Dealing with nerves and stage fright

Cass asks:

My question is more of a concern. I already have full time work in the theatre so celebrancy for me was more of a service I wanted to provide for friends and family. I think celebrating love is one of the most beautiful and important things we can do as a society and for me it has always been about the intimacy of the couple. I used to be quite a confident public speaker when I was in high school but now I’m almost 30 I feel absolute terror at the thought of performing such an important task in front of potentially hundreds of people. I know the day is obviously about the couple and not me but I don’t want my nerves to interfere with their special moment. Do you have advice (apart from practice) to combat serious stage fright?

I suspect Josh would write something a response to this question that would be far more poetic than the response I’m about to give, and would refer to something about forgetting about the guests, this isn’t a performance, you’re just having a conversation with two people about creating their marriage. But I’m not poetic and I can’t forget the guests, and I totally understand the fear of public speaking because I used to have it as well.

A little history from me. When I was at high school I was one of the drama kids. I was also a dancer and a music student. In short, I was a performer, and I was on the stage in one way or another every chance I got. I never suffered from stage fright; nerves were always with me, but I strongly believe nerves are good for you. I was pretty much completely confident to get up there and do whatever needed doing in whatever medium I was working at the time. Looking back, I can now see that the main thing was that I was always comfortable with the work; I always knew my lines, I always knew the choreography, I always knew the music. I’d practised and I was confident and comfortable that I would “get it right”.

Then I got older. And way more self-conscious about the way other people perceived me, whether I was going to embarrass myself, and whether I would “get it right”. After uni I spent years working in administrative, behind the scenes roles; I ran a lot of events, and was always happy running around in my blacks, but as soon as someone suggested that maybe I might want to present at one of the conferences or workshops I was running, I froze. Again looking back, I’ve now realised it was because I was never completely confident with the content I was working around; I worked mostly in medical research and often felt out of my depth when it came to understanding the content and answering questions about it. (I also had a boss who took great pleasure in destroying my self-confidence, but that’s a story for another day.)

And then I decided I was going to be a celebrant. For someone not particularly comfortable standing in front of people and presenting, nuts, right? But here was the difference: I knew that I would telling stories I had written myself, that I would be talking about relationships I had grown to know as if they were my own, and that if all else failed, I would have a script to rely upon.

So now here I am, five and a half years in to being a celebrant, and I’m not only confident presenting in front of groups of people with a script in hand (at weddings and at funerals) but I’m also comfortable talking to groups of people for an entire day with no script when I’m training. I firmly believe this confidence and comfort comes from talking about a topic I am completely comfortable with, one that I know inside out and back to front: celebrancy and how it’s done. I’m saying my words, I’m presenting my ideas, and I’m teaching content about which I know all of the things. For me, losing the stage fright has been all about being comfortable with the content. I still get nervous about a particularly difficult funeral or when I’m teaching a new topic for the first time, but I’m no longer paralysed with fear the way I used to be.

So now to the practical suggestions I came up with for Cass. The only suggestions I have for combatting stage fright are:

  • practise, practise, practise, in the backyard, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the car, and not just ceremonies but at something like Toastmasters, which is a community organisation for public speaking education. Go along to a few of their sessions, where it doesn’t matter if you stuff up, and see if that helps (this one is all about being comfortable with your content)
  • meditation and mindfulness; see if you can find someone to teach you some relaxation techniques for using at ceremonies before you’re about to speak
  • if all else fails, low dose beta blockers; your GP can prescribe them. Many professional musicians and speakers use them before performing, and my friends who have used them rave about them!

I hope this is helpful for some of you. Feel free to share your tips and tricks for stage fright in the comments!

How I perform ceremonies without notes or a script

My couples tell me they love it, wedding vendors are always surprised, and other celebrants are always blown away. They are bewildered by my ability to perform a marriage ceremony without a script or notes.

Today, I’ll tell you my secret, and it comes via Mark Twain:

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.

The fact is that I’m a terrible script reader, I have tried my hand in theatre and it is not somewhere I excelled. The ability to read and perform a script well is not a talent I hold. So if you can do it, you’re doing better than me. Faced with this dilemma early on in my celebrancy career I had to find a better way.

I reflected on my radio career and my best moments on air were when I was passionate about the subject, I was knowledgeable, I wasn’t acting, but I was vulnerable and authentic.

I knew that I had to bring that to my weddings.

Back to Mr Twain, if I simply told the truth in my marriage ceremonies, I wouldn’t have to have a script, or notes, or I wouldn’t have to try hard to remember anything. It would all just come naturally.

So how can you create a commercially viable business out of speaking the truth two to three times a week for completely different couples?

My truth

I would need to dig deep into my brain and really figure out what my truth was. In regards to marriage, weddings, and what it all means. Why do I think marriage is important, what do I think marriage is, and how does it affect people? How do I think it makes the world a better place and why am I encouraging of people entering marriage?

