If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’ve been asked to read at a wedding – perhaps of a friend or family member.
So first off, congratulations! Being asked to do a reading at a wedding is a huge honour, so the couple are paying you a massive compliment.
However, there’s the chance that as well as feeling honoured, you might be feeling horrified (or at least, somewhat nervous at the prospect of standing up there and reading in front of all the other guests…) And if you get a bit weepy just at the thought of your loved ones getting married, you might be nervous about whether you’ll cry too.
Don’t worry. You are in very good company, as lots of people feel anxious about reading at a wedding. And you can be both nervous and excited at the same time – in fact, my kids coined a term for this some years ago when starting a new school: ‘nervecitement’!
So let’s look at some of the ways that you can harness this nervecitement and do your friends or family members proud!
Which wedding reading to choose?
It might be that the couple have asked you for a specific reading already, or they might have tasked you with the job of finding one for them or writing it yourself.
There are lots of different wedding readings out there, and they really don’t have to be formal, religious, or the ones you’ve heard a million times before. Think about what the couple like; their personalities, their sense of humour, and what you know so far about the style or tone of the wedding. This will help you to choose something that really works for them.
There are lots of websites out there, so I won’t try to list them all here (although this one is a good place to start). Your best bet is to get specific with your Google searching, and not settle for the first one you find. Try terms like ‘poem for dog lovers’, ‘quirky wedding readings’, ‘quotes from (their fave film, book or series)’, or similar. Also, don’t necessarily limit yourself to traditional ‘readings’ – maybe consider the lyrics to one of their favourite songs instead, for example. Make a long list of the ones you find that you like, and then narrow it down.
There will be lots of poems out there, but there’s no law to state that wedding readings have to rhyme!! There are plenty of beautiful prose options you could read at a wedding too. If your couple is working with a celebrant (like me!) ask them if they can put you in touch. We celebrants will have got to know the couple and the style they want for their wedding, have lots of ideas up our sleeves and can help you with your choice. A good celebrant will also be able to help you on the day with calming tips and maybe a run through if you want.
Whether you’ve chosen poetry or prose for your loved one’s wedding, see below for how to read with confidence – and actually enjoy yourself doing it!
Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered for reading a wedding poem with style!
How to read at a wedding with confidence – 14 tips to help you smash it!
1. Find out where in the ceremony you will be reading
There’s nothing worse than that feeling of almost holding your breath every time the celebrant pauses. Is this your moment? No. Now? Not yet?
In order to relax and fully enjoy the ceremony, ask the celebrant whereabouts in the wedding you’ll be doing your reading, and what the cue will be.
…and whilst we’re talking about ‘where’ – spend a few minutes before the wedding starts with the celebrant if you can. Make sure you are clear on where you will be standing when it’s your moment, if you will be using a microphone and if so, how to use it etc.
2. Practise your wedding reading until you know it well
Get to know your reading really well. You don’t have to memorise it, but you do need to be very familiar with it. The words should feel comfortable and familiar in your mouth. I have lost count of the number of people who come up to read a beautiful extract from Louis de Bernières’ ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ and stumble over the word ‘promulgation’ as if it’s the first time they have ever seen it. Don’t let that be you!
Read it out loud at least 15 times. You don’t have to have an audience (although it can help). Read it to the door, to a tree, in the shower or to your dog – but do read it out loud.
If your reading is long, there is the question of stamina too. You could be reading for a few minutes, and this could take some practise. Rehearsing your reading several times – like going to the gym to work your muscles – will give you the strength to keep packing a punch until the final sentence of your reading.
Making sure you’ve practised well will also alert you to the parts that make you a little moist-of-eye! So rehearsing your wedding reading out loud isn’t only useful for getting comfortable with the words, it can also help to prepare you for any tearful moments. When you know where they are, you’ll know to slow down, ground yourself and take an extra breath.
3. Follow the phrases, not the lines
It’s tempting to read a poem line by line, but often the phrases flow over the lines so that reading like that can kill the meaning and sound staccato.
There’s a well-known love poem by E.E. Cummings that makes a beautiful wedding reading, called ‘i carry your heart with me’:
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
Just as Cummings famously didn’t like capital letters, he also didn’t like making poems easy to read out loud for the nervous wedding reader!
So if you get a reading like this, follow the sense and the phrasing, not the lines and it will feel so much more natural.
If you’re stuck, Google videos or audio recordings of the reading for inspiration. It doesn’t mean you have to parrot them of course, but it might give you an insight about how you might go about reading the poem (here’s e.e. cummings himself reading that poem, for example).
4. Vary your tone and pitch
When you are getting to know the wedding reading you’ve chosen by rehearsing it over and over, you will start to get a feel for the parts you want to emphasise and for its pace.
For example, you might want to linger over an important word or phrase that you feel is particularly poignant. Or maybe there’s a bit that refers to an in-joke about one of them, and you might want to emphasise it whilst looking pointedly at them for a bit of comedy effect in your wedding reading.
You can ‘colour in’ your reading by varying your tone and pitch to fit the words that you are speaking. You might find it helps to record yourself doing your reading. That way, you can notice more easily if there are any parts that need emphasising or where the pace could change to make it have more impact.
Which leads me to…
5. Have a clear, marked-up copy of your wedding reading
DO NOT attempt to read from a phone or from your handwritten first draft that is covered in crossings out and scribbles in the margin – you will almost certainly find the visual stress distracting in the moment.
