I was looking for a post where I’d mapped out my entire client journey in response to a member’s question, and realised I’ve never actually done it! I’ve talked about my ceremony creation process a couple of times, and I *think* I’ve talked about my whole client journey on the podcast, but at this point I have no idea lol. So here’s my client journey, as I wrote it for my Cert IV students, complete with links to other posts and podcast episodes.

The client journey: marriages

The client journey is literally the steps the celebrant and the client go through from initial enquiry to the wedding day. It is important to set up a streamlined, efficient client journey to make life as easy as possible for clients, and of course to ensure everything is put in place to provide them with a legal and personal marriage ceremony.

NB: In the following article I’m going to outline how I manage my client journey with marriage clients. I’ve provided all the templates I have designed over the years in the Celebrant Institute Shop; some of the more simple templates I’ve designed over the years are available directly from this article to download for free. This client journey could take place over five weeks or two years, but the general principles are the same; the timeline is simply sped up for a booking with less lead time.

There are many other ways of managing the client journey, and it’s a great idea for you to speak to lots of different celebrants and find out how they do things, so you can put together a client journey that works best for you and your clients.

Top ten tips for new marriage celebrants, 12:47

Here’s a summary of the steps in my client journey; we’ll examine these in more detail below:

  • Receive enquiry; confirm my availability and price, answer other questions.
  • Organise and attend a pitch meeting.
  • Follow up after the pitch meeting and ask for the booking.
  • Confirm booking: clients confirm their contact information, sign my Celebrant Service Agreement (CSA), and pay a non-refundable booking fee, following which they receive my Ceremony Builder Booklet.
  • Organise and attend a planning and legals meeting three months before the ceremony.
  • Complete the NOIM and sight identity documents.
  • Parties complete questionnaires for their story at least six weeks before the ceremony.
  • Final payment is due one month before the ceremony.
  • Draft and send ceremony script four weeks before the ceremony.
  • Vows, music and reading selections finalised two weeks before the ceremony.
  • Prepare all legal paperwork for review by the couple at the rehearsal.
  • Organise and attend rehearsal usually in the week before the ceremony.
  • Print all legal paperwork two days before the ceremony.
  • Attend and perform the wedding ceremony.
  • Follow up after the ceremony; ask for feedback.
  • Send documents to BDM for registration of the marriage.

Ceremony design process
Making customer journeys easier, and inclusive, like Sephora
I think I’ve already mentioned this on the podcast before, 30:45
Imagine that you’re on a date with Facebook, 50:25

Receive enquiry; confirm my availability and price, answer other questions

The first contact marriage celebrants are likely to receive from potential clients is by email, social media message, or occasionally a phone call. Using effective communication skills, a marriage celebrant will answer queries and also ask questions. The enquirer will most likely want to know the celebrant’s fee, and whether the celebrant is available on a particular day. The celebrant will ask the whereabouts of the venue and the time of the proposed wedding to ensure they are available, and if they are available, they will try to set up a face-to-face meeting.

Of course the enquiry may go nowhere. The prospective parties may be contacting several celebrants with a view to deciding who they feel best suits their needs and personality. Remember, first impressions are made quickly, often within 5–8 seconds. This includes when people view your website. You want to create a good first impression.

How to get enquiries to reply to your emails
Pricing on websites; to list or not to list? Sarah’s view
Pricing on websites; to list or not to list? Josh’s view
Answering ‘how much do you cost?’
Increasing your enquiry conversion rate
A tribute to the greatest podcast episode, 15:30
The one where we throw eggs at Sarah, 14:00

Organise and attend a pitch meeting

By ‘pitch’ I mean my sales pitch. This is the meeting at which I sell myself and my process to the couple, so they have more information about how I work and what kind of person I am before deciding whether to book me. Some celebrants call this a ‘meet and greet’, some call it an ‘obligation-free chat’— there are no rules for how you label your meetings.

I open up by chatting to the couple a bit about their day and their wedding plans, then I talk them through my Ceremony Builder Booklet, explaining how I will work with them through the process of developing their wedding ceremony, the different options they can include in their ceremony, and the legalities of getting married in Australia.

I don’t tend to abide by the “let them do the talking” sales rule in this meeting; I’ve found that even if I ask them lots of questions, most of the couples I meet have NO IDEA what they want to include in their wedding, what they want their wedding to feel like (apart from “relaxed” – every single couple tells me that), or what is even possible or required. So I tend to do most of the talking in this meeting and I’m okay with that.

I never ask for the booking at this meeting, mostly because I’m a scaredy cat 🙂 Sales people will teach you to always ask for the booking, but I don’t like to put people on the spot. I tell them they should go home and have a chat about our conversation, and I’ll follow up with them in a few days to see if they have any further questions. I close by giving them my business card and telling them they’re free to call or email me if they think of anything else.

Note: My preference is to meet with couples in person for this meeting, but that’s not always possible, particularly in the time of COVID-19. So Zoom meetings are becoming a thing, and I recommend you trial both meeting in person and via Zoom to see which works best for you.

How to video chat really well
Dealing with difficult couples
Legals Only weddings: clarity for couples
My Ceremony Builder Booklet

Follow up after the pitch meeting and ask for the booking

I’ve tried lots of different methods here, but the one that works for me is sending them an email about three days after the meeting saying, ‘Hi, it was lovely to meet you both, just following up to see if you had any further questions or me or if you’d like to go ahead with a booking.’ It’s as simple as that.

I don’t follow up more than once. I figure if they want to book me, one follow-up will be enough to remind them to book, and if they don’t want to book me, any more than that will be annoying.

Confirm booking

How you manage confirming bookings is completely up to you, and will depend a bit on what type of system you’re using to organise your business. I’m going to outline how I used to confirm bookings when I was using a paper-based system and Excel spreadsheet, and how I confirm bookings now that I’m using an online customer relationship management tool called Tavé.

Paper-based

Once the couple confirmed they wanted to book me, I created a hard copy folder for them with my full checklist stapled to the front and my full booking form printed and filed within. The checklist outlined every single step that needed to be taken throughout the ceremony planning process, including at the rehearsal and on the ceremony day. There were also notations for items that were the couple’s responsibility and for items that were the celebrant’s responsibility. The booking form was the way I gathered information, including the couple’s contact details, other suppliers, how much I was charging, when payments were made, meeting and rehearsal dates, and ceremony planning.