Further to that, once I had a solid understanding of what marriage meant to me, and what weddings were for, I would need to avidly, tenaciously, and boldly communicate that over a course of not just days or weeks, but months and years. In my case it’s been for almost ten years.

I hope that if anyone looks over the past ten years of my social media, blogging, vlogging, and podcasting, that you would see that scarlet thread of truth running through all of my thoughts. I might have grown up, matured, and possibly even got a little smarter, but that authenticity would run deep through it all.

Their truth

This is the tricky part, because I completely want my couples to have their own agency, their own thoughts and beliefs, but all the time being close to my worldview.

I’m essentially looking for my truth and their truth to line up.

We don’t need to be facsimile’s of each other, but we would need to be able to be friends even if I wasn’t marrying them.

It’s still up to me to get to know the couple, and learn their story, but if I never knew their story and was thrown in the deep end, I could probably present a ceremony for them.

The truth of the day

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is being aware of the event and the day. What crowd is rolling in, and how do they feel? What does the venue feel like and is the ceremony in a good place or a weird place, position-wise?

The actual physical surrounds, the weather, and the guests all weigh in on how the ceremony will feel and they definitely factor in to the truth of it.

The meetings

In all of our meetings together I am writing down notes about the couple’s truths, what matters to them, and how we all line up, but ultimately I’m building their trust in me and making sure that we are all in alignment as to what their marriage is and how we can celebrate it the best.

At the end I have a Google Doc full of notes about the couple, their story, and what matters to them. I’m essentially writing a note that future Josh will read on their wedding day.

The preparation

Before the ceremony I read that note past Josh wrote for me, and I get enveloped in their story.

I try to make the effort to catch up with both parties before the ceremony so they know I’m there and I have connected with them even briefly on a personal level outside of the ceremony.

Minutes before the ceremony I literally write (or type) their full name as a physical manifestation of remembering their middle and last names.

And then the music starts.

The ceremony and my ‘bits’

If you talk to comedians, their whole act, even their whole career, is split up into ‘bits’. The bit about Melbourne, the bit about public servants, the bit about that politician. They write all their bits, rehearse them, memorise them, and in their show, depending on the crowd, the vibe, and hope they’re feeling they bring out different bits and sometimes even customise them for the crowd.

My marriage ceremonies are very similar, I have a library of bits that I have written, rehearsed, tried, loved, and memorised.

I saw the band Weezer play recently and their’s a line in one of their songs that references ‘going to the Green Day concert’ but on the day I saw them they were opening for the Foo Fighters so they changed that bit to ‘going to the Foo Fighters concert’.

That’s how I perform a ceremony, I have all my bits, the bits I know that work, and those that work for certain kinds of couples. Some days, like yesterday, I think of a new bit on the fly and I try it out, and some days I’ll bring out a bit I haven’t used in years.

And it works because of this core belief of mine: people will never remember what I said in their ceremony, but they will always remember how I made them feel.

It’s that easy

I’ve always believed that things like this are easy until they’re not, and that’s where talent, skill, and experience come into play.

That note I wrote with the couple’s names is in my suit pocket, and I’ve been doing this long enough that I can’t make an awesome ceremony happen even without a script.

How will you go? We’ll never know until you try, but make sure you stay true to yourself and what you’re good at. The best celebrant you can be is you, everyone else is terrible at being you.

Vow and ring exchange logistics

Tori asks:

I have a logistics question for you around microphones/vow cards/ring exchanges. My first ceremony is fast approaching, and my couple have written their own vows. The plan at the moment is for me to hop out of the way during the vow exchange, leaving them to hold the mic for themselves while they read from their respective vow cards. They like the idea of ending the vows with the ring exchange (e.g. the bride would hold the mic for herself, read from her vow card, and wrap her vows up by presenting her partner with the ring. Then they would swap, and he would hold the mic for himself, read from his vow card and finish it off by presenting her with the ring). My concern is this – doing it this way would leave them with a lot to juggle – holding the mic and their vow card, plus a ring which they will be slipping on the other person’s hand at the same time. 

I guess my question is this: what do you find works best in the situation – do you tend to always hold the mic for the couple if they are reading from vow cards, or would you just avoid combining the ring exchange in with the vows, and instead let them do the vows with you out of the way and then come back in to feed them their ring exchange wording while holding the mic for them?

Excellent question Tori, and one I’ve spent a lot of ceremonies experimenting with!

When my couples write their own vows, I always print them onto a card to read from rather than have them repeat after me. The reason for this is that they don’t want to hear their partner’s beautiful words coming out of my mouth first; I did it once in my first year, he’d written a beautiful joke in his vows, and she laughed when I said it. Never again. So you’re spot on with the vow cards.