Make sure that you’ve printed your wedding reading out in large, double-spaced font and that you have covered it with ‘stage directions’ to help you as you’re standing at the front doing your thing.
Place a ‘//’ where you want to pause, for example. Highlight or underline words you want to emphasise or linger over. Draw squiggles and marks in whatever way makes sense to you that show you to speed up, slow down, or watch out – there’s a tear triggering bit coming up. Keep rehearsing and refining these notes to yourself so that they really help you.
6. Visualise your wedding reading going well
Visualisation is a simple yet powerful technique you can do both to improve your reading on the day and to help to calm your nerves.
In the run-up to the big day, take a few minutes daily to sit or stand quietly with your eyes closed. Visualise yourself at the wedding, walking up to the front, smiling at the loved-up couple, and delivering your reading clearly and confidently. ‘See’ yourself standing tall, and the happy expressions on the faces of the other people there. ‘Hear’ those words you’ve been rehearsing coming out in just the way you want them to. ‘Feel’ how good it feels to have your heart full of love and a huge smile on your face as you read these words for your loved ones to celebrate their marriage.
This will make an enormous difference to the way you feel about your wedding reading, both beforehand and on the day – I promise!
7. Look after yourself!
Naturally, looking after yourself well is important at any time. But when you are preparing to read at a wedding, it makes a tangible difference.
If possible, make sure that you sleep well the night before the wedding, or at least rest if you can’t sleep. Keep well hydrated (preferably with water rather than lots of caffeine, which can make nerves worse), and have something light to eat before you set off.
It’s best to avoid dairy if you can, as it can negatively affect the voice by coating the throat.
8. Use the journey there to warm up
Warming up your face and your voice before your wedding reading can make a big difference to how it sounds (and to how your throat feels afterwards!)
Before you leave the house or in the car on the way to the wedding, it’s worth trying things like pulling big grins, yawning in an exaggerated way, rolling your neck and shoulders, singing scales, lip trilling, or saying tongue twisters. Naturally, if you’re sharing a car with lots of other people, this might not be so easy to do, so you might need to improvise a little!
Here’s a good article with tips and a video of how to warm up your voice ready for your moment in the spotlight.
9. Stop and breathe
It’s your moment! The celebrant has introduced your reading and you’re making your way to the front…
Don’t be in a rush. You have time to walk down the aisle, arrange your reading, smile at or hug your loved ones, and breathe. Stopping and taking a deep breath just for a second before you start will get your head in the right place. Use the time to remember that visualisation you did and ‘see’ yourself calm and collected.
10. Ground yourself
Something you might find helpful when you’re about to read at a wedding is to mentally ground yourself.
To do this, take a moment to become aware of the feeling of the floor beneath your feet. Focus on that place, feel ‘rooted’ into the ground, and take a breath, imagining it coming up through your feet.
This is a great thing to do before you start. Don’t worry – there’s still time and nobody is going to think badly of you if you take a couple of seconds to steady yourself before you read. Hold that breath for a moment, mentally still yourself, then let it go.
Have you exhaled? Great! Let’s begin.
11. Slow down and enunciate each word
Nerves make people’s brains work faster, and that means they speak faster too. Slow down! Speak much slower than your instinct tells you. Your rehearsals will help with this, as will your annotated reading.
There’s no point in delivering a beautiful wedding reading if you do it so fast that people can’t hear it or can’t take it in. Take breaths between sentences, pause and focus on delivering each word without rushing or tripping over it. People want to wallow in your words, not have a quick shower in them!
12. Use a microphone if there is one but still speak clearly
It might be that you are handed a microphone, or there is a fixed one to speak into. Hopefully, you will have had a chance to practise with it or been shown how to use it first, as they vary with how close you need to be etc. Microphones can help a lot, but you will still need to slow down and speak clearly, as mentioned in my last point.
If you don’t have a microphone, remember that your words need to be heard even at the back of the room. You don’t need to shout, but you will need to project as much as you can. This is especially important if anyone at the wedding has difficulty hearing.
Fortunately, this is something else that can be worked on if you practice in advance! If you haven’t had the chance to, ask your celebrant or someone you’ll be able to see from the front to give you signals about your volume if necessary!
13. Don’t worry about crying
Some people worry that they won’t be able to do a wedding reading for their friends or family without crying but please try not to worry about this. Nobody should judge you for being tearful – lots of people cry at weddings and actually, if you do cry, it gives other people ‘permission’ to do the same!
If you feel yourself welling up, don’t be afraid to stop for a moment. Go back to your visualisation of you delivering the wedding reading calmly, take another breath, focus on the feeling of the ground beneath your feet, regroup and carry on. Oh, and it might help to have a tissue to hand too!
14. Rescue Remedy
‘Rescue Remedy’ is a Bach flower remedy that is designed to be sprayed or dropped on the tongue in anxious or nerve-inducing situations. Honestly, this stuff is like magic! I don’t know whether it’s the flower extracts or just the way that using it is like a pattern interrupt to the nervous thought spiral, but it really helps to calm you down. I recommend searching some out in your local chemist so you can have a quick spray before you deliver your wedding reading or face any other similarly difficult situation!
Good luck! Smile and remember to breathe! You can do this!