How to conduct a wedding ceremony (when you’re not a celebrant!)

As a celebrant trainer as well as a celebrant, I spend a lot of time helping people to create ceremonies as a living. Sometimes though, I get emails asking for guidance from people who have been asked to conduct a family member or friend’s wedding ceremony. They don’t necessarily want to become a celebrant (although hopefully the bug will bite!) but are looking for pointers. After another recent enquiry along these lines, I’ve put together these thoughts in the hope they will help if you are in this situation too. 

Listen

The first and most important thing to do is to listen to your friends who are getting married. Listen hard and listen long. Spend some dedicated time with them talking about their wedding ceremony – what they want out of it, what vibe they want the ceremony to have, how they want to feel on the day, how they want their guests to feel on the day, who they want to have involved or mentioned in the ceremony, why they are getting married (they might not have considered the answer to this and you might be surprised!) and why they want you to do it (what are the qualities they see in you that they’d like to have at their ceremony – you make them feel safe, you’re a great speaker, you’re funny…). Don’t let them get away with an ‘oh you know us’ kind of answer! You’ll need to treat this with a professional hat on as well as ‘just’ their friend.

Ask questions

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Questions will come up naturally as a result of this conversation, but you will want to ask both about their wishes for the wedding ceremony itself but also more about their relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you think you ‘should’ know the answer. Done well, their ceremony should reflect who they really are, what they’re into, their values, their beliefs, their tastes, their personality and their love story, so prepare a list of questions beforehand, thinking about what you need to know in order to conduct their ceremony. These might include questions about how they met, what they love about one another, what winds them up about one another, what the highlights of their time together so far have been, whether there have been any tough times and how they worked together to get through them, what their hopes are for the future… If you like, you can send them questions to answer together and then send to you. This can be really useful when writing the ceremony. 

It’s not about you

One of the easy traps to fall into for non-celebrants is to feel that they have to be like a stand-up comedian. Obviously, you do want the guests (and your friends of course!) to be involved and engaged, but it’s important not to steal the show from the couple. So you need to walk the tightrope of being yourself but reflecting them; of keeping people entertained but also focused on your friends. It is a tricky balance but remember it’s their ceremony, not yours. And be yourself, but it’s not about you. See what I mean about tricky?! Speak in the way you would normally speak – don’t put on your best ‘vicar voice’ or become either stiffly formal or ‘host with the most’. Your friends will be able to give you good feedback hopefully. Make sure the communication channels are honest and open between you – try out your ideas or your writing on them and they will be able to tell you what they really think and you will be able to tweak accordingly. 

How to structure the wedding ceremony

Regarding the structure of the ceremony, there are no strict rules here. Your friends will probably want to have some sort of ‘entrance’, which you can discuss between you. Once everyone is at the front, you can start (top tip – if guests have stood up for the entrance, remember to ask them to sit again – many a rookie celebrant has made that mistake)! Welcome everyone (you might want to single out people in particular and/or mention those who couldn’t be there). There might be a reading or a song, then you could go into the address/love story. Vows and rings often follow, then the kiss of course, before everyone goes out to the next part of the celebrations. That’s the basic ‘recipe’, but you can add things or mix them up to your heart’s content to make it personal and fitting for your friends. 

Music

When it comes to music, you will want a piece for your friends to come in to and a piece to walk out to at least – from there, pretty much anything goes! If they are really into music, you can have as much as you want – add a group song in perhaps too! Live music is great – especially when it’s friends or family of the couple – but you will need to make sure what the musicians need in terms of space, equipment and so on. If you are having recorded music, you will need to have a PA system or similar to play it through. 

Readings

If appropriate, involve others in the ceremony, perhaps with readings or similar. Sometimes, couples are happy for people to choose their own reading but others prefer to choose them and ask their friends to read. There’s no ‘need’ for readings, but there are lots of really great ones around and, if you think a little outside the box, they can be spot on for your couple.

Vows

Ask your friends how they feel about their vows. If they want to use the traditional ones that’s ok of course, but it’s worth asking them to consider writing their own, as that’s the beating heart of the ceremony. They can do this in their own way, making them funny, serious, creative, nerdy… whatever suits them. 

Being heard

Depending on the strength of your voice and the number of guests, you might want to consider using a microphone with a PA system. You don’t want all your words to go unheard. And this is very much the case with your couple too – people will want to hear them saying their vows. Readers too!

Use a script

Unless you are very experienced and confident in public speaking, you will almost certainly need to have a script. Make sure you’ve practised lots before the big day, and have your script in a folder or on a tablet that you can hold and read easily (do NOT use a phone)!


Creating a wedding ceremony for friends is a huge honour and can also be quite overwhelming in the responsibility to get it right! I offer bespoke coaching sessions where I can read your script and help you to prepare. Get in touch today if this is something you’d like to discuss.

And of course, if conducting this ceremony makes you think you’d love to train properly and do it more often, you can always train to become a certified celebrant with the Celebrants Collective… 😃