Wedding Checklist
Wedding Booking Form

I would then send them my booking confirmation email. This email asked them to pay a booking fee, provided my bank account details, attached an invoice with payment terms and conditions, and asked them for their contact details (full names, phone numbers, email addresses, postal addresses) so I could post out some documents to them. All of their information would be recorded on the booking form in their client folder.

It’s important to obtain an initial payment from clients before sending them any intellectual property (which is how I see my Ceremony Builder Booklet). I take 50% of the full fee at the time of booking, and I always call it a non-refundable booking fee, not a deposit (some say the word ‘deposit’ implies that it is refundable). So sending the booking confirmation email allowed me to have them pay me some money upfront, and then get their details so I could post out my CSA and Ceremony Builder Booklet.

Booking confirmation email
Getting the deposit paid
Non-refundable refund demanded

Once they’d paid their booking fee into my bank account, I prepared a hard copy pack to post to them, including:

  • a welcome letter
  • my Ceremony Builder Booklet
  • two copies of my CSA, one for them to sign and keep, and one for them to sign and send back to me
  • a receipt for their booking fee payment
  • a self-stamped addressed envelope for them to return their signed CSA to me.

Welcome letter
Ceremony Builder Booklet
Celebrant Service Agreement

I’d post it all out, they’d return their signed CSA, and the booking was confirmed.

NB: my Ceremony Builder Booklet contains the Code of Practice for Marriage Celebrants, information on relationship education, and my privacy policy, so me providing them with that booklet ticks off those legal requirements regarding the information that needs to be provided to couples.

My Ceremony Builder Booklet
When to provide documentation to couples

Online

The process I use through Tavé is very similar to that I used with the paper-based system and uses mostly the same documents, but it’s in a slightly different order and obviously all online. I no longer attach a checklist to the front of their file because my checklist is in Tavé. I use a much simpler booking form that only captures the information about their ceremony, because all the rest of their information is in Tavé.

  • Once the couple confirms they want to book me, I prepare the online booking process. I send them an email with a link to this process, and the system automatically takes them through each of steps:
  • It shows them the type of ceremony they’ve booked and the price, and offers them additional inclusions they can select (e.g. additional rehearsals, special outfit, etc).
  • They can select their payment schedule, either 50% now and 50% one month before the ceremony, or the entire amount now.
  • They complete their contact information (names, phone numbers, email addresses, home addresses) and confirm the details of their booking (date, time and venue).
  • They review and sign my CSA by typing their names into the appropriate boxes.
  • They pay a booking fee by credit card, or transfer direct into my bank account.

Once they have completed the booking process and I have received their booking fee, the system emails them a receipt, a copy of their CSA with my electronic signature attached, and a PDF of the Ceremony Builder Booklet, then the booking is confirmed.

Ten reasons you should take credit card payments
Communicating timelines with couples

Organise and attend planning and legals meeting

Three months before the wedding I contact the couple again to organise a second meeting, at which we’ll complete the NOIM and plan their ceremony. In the email to set up this meeting I ask them to bring along their identity documents and their Ceremony Builder Booklet.

Ceremony planning meeting email

I start the meeting checking in on how they’re going with their wedding planning, helping them out with any issues they’re having and suggesting suppliers if they’re stuck on any areas. Then we move on to completing the NOIM:

  • I ask to see their identity documents.
  • I fill in the NOIM with the details from their documents, and note that I’ve sighted their documents on page 4.
  • The parties check all the details and sign on page 4 with me witnessing their signatures.
  • I provide the parties with the Happily Ever… Before and After brochure as required by s42(5A) of the Act, and tick the appropriate boxes on page 4.

My personal preference is to handwrite the NOIM when I’m meeting with them and have them sign it there and then. I then take it home and enter the details into the VIC BDM RIO system to create the rest of the legal paperwork; I don’t reprint the NOIM, I just upload the handwritten and signed one.

Note as at 27 July 2020: obviously a process like this is less simple in the time of COVID. Wherever possible at the moment I’m sending the couple a questionnaire to complete with all the information I need for the NOIM, then I’m preparing the NOIM through Victoria’s BDM RIO system, and meeting with the couple just to sign the NOIM. They can send me their proof of date and place of birth/termination of previous marriage documents via email and I can sight their photo ID when I meet them to confirm their identity. I have written to the AGD again asking them to reconsider enabling us to witness signatures on the NOIM via videoconferencing.

Notice of Intended Marriage
Happily Ever… Before and After

Then we start planning their ceremony. Hopefully they’ve read through the Ceremony Builder Booklet and have some ideas of what they’d like to include in their ceremony. I ask them questions about their ceremony and record their answers on my booking form.

In my view it is crucial to have some kind of questionnaire or planning document to collect information on so that you don’t overlook asking important or relevant questions. I know that everything I need to know to put their ceremony together is covered on my booking form, and more often than not I come up with questions the couple hasn’t already thought of. There’s no point relying on the couple to just tell you what they want; most couples have never been married before, many of them haven’t been to many weddings, and they may not have any idea what they want in their ceremony.

I collect information on:

  • their preferred names for the ceremony
  • ceremony date and start time (I like to confirm it at this three-month point just in case anything has changed since they booked me)
  • venue, whether they’re planning an indoor or outdoor ceremony, and if outdoor, what their backup plan is
  • their theme (colour or otherwise), number of guests, whether a PA is needed, whether the venue or another supplier is providing the signing table or chairs, and whether they’re having live music at the ceremony
  • their wedding party: first names of their attendants, any juniors such as flower girls or page boys, and the full legal names of their official witnesses
  • their families: are their parents together, if they’re separated are they bringing new partners and what are their names, how many siblings do they have and do they need jobs in the ceremony, whether there will be any grandparents in attendance, and whether there are any family sensitivities I need to be aware of (e.g. Mum and Dad don’t speak to each other so I shouldn’t encourage them to sit together)
  • what they would like to include in each section of the ceremony, in line with the sections contained in my Ceremony Builder Booklet. My personal ceremony creation philosophy is that other than the legal requirements, nothing goes in the ceremony that the couple have not specifically requested; I may think all couples should include their personal story, but if they don’t want their story told, they don’t get it. By the same token, I don’t limit what they can include due to my own ceremony preferences; I may not love sand ceremonies, but if they want a sand ceremony, they get a sand ceremony!