I spent a lot of ceremonies holding the microphone for them while they held their vow card, but with me standing directly behind the person speaking rather than in between the couple.

Vows read from a card with me holding the mic, but standing behind the groom

I did it this way because I always wanted the couple to be able to hold hands with their free hand. I feel sad when I see photos of couples not holding hands during their vow exchange; I feel like it’s such an intimate part of the ceremony, they should be touching.

But then at one of my OPD sessions in 2017 a couple of lovely celebrants showed me there was a way they could hold the vow card, the microphone, and be touching, and I could get out of the way altogether!

Vows read from a card with me out of the picture!

They face each other. With the hand closest to the guests they hold the vow card. With the hand furthest from the guests they hold the microphone. The partner holds the hand holding the vow card. Hopefully that makes sense!

But you’re right, adding the rings in to that equation makes for a lot of things to juggle. If they’re saying words with the rings, I just separate them out from the vows altogether, so after the vows are finished I come back behind them, I get the ring bearer to come behind them and open the ring box for one partner to take the ring out and put it halfway on the other’s finger, and then I stand behind them again to feed the ring wording while they’re putting the ring on.

Ring exchange with me feeding the words and holding the mic

My suggestion would be to separate the rings out if they’re okay with that, especially if there’s ring wording to go with the exchange. They really need both hands to put the ring on anyway – one hand to hold the other’s hand, and one to hold the ring, as in the pic above. And if there’s words to be said that go with the rings, it will be impossible for them to hold the ring, card with the words, and microphone at the same time. That sounds like a recipe for disaster! Explain the logistics to them and why you’re recommending that.

If they really want to end their vows with the ring-putting-on, and there are no words that go with the rings, I would suggest they don’t get the ring until they’ve finished saying their vows. So they hold the vow card and the mic and each other’s hand, say their vows, and then when they’ve finished speaking the ring bearer comes forward with the ring box, they take the ring out and put it on the other’s hand with no words.

I have actually scripted that I would do that before, but each time I’ve gotten so caught up in the beautiful vows that I’ve completely forgotten the rings in between the two sets of vows, and just done them in my normal place, both being exchanged at the same time after the vows are said 🙂

Also just a tip with the rings, and this is my personal preference (I know some celebrants are the exact opposite to me in this regard). I always insist the rings are in something (a bag, a box, on a pillow, whatever), because loose rings are another recipe for disaster (try saying that to a gay male couple and watch them try not to snigger). Then my rule is that neither I nor the ring bearer (or best man or whoever has the ring/s) touches the actual rings, then we can’t get in trouble if they fall on the ground. I have the ring bearer come behind the couple, open the box, and have the party take the other’s ring out, then the ring bearer goes back to the side while they put the ring on and say the words, and vice versa. I hope that makes sense!

What do I read my ceremony from?

Tori asks:

I have my first ceremony coming up in a week and a half (for a good friend), and while I am feeling pretty on top of things overall, I am still trying to work out what I will use to read from on the day. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about your experience/thoughts on using a tablet (which I’ve noticed quite a few celebrants tend to be doing?) VS something like a nice looking binder. Any specific tips/considerations either way (e.g. if you use a tablet, do you find a cover for it that you can tuck vow cards into?), and if you do go the binder/folder route, any ideas for where to buy something appropriate? Last question! If you do tend to use a tablet, do you always have a hard copy as backup anyway?

First of all Tori, congrats on your first ceremony coming up! It’s an exciting and nerve wracking time all in one, but I’m sure you’ll be great 🙂

I’m answering this one because Josh doesn’t read from a script, so he’s of no use whatsoever for this question 🙂

I have literally tried all of the things when it comes to what I read my ceremony from.

For my very first ceremony, another celebrant had told me that an A5 folder was easier to manage than an A4 folder. So I promptly went out and bought a (very ugly) A5 binder and some A5 plastic pockets, and read my ceremony from that. One fairly major problem: I found myself holding the folder against my stomach to steady it, and I couldn’t see the ceremony over my boobs. Sorry if that’s too much information, but they’re kind of big and it was a legitimate issue! So I did away with the A5 folder, which was just as well because it really was very ugly.

(As an aside, my aunt was also horrified by the ugliness of the A5 binder, so my uncle played around with some leather offcuts in his shed and made me a beautiful leather A5 folder and an A4 one, which was lovely, but by then I’d figured out A5 wasn’t going to work for me, and I’d found the A4 folder I’ll talk about below, so they didn’t get a lot of use.)

I headed back to my favourite shop of all time, Officeworks, and spent a long time in the display folder aisle. Eventually I found a black, hard cover display folder with a normal book spine, not ring bound or with that big ugly plastic thing you usually see on display folders. They don’t seem to stock them anymore, but this is the closest one I could find.

