremony, typically before the reading of the vows."
Connor advises digging for info on their first date, or the moment when they knew the other person was "the one." In addition to gathering these personal details, Dent also advises reading through some poems about love for inspiration.
"After interviewing the couple to learn of their love story, search the internet for poems that incite meaning into their relationship and journey to the altar," she tells Elite Daily. "Poetry is always a wonderful way to incorporate non-denominational readings."
BTW, there are countless other sources of inspiration to choose from as well — like songs that are meaningful to the couple or famous quotes about love and marriage.
"We had one couple whose officiant talked about their paths leading up to the point of meeting and it created a really nice storyline for people to follow," adds Caroline Creidenberg, founder of the professional virtual wedding planning company Wedfuly. "It also allowed the groom’s guests to learn more about the bride pre-him and vice versa."
As officiant, it’s your job to make sure the attendees are settled and attentive before the ceremony begins. There are lots of different ways to ease into things, but experts agree that the best way to warm up the crowd is to keep things as warm and relaxed as possible.
"Sometimes officiants will be nervous and come off as rigid with a pre-written welcome which makes people feel a bit stiff and uncomfortable," says Creidenberg. "Letting the word free flow around the script is really nice!"
Dent recommends kicking things off by first welcoming guests on behalf of the couple, and then reminding them to turn off their cell phones and refrain from camera usage during the ceremony.
After thanking everyone for being there, don’t be afraid to make a joke if it feels right — it could help to keep guests engaged while also setting a light-hearted tone for the proceedings. For example, if the ceremony is virtual, Creidenberg suggests making a light quip about staying muted on Zoom.
Once it’s time for the ceremony to begin, you can welcome the crowd again in a more formal manner, and remind them why they’re there by saying something like "We are gathered here today to join [XYZ name] and [XYZ name]."
After that, you may choose to go straight into whatever readings or anecdotes you had planned. Generally, this is a good time to talk about marriage in general and what it means.
The declaration of intent is where you couple days their "I do’s." There are many different ways to go about this part, but it usually entails saying something like, "Do you, [name], take [name], to be your lawfully wedded [husband/wife/spouse] — and will you be faithful as long as you both shall live?"
How you handle the vows will depend on whether the couple has written their own or not. Either way, it’s a good idea to transition into this segment by something along the lines of, "The vows you are about to make are a way to solidify your commitment to each other."
"If they are reading their own vows, they typically do that first with an intro explaining that they’ve written their own vows to each other and then follow with traditional vows," says Creidenberg. "Most officiants we work with will ask that they take hands and face each other, sometimes give them a moment to take a breath or two and then introduce the vows, declaration of intent, and rings."
The Ring Exchange
At this point in the ceremony, you’ll prompt the couple to exchange wedding rings, one at a time. You might choose to make a quick statement about the significance of these rings, and then you can instruct the groom or bride to take their partner’s ring and place it on their finger.
It’s up to you and the couple how you’d like to word this part, but typically, officiants have them repeat a simple phrase like "[Name]. take this ring as a symbol of my eternal commitment to you," or "I [name], promise to love and cherish you [name], till the end of my days." Once they’ve slipped the ring on their partner’s finger, you’ll have the other person do the same.
One of Connor’s favorite approaches is the tradition of a ring warming ceremony.
"As the officiant shares blessings or stories about the couple, guests are invited to hold the wedding rings for just a few seconds to warm the rings in their hands as they say a silent blessing, prayer or wish for the future," she explains. "This is believed to embed good luck into the rings and it further invites guests to play an active role in the occasion."
The Closing Remarks/Pronouncement
Now it’s time to finish the ceremony just as strong as you started it. Before officially declaring their union, you’ll probably want to say just a few more words — like a parting blessing or words of advice.
"While there is no set rule regarding how we give the final blessing, it is really vital that you personalize it to the couple and that you honor the spirit of the day," says Connor.
After the pronouncement, you also may invite them to kiss. How you word this might depend on whether they will be sharing the same last name and what feels most appropriate to the couple. However, Creidenberg recommends saying something like, "I now pronounce [husband/wife] and [husband/wife]. You may seal your vows with a kiss! Let’s give it up for [names]!" Or, she suggests saying, "By the power of your love and commitment, I now pronounce you [husband/wife] and [husband/wife]! You may kiss!"
Not sure what order to do things in? Creidenberg notes that announcing the couple after the kiss means you’ll usually get some initial cheers followed by an even louder round of cheers from the guests.
The bottom line is, there’s no right or wrong way to officiate a wedding, as long as you’re keeping the couple’s preferences in mind from start to finish. Try to relax, reassure yourself you’ve got this, and remember that you were chosen for this respected role for a reason. Above all, remind yourself what this day is truly about — because when your statements come from the heart, you can never go wrong.
Mandy Connor, wedding planner
Caroline Creidenberg, wedding planner
Desireé Dent, wedding planner
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