Wedding Booking Form

There may be some parts of the ceremony they need additional assistance with, for example personal vows, music selections, reading choices. If so, I collect that information and the next day send them an email with various attachments of further resources to help with those ceremony sections.

My ceremony writing timeline

Couple questionnaire

If the parties want the story of their relationship told (and not all do) I send them a separate questionnaire to complete. I personally have found that I get richer responses from my couples when I don’t ask them these questions in person but give them time to consider their answers and write them down. Other celebrants find they get a better response asking the questions in person; that’s something for you to experiment with. The completed questionnaires are due back to me six weeks before the ceremony.

Couple questionnaire

Final payment

I take payment of the remainder of the fee by one month before the ceremony. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that if they’re late paying, a month gives me plenty of time to chase them up without fearing they won’t pay before the big day. The second is that if they cancel before a month out, I have the possibility of taking another booking for the day; if they cancel within a month of the ceremony that’s not possible due to the required notice period. So I want them to pay the full amount one month out, and if they cancel within that time I don’t refund their money because I’ve held their date and not been able to take another booking for that time.

You should always send couples a reminder of their payments coming due; I can guarantee they won’t remember without a nudge.

Non-refundable refund demanded
Ten reasons you should take credit card payments

Draft and send ceremony script

I always, always send a draft script. Many celebrants don’t, and that’s their prerogative, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the couple’s day, not mine, and if they’re not happy with even a single word I say, they may be unhappy with the entire ceremony.

Structuring the ceremony

The format for structuring a marriage ceremony is not prescribed. The only obligation is that the celebrant is to say the Monitum before the parties exchange their compulsory vows, and the names of the parties as they appear on the NOIM must be stated before or during the legal vows.

A suggested traditional order of service could include:

  • Gathering the guests, ensuring all the seats are filled and everyone can hear the celebrant.
  • Housekeeping, including requests for unplugged ceremonies, phones off, etc.
  • Traditionally the junior attendants (flower girls, pageboys) walk the aisle, then the bridesmaids, followed by the bride and her escort (often her father). In 2020 tradition is getting thrown out the window more often than not, and a processional could include all sorts of combinations. As well as the traditional processional I’ve seen:
    • The wedding party all standing at the top of the aisle to start (if there even is a wedding party), with just the couple entering together
    • Both sets of attendants entering separately, sometimes alternating, with the couple entering separately, along with their escorts
    • Both sets of attendants entering in pairs, followed by the couple entering together
    • No one making an entrance at all; the couple mingles with their guests and we start when they’re ready.
  • Welcome and introduction, potentially including introducing wedding party, acknowledging guests (particularly those who have travelled a long way to be there), mentioning those not able to attend or no longer with us, Acknowledgement of Country.
  • Family acknowledgement / giving away. Traditionally the celebrant would say something along the lines of “who brings this woman to marry this man?” and the bride’s father would answer, “I do.” I personally am not a huge fan of the traditional giving away; the brides I work with generally do not see themselves as pieces of meat to be given from one man to another. Instead I like to do something a little more inclusive that involves both sets of parents/families: a family acknowledgment. If the important people in the couple’s lives are their parents, I will say something like “X and Y’s parents are so important to them, they’ve been wonderful models of what it is to love and be loved, and they would like to thank them for all their support over the years. Parents, do you acknowledge this relationship and give your support to their marriage?” and the parents say, “We do.” Some couples just want a statement made about how important their parents are, without asking their parents to say anything; some couples want to mention their “families” rather than their “parents” (depending on the relationships); some couples want a very traditional giving away; some couples want no mention of their parents or families at all. It’s entirely up to them
  • An explanation of marriage. Every celebrant will have a range of words about love and marriage, and should pick one that best suits the couple getting married.
  • Couple’s personal story. I build this from the questionnaires the couple have completed (if they decided they wanted to include their story in the ceremony). My couple stories are all different because every couple is different, but I definitely have a formula for writing the story. It starts off with the story of how they met, and their first impressions of each other; I especially love it if one gives me a really profound first impression like “she was just so easy to talk to and I felt like I’d known her forever” and the other gives a slightly less profound first impression like “he had a really cute arse.” Milk those laughs! Then I move on to how they became a couple and when each realised they were in love with the other. If they’ve met some big milestones like buying a house or travelling overseas or having kids I’ll mention those, then I’ll talk about the engagement story. Finally I speak to each party directly to tell them how the other feels about them: “X, Y smiles the most when you … She would never change … about you. It drives her crazy the way you … but she forgives you because she loves you so much. She loves … and she can’t wait to … with you in the future.” And vice versa.
  • Symbolic rituals.
  • The asking (the bit where the couple say ‘I do’). I always tell my couples there is nothing in Australian law that requires them to say “I do”, but some couples don’t really feel married unless they say it. So if they have a burning desire to say I do, I provide them with a bunch of options to say I do to, including some very traditional and some more modern.
  • The monitum.
  • Legal vows.
  • Personal vows. I love personal vows and I think every wedding should include them, but some couples simply aren’t wired that way; they might feel that the way they feel about their partner is private and nobody else needs to hear it, or they might simply be super nervous about public speaking. While I always encourage my couples to include legal vows, I absolutely do not insist on it; if they just want to say the legal vows that is absolutely fine.
  • Ring exchange. Some couples want to slip the rings on straight after the vows, while some want to say something about what the ring represents, e.g. “I give you this ring as a symbol of my everlasting love.” Either option is fine, as is not exchanging rings at all!
  • I love to pronounce my couples married! There are plenty of options here on top of the traditional “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” You can pronounce them husband and husband, wife and wife, husbands squared, wifes for life, or simply married. The pronouncement is not a legal requirement and can be performed by anyone.
  • Kiss – but only if they want to! Not all couples want to kiss; for some it’s culturally inappropriate, for others it’s just not their way to have public displays of affection. I’ve had couples shake hands or hug. There are no rules.
  • Always tell the guests you’re taking the couple away to sign the documents and you’ll be right back to finish the ceremony, and ask them to stay in their seats and listen to the music in the meantime. I always recommend the couple has at least two songs selected for the signing; while it only takes me a couple of minutes to complete the signing process, some photographers take a long time setting up all sorts of photos, so you need to have some music to keep the guests happy.
  • Housekeeping, including group photo instructions, where to go for canapés and drinks, etc. This is my chance to tell the guests what’s going to happen next before they all scatter and go, “what do we do now?” This MUST happen before you present the newlyweds to their guests; if you leave it until after the presentation you’ll be drowned out by cheers and applause.
  • My words of congratulations and best wishes for the couple and their marriage.
  • Presentation of newlyweds. “I present to you for the first time, Mr and Mrs X”, or Mr and Mr, or Mrs and Mrs, or First name and First name, or The Newlyweds, or literally anything else they ask for!
  • Pop on some upbeat celebratory music and invite the couple to dance back down the aisle and into the waiting arms of their family and friends.

Compulsory components are shown in bold. Permitted changes to the compulsory wording are very limited as set out in the Guidelines. If the full legal names of the parties (as recorded on the Notice of Intended Marriage) are not stated earlier than the compulsory vows, they must be included in the compulsory vows. The parties’ names may be stated more than once.

In my ceremony drafts, I include legally required bits in red text so the couple knows they cannot be changed, and I highlight in yellow anywhere bits are missing (e.g. if the personal vows need to be sent, or the reading selections or music needs to be confirmed), and I put a date by which I would like those items to be finalised by (usually two weeks before the ceremony).

I also include other information about the ceremony in my script: phone numbers of the parties, names of the wedding party and other participants, and staging directions (e.g. ‘bridesmaids walk the aisle in the following order’, or ‘after we have signed the documents, we return to the ceremony space to conclude the ceremony’). That way the couple can get some idea of how the ceremony will work on the day, and they can ensure I haven’t misunderstood any of the important information.

I tell my couples they are welcome to ask me to change any aspect of the ceremony script at all; it’s their day, and I want them to be completely happy with it.

How I make personal ceremonies
Five ways to make your ceremonies better
My ceremony writing timeline
Ceremony design process
How I perform ceremonies without notes or a script (Josh’s view)
Sending ceremony recordings instead of written drafts – a new idea!
“Ceremony writing is my least favourite part”
Music for making ceremonies
A review of Wedwordy, a ceremony script creator
How to surprise a couple with a ceremony
Josh’s ceremony inclusions
Sarah’s ceremony inclusions
It’s the Mabo of the thing, 27:35

Tips for writing

I usually start my ceremony writing with a list of headings of the sections the couple wants to include in their ceremony (from the order of service above) and then fill in each section with appropriate wording.

Introduce each component with a few words of explanation so that guests understand what is happening and why, for example, ‘Fiona will now share a reading with us about the loveliness of love’ (Fiona reads ‘A Lovely Love Story’); or ‘Melissa and Ross will now light a candle in memory of Melissa’s beloved grandfather, Poppy, whom she adored, and who passed away five years ago. Melissa is sure that Poppy is close by, happy that she is marrying the man she loves.’ If the candle was lit without any explanation, the ritual wouldn’t have any meaning for anyone other than Melissa and Ross.

Write instructions into the script so that you can keep control of the ceremony at all times. If the signing is to occur within the ceremony, and the wedding party will regroup after the signing, allowing the celebrant to say the final words to conclude the ceremony, then the celebrant needs to ensure that people remain where they are. For example: ‘The couple and their witnesses will now sign the marriage certificates. Please remain where you are, and we will be back shortly to conclude the ceremony.’

Writing for the ear is different to writing for the eye. Ceremony scripts should sound as if you are speaking directly and naturally to people. Read your script aloud and see whether it sounds natural or whether it sounds wooden, technical, or boring.

Ceremony script writing skills. Sarah’s view
How to protect the copyright of your ceremony scripts

Vows, music and reading selections finalised

I like to have the entire ceremony script — including vows, readings and music — finalised and signed off by two weeks before the ceremony. This timeline allows everyone to breathe and allows the couple to concentrate on their other last-minute activities without worrying about their ceremony. It can take a bit of chasing up, but I find if I’m constantly reminding them of the due dates for things (i.e. in the email I send them with the readings and music lists, and in the ceremony draft) they’re generally pretty good at getting things to me on time.

Personal vows and their content

Prepare marriage documents for review by the couple

Before the rehearsal I like to prepare the marriage certificates and the DONLIM, so that the couple can review the marriage certificates for errors and sign the DONLIM at the rehearsal. I use a Microsoft Word template for the Form 15, so I just print that out on blank paper for review; I don’t print it onto the Form 15 until the couple have confirmed all the details are correct.

If there is not going to be a rehearsal, I email PDFs of the documents to the couple for review so they can let me know ahead of time if there are any errors. Although they sign these certificates after solemnisation of the marriage, they don’t check for any errors at that point.

I always ask for the witnesses’ full names to be sent to me before I prepare the paperwork so that I can print them on to the certificates; I don’t like other people’s handwriting on my documents 🙂

Declaration of No Legal Impediment to Marriage
Official Certificate of Marriage
Combined Declaration of No Legal Impediment to Marriage and Official Certificate of Marriage
Form 15 template

Organise and attend rehearsal

The Code of Practice requires celebrants to give the parties information to assist them decide whether a marriage ceremony rehearsal is needed or appropriate. A rehearsal gives confidence to participants by ensuring everyone knows their role, and it is an ideal way to practise all the logistics and staging of the ceremony. Parties to a marriage may have firm ideas about how they would like their ceremony to evolve, but at a rehearsal it may become apparent that all their ideas aren’t practical, and changes need to be made. Rehearsals are ideal for ironing out problems.

If it is impossible to hold a rehearsal, a mini-rehearsal may take place elsewhere, say at the couple’s home or in a local park. Alternatively, the parties and participants may choose to visit the ceremony site and conduct their own rehearsal without the celebrant being present.

Why hold a rehearsal?

Some celebrants believe a rehearsal can take away from the spontaneity of the day, but many couples prefer to know what they can expect. They want a rehearsal so that they can be confident and composed on their wedding day and not have to worry about what is expected of them. Having a rehearsal means everyone gets to practise their role. Most people have never been married, or been part of a wedding party, so it is important for them to feel confident that they know what to do.

For example, the bride can practice ‘walking down the aisle’ on the arm of her father to the music chosen for the bridal entrance. If she has not practised at the venue, she might find that she walks too quickly, or that the music has ended halfway through her entrance. All these details can cause the bridal party to become stressed and anxious before the ceremony has even begun. Being upset and stressed will take away from the pleasure of the day if participants don’t know what to do because the details were not carefully thought through beforehand.

The couple may have spent thousands of dollars on their wedding, spent months planning, and suffered emotional stress in the build up to their wedding day. The last thing they want to happen is for preventable mishaps to occur, and/or be disappointed at how their ceremony was conducted.

Couples will look to the celebrant for guidance about how their ceremony may be staged. They will also be critical of the celebrant if no one knows what to do. Celebrants want to be remembered for the right reasons. A rehearsal is therefore crucial to identify what works and what doesn’t work. It allows the couple to make decisions, and for the ceremony to be as flawless as possible.

Outline of a rehearsal

At the start of a rehearsal, it’s a great opportunity for the celebrant to meet the wedding party and sometimes the parties’ parents, if they’re in attendance. Then we move into the actual rehearsal.

We don’t practise all the words, we practise the logistics of the ceremony: where the wedding party and celebrant will stand, placement of PA system, choreography of the processional, where readers will stand, placement of the signing table and how signing will be organised, regrouping, conclusion and recessional.

After the ceremony has been rehearsed, often including a second pass at the processional, the parties and the celebrant gather to confirm final details. This is the time for the parties to review the OCMs and Form 15 draft prepared by the celebrant and check there have not been any errors, or to let the celebrant know if their address or occupation has changed since the NOIM was completed. It is also time for the parties to sign the DONLIM, and for the celebrant to confirm details for the day such as what time they should arrive and what the plan B is for extreme weather situations.

Rehearsal fee, terms and conditions

You may or may not include a rehearsal in your fee structure. Alternatively, you may charge an extra fee for an on-site rehearsal. You need to be upfront with your clients as soon as you begin discussions with them about whether there are any extra fees payable. This may include a rehearsal fee.

In the Guidelines on advertising for Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants, MLCS suggests that how and when rehearsals will occur might be included in your CSA. If you are entering into a signed CSA with a couple several months before their wedding day, it can be difficult to know exactly when a rehearsal will occur. However, you can include a term and condition in your CSA using wording of a general nature, such as:

A rehearsal will be held at the agreed ceremony venue within two weeks prior to the wedding day, on a day and time mutually agreed to in writing by the Celebrant and the Parties. There is no further fee payable to hold an on-site rehearsal.

If you do charge an extra fee to hold a rehearsal, then this needs to be included in your CSA, as well as any time limit you set for a rehearsal; for example, your CSA may include terms and conditions along the following lines:

Ceremony rehearsal

(a) A rehearsal will be held at the agreed ceremony venue within two weeks prior to the wedding day, on a day and time mutually agreed to in writing by the Celebrant and the Parties.

(b) The Celebrant will allocate forty-five (45) minutes for a rehearsal which must begin at the agreed time. If all participants have not arrived by the scheduled start time, the rehearsal will still proceed on time.

(c) A rehearsal fee of $XX.00 is payable, in advance, for an on-site rehearsal.

(d) If an additional rehearsal is required at an alternative site in case the weather is inclement for your outdoor ceremony, an additional fee of $XX.00 is payable in advance. The time and date for the second rehearsal must be agreed to in writing and forty-five (45) minutes will be allocated on the same conditions as set out above in subparagraph (b).

The above terms and conditions for your CSA are suggestions only. If you do want to include terms and conditions in your CSA that relate to a rehearsal, ensure that your wording is clear and cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted. The purpose of including terms and conditions in a CSA is to avoid misunderstandings and disputes.

The reason a timeframe of 45 minutes is suggested for a rehearsal is because wedding participants often treat a rehearsal as a very casual affair and arrive late. If the marrying party are required to pay for more than a limited time, it is more likely they will ensure that the wedding party and any other participants will arrive early or on time to take part in the rehearsal.

The time you allow for a rehearsal and a rehearsal fee is for you to negotiate with your clients. I am in no way implying that you should adhere to the time referred to in the suggested terms and conditions.

Details that could be examined before or during a rehearsal

  • The best time to hold a rehearsal is at the same time of day as the ceremony is scheduled, and as close to the wedding day as possible. It doesn’t matter as much for an indoor ceremony, but if the ceremony will be outdoors there are many things which may have a bearing on the ceremony such as sun, shade, tide, safety, noise and cleanliness of the location.
  • Encourage everyone to arrive early or on time to the rehearsal, and ensure that you arrive early with everything you will need to conduct the ceremony. Caution the couple that if they arrive late for the wedding ceremony, the sun, shade and tide might be quite different to that on the day of the rehearsal.
  • Set a time for the rehearsal and confirm that you will start on time, even if everyone hasn’t arrived, and that you will depart on time. You will not wait around for late-comers.
  • If a participant cannot attend, tell the others that they may need to explain to that person what their role is.
  • Check parking. Is there plenty of room for you to park on the wedding day? Do you need to arrange assistance to carry your equipment to the site? Did you find the venue easily?
  • Be organised, positive, calm, and in control. Sometimes the wedding party are in party mode and don’t take the rehearsal too seriously. It can be frustrating, but you need to be in charge and ensure everyone understands their role.
  • Do not make decisions for the marrying couple. Provide options and guidance, but let them make any final decisions. You don’t want the couple to say after their wedding that they wished their ceremony had been staged differently.
  • Survey the venue site. Can you identify any danger or risk? You have a duty of care to let the marrying couple know if you do. If the weather is hot, will cold water be provided for guests? Will there be shade? Will there be seating, especially for the elderly?
  • Set up at least two chairs if possible, to demonstrate where the first row of seating will be. This will help to decide the width of the aisle, the space for the wedding party, where you will stand, and where the signing table and chairs will be placed.
  • Where is the best placement for the signing table and chairs? Will there be other decorations such as an archway, carpet, or topiaries on the wedding day? Where is the best placement for the celebrant’s PA system?
  • Suggest where other participants such as readers will sit or stand while they are waiting to be called forward, for example, seated in an aisle seat near the front so that they have easy access to the ceremony space when they need to come forward.
  • Suggest to parents where they should sit. For example, if the bride is on the left from the audience’s perspective, her parents are best to sit on the right so that they see her face during the ceremony as she looks at the groom, and vice versa for the groom’s parents. This is the opposite of a traditional seating plan, and parents will appreciate your suggestion.
  • You can plan the line-up of the wedding party with the marrying couple before the day of the rehearsal. This includes the order the attendants will stand to each side of the couple, and the order in which attendants will enter during the processional. For example, will the maid of honour enter before the bridesmaids and stand next to where the bride will stand, or will the last bridesmaid enter first and stand in her allocated space and the maid of honour enter immediately before the bride? A rehearsal will determine whether this plan will work, or whether changes are required.
  • If the groomsmen are to break away from the groom to meet the bridesmaids and escort them up the aisle, this can be rehearsed.
  • Are there any flower girls or pageboys who will lead the procession? Is the flower girl to scatter flowers or petals? Will she remain with the wedding party during the ceremony, or will she join someone in the audience?
  • How will the person playing the recorded music or musician(s) know when to start playing music? For the processional, sometimes the wedding party assembles near the ceremony site, and sometimes they are quite a distance away. Decide whether a signal can be given by someone with the wedding party to indicate when to start the music, or whether the signal may be blocked by people. Vision may be clear at a rehearsal, but on the wedding day vision may be blocked by guests. Decide whether a go-between needs to be arranged to liaise with the wedding party and the person playing the recorded music or musician(s).
  • Are any live musicians engaged for the ceremony? If so, where will they be positioned for best effect?
  • Ask the groom how he is comfortable standing: does he like to stand with his feet slightly apart with his right hand over his left hand? If so, then ask his attendants to stand the same way. It is particularly important before the bridal entrance that the groom and groomsmen are standing uniformly.
  • Ensure the wedding party don’t stand too far apart. Photographers like them grouped close together.
  • Practice the processional while the chosen music plays. This can determine:
    • how much time it takes for the processional
    • the space between each member of the wedding party
    • how marrying party and escort will make their entrance
    • measure the pace to walk in time to the music
    • where attendants will stand
    • where marrying party and escort will pause
    • when music is to fade and stop.
  • Factor in time for photographs to be taken during the processional. Professional photographers won’t hold up the procession, but amateur photographers can cause considerable delays, all while the music is playing. If an amateur photographer takes too long, the music may well end before the wedding party has reached the groom.
  • Does the bride’s dress have a train? Do one or two of the bridesmaids need to carry the train up the aisle or as far as the carpet before they take up their own positions?
  • If relevant, the giving away of the bride should be rehearsed. Will father shake hands with the groom, give his daughter a kiss on her cheek, place her hand in the groom’s hand and then take his seat? How will the bride move around to stand beside the groom? Will she need a bridesmaid to help arrange her gown? Will the groom greet the bride with a kiss?
  • Does the groom need to lift the bride’s veil? If so, the maid of honour needs to keep an eye on the veil to ensure it falls properly.
  • Is the bride going to hold her bouquet for the first part of the ceremony, or is she going to immediately hand it to a bridesmaid? If the bride is to keep her bouquet for the first part of the ceremony, rehearse how the bridesmaid will take it from her when the time comes for her to hold both hands with the groom.
  • Are children involved? How well do they concentrate and listen to what they are required to do? Are they cooperating? Can they be managed? Children need to know their roles.
  • When it is the reader’s turn, practise them coming forward and taking your microphone, then standing in a pre-arranged place to deliver the reading. Practise delivering the reading for best effect.
  • Rituals need to be rehearsed to ensure they are delivered seamlessly during the wedding ceremony and any problems are identified. These can be simple or more complex if there is a ritual for the blending of two families involving children. If a participant is a bridesmaid, the rehearsal might disclose that she needs to place her bouquet somewhere during the ritual if she needs two hands free. What to do with the bouquet can be decided.
  • Vows are is when the couple are usually the most nervous. Practise how they will be holding hands and looking at each other. Will they be repeating their vows, or will they be reading vows to each other? Rehearse how this will be staged.
  • Who will have the rings? There may be one ring bearer holding both rings, or two ring bearers, one with the bride’s ring and one with the groom’s ring. The ring bearer/s can rehearse bringing the rings forward.
  • Is the signing to be a sub-ceremony? If so, what will the rest of the wedding party do during the signing? Will they gather around the signing table, or will they stand to the side? Are there any tips for the signing, for example, who will sign first? (Usually one party sign the three certificates of marriage, then the other party, then the first witness, the second witness, and finally the celebrant signs all three certificates.)
  • If it is your practice to ask the audience to applaud the wedding party at this stage, then the wedding party can be told this will happen. Only the marrying couple have usually seen the ceremony script.
  • Practise how the ceremony will end. Do the marrying couple plan to walk down the aisle to music? Or will they remain where they are, and their parents and grandparents be invited to come forward to congratulate them? Will any guest, such as a grandparent, be in a wheelchair? Their needs should be considered.
  • During the rehearsal, are there parts of the ceremony that you identify should be brought to the particular attention of the photographer? For example, is there a sub-ceremony involving children for a blending of two families which involves a circle and/or a family hug?
  • Where will you stand during the ceremony? Will you stand behind the marrying couple, or will you stand to the side with your microphone? Do you use a lectern? Do you need to change position during the ceremony, that is, move behind the couple during the vows and/or exchange of wedding rings?
  • Will the ceremony conclude with a toast? If so, ensure the person in charge knows where to set a table up and what to do: when to pour champagne, and when to serve. The toast proposer will need to be asked to wait until everyone has a glass before beginning the toast.
  • Did you test the volume of music and your speaking volume for when you deliver the ceremony? Did someone stand at the outermost area where guests are likely to gather to ensure they could hear you?
  • Is Uncle Bob or a professional videographer going to video the ceremony? If so, where will a tripod be placed? Will it interfere with where the professional videographer or photographer position themselves?
  • Will the photographer attend the rehearsal? This is a great opportunity to work together if there are decisions to be made or advice given about special rituals. However, during the ceremony the photographer should not intrude into your space; you are in control of the ceremony, not any other wedding provider.
  • During the rehearsal (even though it’s not your job), did you advise the wedding party to always look at the professional photographer when they are aiming the camera at them, and not look over at Aunty Jean who is calling out for them to look at her? Many group photographs have been ruined because this happens, when one or two of the wedding party are looking elsewhere instead of at the official photographer’s camera.
  • If an outdoor venue, have the couple checked that there is no other event scheduled nearby which could be disruptive and noisy?
  • If the weather is doubtful for an outdoor ceremony, confirm a time that you will liaise with either the marrying couple to confirm the venue so that you can prepare the Form 15 Certificate of Marriage with the correct details. You cannot make an error on this certificate. (Many celebrants take a blank Form 15 to ceremonies as a back-up).
  • It the venue is a national park, check if there any restrictions on items you can take such as audio equipment. Were the couple required to obtain a permit (or licence) to hold their ceremony? If so, did they obtain the permit? Did the permit place a time limit on access? Rangers are not known to be sympathetic if conditions of the permit are breached, and fines may be imposed.
  • As a result of decisions made at the rehearsal, do you need to contact anyone such as another wedding provider?

At every rehearsal there are unforeseen problems and often decisions have to be made. The bride may have planned to make her entrance from a certain direction, but at the rehearsal she realises that it would be completely impractical, and a change is decided. You need to use your excellent organisational and leadership skills to conduct a wedding rehearsal, while at the same time respecting the excitement and nervousness of all participants.

Rehearsals; to have them or not to have them
How to make a great ceremony without a rehearsal
Ceremony design process

Print legal paperwork

Now that the marriage certificates have been checked by the couple, and the celebrant has made any amendments, they can go right ahead and print them out. Remember to record the Form 15 number on the Record of Use Form.

Attend and perform the wedding ceremony

Before leaving home

The day of the ceremony can be a stressful time for new celebrants; there’s a lot to remember to take, let alone any nervousness about performing the ceremony. Celebrants could use a checklist to ensure they’ve packed everything they need and haven’t forgotten anything. That will alleviate some of the concern.

A professional celebrant will ensure their personal presentation is of an appropriate standard for the marriage ceremony and respect the expectations of the parties in relation to the ceremony. Celebrants may ask the couple if they want them to wear a certain colour or abide by a certain theme. All celebrants need to have a range of clothing suitable for different types of ceremonies to meet the expectations of clients. It is better to err on the side of formality rather than ‘dressing down’. I always aim to look like a conservatively-dressed guest.

Arriving at the ceremony venue

Upon arrival at the ceremony venue (I like to arrive an hour before the planned ceremony start time) there are a number of things for the celebrant to do:

  • Survey the scene. Does any rubbish need to be removed? Is the venue safe? Is there any risk of someone being harmed? Is there a potential emergency to be resolved?
  • Place the PA system so that equipment isn’t in photos. I usually put mine on the opposite side of the ceremony space to the signing table. Set up the microphone, certificates for signing, signing pen, whatever you want to read your ceremony from, and the music if you’re controlling it.
  • Check whether any adjustments need to be made to the equipment in the ceremony space, e.g. moving chairs to widen aisle, or closer or further away from where wedding party will stand.
  • Ensure the signing table is well placed for best effect.
  • If there is to be candle lighting or other types of rituals, ensure these are set up as arranged, including matches or lighting wand.
  • Meet significant people – other suppliers (particularly the venue staff, photographer and videographer) wedding party, and parents of the parties.
  • It’s always useful to check in with the venue staff and find out if there are any idiosyncrasies in the way they run ceremonies on the day, and to find out who will give you the cue that the wedding party is ready to begin the processional.
  • It’s also useful to talk to the photographer and videographer and let them know the general structure of the ceremony and whether there’s anything out of the ordinary, e.g. the bridesmaids are going to enter on camels, or there’s going to be an interesting cultural ritual they may not have experienced before.
  • Check that any wedding party members who are to stand at the altar during the processional have arrived, and that they look neat and tidy. Ask them to remove their sunglasses at least 20 minutes before the ceremony so their eyes have time to adjust to the light, otherwise all the photos will be full of squinting faces.
  • Check the ring bearer actually has the rings. Always do this before the ceremony so there’s time to go and get them if they’ve been forgotten.
  • Speak to readers. Show them the card you’ve printed the reading on, make sure they know where to stand and how to hold the microphone.
  • If you are not controlling the music, meet the person who will be. Give them a quick lesson in how to play the music and fade it out, and explain to them the cue you will give them for the start and end of the songs.
  • If the music is to be played live, meet the musicians. It is important to liaise with them about when music is to start and stop. Musicians like to finish playing a particular segment of music before stopping, and they appreciate it when celebrants don’t talk over them. It may only take a few more seconds to end a segment.
  • If an interpreter is to be used for the ceremony, ensure that they sign the prescribed statutory declaration confirming they will act as the interpreter and can converse in both languages. If not already done, ensure the interpreter can competently interpret the monitum and legal vows from English into the foreign language and from the foreign language back into English. Ensure the interpreter knows where to stand during the ceremony.
  • If approached by anyone, answer questions.
  • When the party or parties participating in the processional arrive, go and meet them. Make sure they’re happy and comfortable, encourage them if they’re nervous, and provide any last instructions.
  • My preference is not to gather the guests together until I know the parties participating in the processional are ready to go; I don’t want the other party (if applicable) standing around feeling awkward with everyone watching them wondering where their partner is.

The ceremony

  • Start by ensuring all the seats are filled; people are always reluctant to sit down at a wedding, but empty seats look terrible in photos, so make sure someone is sitting in every chair.
  • Deliver your housekeeping script and await your cue for the processional to start.
  • When the wedding party are ready to proceed, a pre-arranged signal is given to you or the person looking after the music or the musicians to begin playing the music, and the processional begins.
  • Once the marrying parties are standing next to each other and the music has faded to a stop, the ceremony begins.
  • Deliver the ceremony script professionally with a smile, using effective body language and sincerity.
  • Celebrants should step aside when the ‘kiss’ photos are taken.
  • It is helpful to be consistent when organising signing. The same pen should be used by all parties, preferably black. The only other colour acceptable on official documents is blue but I recommend black. One party should sign first and sign all three certificates of marriage using the same signature with which they signed the NOIM. The other party then does the same. The first witness signs next, signing all three certificates with their usual signature. The other witness then does the same. The celebrant then signs and completes all three certificates of marriage.
  • The wedding party regroups and the final words to complete the ceremony are spoken.
  • Ensure you make your housekeeping statements and blessing before presenting the newly-married couple; once you’ve presented the newlyweds, there will be cheers and applause and no one will listen to anything else you say.
  • Once a ceremony has ended, everyone is relaxed and begins celebrating.
  • Ensure the parties are given their Form 15 Certificate of marriage, or that you give it to a pre-arranged responsible person. The certificate cannot be replaced, even if it becomes damaged or lost after the ceremony.
  • If an interpreter was used, ensure they immediately complete and give you the Certificate of Faithful Performance by Interpreter.
  • A professional photographer may give the couple a few minutes to unwind and be congratulated before resuming the business of taking photos.
  • Pack up your paperwork and equipment, say your goodbyes, and depart.

What do I read my ceremonies from?
iPad celebrants, you need this tip
Vow and ring exchange logistics
Where I stand during the ceremony. Sarah’s view
Developing your own ceremony performance style – Sarah’s view
Which iPad and which apps do you recommend for celebrants?
Comparing a Josh wedding ceremony and a Sarah ceremony
Getting the guests to obey you
How to say the monitum with warmth
The Celebrant Talk Show: It’s the Mabo of the thing, 44:35

Extreme weather situations and concerns (WHS issues)

It is not uncommon for a planned outdoor ceremony (plan A) to be forced to relocate indoors (plan B) because of bad weather. No one has control over the weather. There should always be a plan B when a ceremony is planned to take place outside. If there is doubt about the weather, the celebrant will need to liaise with one of the parties on the morning of the wedding to ascertain where the wedding will be held and a time by which the celebrant needs to know. The celebrant may still need to print the Form 15 marriage certificate with the correct address for the venue. The place of solemnisation can be added later on both OCMs; the address doesn’t need to be inserted on those certificates before the ceremony. A celebrant doesn’t have any obligation to use their PA system if there is a likelihood it will be harmed due to bad weather, e.g. rain or strong winds which could blow dust or sand into the PA’s mechanisms.

What if there are problems within the ceremony?

If a rehearsal has been held and participants are confident with their roles, then there shouldn’t be any difficulties within a ceremony. But of course things don’t always go according to plan:

  • The music may mistakenly start too soon because a wave or other movement has been misinterpreted as the cue to begin.
  • Children can misbehave.
  • A guest who has begun ‘celebrating’ far too soon might become noisy and disruptive.
  • A groomsman who has been standing in a dark suit in the heat waiting for the wedding party to arrive may become dehydrated and faint.
  • Wind might blow papers away.
  • If the ceremony is held in a public park, members of the public or children riding bikes may wander among the guests.
  • There may be unexpected interruptions.

However, Robert Fulghum, author and philosopher, says that nothing can ruin a wedding day if the spirit is right. Celebrants often need to ‘think on their feet’ to defuse unexpected situations while at the same time appearing relaxed and smiling. If you appear stressed, then your anxiety will be passed on to others. It may be beneficial to think of some situations where things may go wrong, and what you would do in those circumstances. You will work through some difficult scenarios with your celebrant mentor.

Unexpected failure of power or equipment

In the event of a power failure, the most likely equipment to stop working will be your PA system. You have no control over a power failure, but you should ensure all batteries are fully charged. You can buy devices to check how well batteries are charged, and you can also visit battery specialists to have the main battery checked from time to time as they have a limited life expectancy, despite them appearing to be fully charged. Without a working PA, the celebrant can only do their best to make themselves heard. It would be disappointing for the parties if their chosen music cannot be played.

Follow up after the wedding

The day after the wedding I email the couple congratulating them, telling them to wait until I let them know it’s time to apply for their official marriage certificate (or that I’ve applied for it on their behalf), asking for photos of the ceremony, asking for them to review me on Facebook or send me any feedback, and asking if I can publish their personal vows on my blog.

Next day follow-up email
Get testimonies that matter

Although I now order the official marriage certificate from BDM when I register their marriage, before we were able to do that I would send them a second follow-up email when the Victorian BDM online system told me their marriage was registered; this email would give them instructions on how to order their official marriage certificate and instructions on how to change their name (through links to posts on my blog).

Advice for couples re name changes after marriage

Send documents to BDM for registration of the marriage

After the marriage ceremony has been completed, I go home and complete page 4 of the NOIM (date, venue, rites, sign, add A number). Within 14 days the completed marriage documents are to be sent to the BDM in the state or territory in which the marriage was solemnised for the marriage to be registered (s50), that is the NOIM, DONLIM and OCM printed back-to-back, and any other documents required (e.g. statutory declaration, interpreter document, consent for marriage of a minor, court order etc.) I retain the second copy of the OCM and Record of Use Form.

I do not send a cover letter with the documents to BDM as they don’t like cover letters unless there’s something you specifically need to tell them about the documentation or marriage; it’s just another piece of paper for them to deal with.

I use the online BDM registration system for submitting my documents now, but when I was posting documents to BDM, I always scanned a copy of the NOIM, DONLIM and OCM before putting them in the post them to BDM, just in case they get lost in the mail.

That’s it! You may like to undertake some marketing activities around the wedding, for example a post on social media or an article on your blog. Make sure you evaluate your performance and the way you managed the client relationship. On to the next one.

Posting pro photos on social media etiquette
What does Queensland BDM email people after their marriage is registered?
What happens if we don’t submit the official marriage certificate to BDM within two weeks?
A modern day version of the busy café getting busier
BDM RIO video transcript