I bought a bunch of those and I still use them to display my Ceremony Builder Booklets and other info for taking along to couple meet and greets. They look nice in my hand, they’re hard cover so they don’t flap around, the plastic sheets are thicker than normal so they’re better on windy days, and overall I was pretty happy. I still had the boob problem, but I solved that by printing my scripts with an 8cm margin at the bottom of every page. Oh, and for the record, I printed my scripts in 14pt Calibri font at 1.5 spacing, with normal margins at the top and sides (2.54cm) and the 8cm margin at the bottom.

Black folder front cover
Black folder nice spine
Black folder open (and sideways, sorry about that!)

There are lots of places to buy lovely folders that aren’t Officeworks. I know several celebrants who’ve had folders custom made by a book binder, and many of the quirkier stationery shops (think Typo, Kikki K, etc) also have nice folders.

Towards the end of my first year as a celebrant I got sick of other people looking after the music at my ceremonies and ALWAYS GETTING IT WRONG. So I decided I was going to take charge of the music; I bought a Bluetooth receiver to plug into my PA system and a small iPod that I keep just for ceremonies, but I knew using my folder could be problematic – I knew I could velcro the iPod to the inside cover of the folder, but I’d then have to flip the pages back to get to it when I wanted to press Play. That was not going to work. So I decided to give my Kindle a try.

Now I’ve been a Kindle fan for years; I’m a heavy reader and the last time I went overseas I had a significant extra weight charge because of all the books I was carrying. I got my first Kindle for my birthday in 2010 and I haven’t looked back. So I knew how to work a Kindle, I felt comfortable with reading from the screen, and I was happy to give it a shot. My original Kindle had buttons at the side to press to move back and forth between pages; my current one is a touch screen, so you tap on the left side of the screen to go back and page, and the right side of the screen to go forward a page.

The big issue was figuring out what size font I needed to save my document in so that when the A4 page of my document shrank to the size of the Kindle screen, it would still be readable! After a bit of trial and error I settled on narrow margins (1.27cm) all around, and 26 point Calibri font at 1.5 spacing. So I prepare the document as usual in Word, print it to PDF, then email the PDF document to my Kindle account email address (which you can find if you go into your Kindle account information online). Lo and behold, the next time I connect my Kindle to wifi, the document downloads, ready to go!

A page of text on my Kindle (sideways, sorry!)

Because the Kindle is so small and fits cradled in one hand, I don’t need to rest it against my stomach; I tend to hold it at chest height, so my boobs don’t get in the way 🙂

Kindle fits in my hand

I have a plain black case for my Kindle (it’s a responsive one, so when I close the case the Kindle switches off). I know others have gone down the track of getting larger covers that they can fit vow cards and tissues etc in, but I stuff my tissues in my bra (sorry, TMI again!) and give the vow cards to the second groomsman to hold (the best man usually has the rings, so this gives the second groomsman something to do).

I have a Velcro strip on the back of my iPod, and Velcro dots on the left inside cover of the Kindle, and that’s my ceremony kit. I can hold it comfortably in one hand, and move the pages back and forth and control the iPod with the other hand. I wear a headset microphone so that I have both hands free for this reason. If there’s live music and I’m not needing my iPod, the Kindle comes out of its case and I just hold it and control it with the same hand.

Kindle with iPod attached (upside down, sorry)
Kindle out of its cover

I always have a paper copy of the ceremony with me as well; I like to give the couple a keepsake copy of their ceremony on pretty paper, so that’s in my bag if I need it. On the odd occasion when my Kindle threw a hissy fit though, I’ve just opened up the Dropbox app on my iPhone and read the ceremony from there – I save EVERYTHING in Dropbox, so I can access it from my phone, iPad, or any computer anywhere.

I personally don’t like to use an iPad; I’ve seen many photos of celebrants with an eerie glow on their face from their iPad screen. A Kindle isn’t backlit, which makes it easy to read in the sunlight (it’s just like reading from paper) and it doesn’t shine a light on my face. I also find my Kindle easier to hold onto than my iPad; it’s just that bit smaller and more comfortable in my hand. I’ve also heard far too many horror stories of iPads shutting down in the heat; I’ve yet to have that happen with my Kindle, although I am careful to keep it out of direct sunlight as much as i can.

(And yes, I’ve heard the arguments about being able to make edits on the go if you’re using an iPad, and about being able to control the music from the same device you’re reading your script from. I’m very bossy with my couples and don’t allow edits on the day of the ceremony; in over 280 weddings I’ve only had one wedding where they insisted I add something on the day, and it was minor enough that I could remember it. And for the same reason I didn’t want to be flipping pages in my folder, I don’t want to be switching between apps to play music and read my ceremony. That’s just me though.)

I still use my hard copy folder for funerals, because I don’t have to control the music and I always have a lectern to put my folder on, although I am considering trying my iPad at a funeral ceremony or two to see how that goes. Having said that, at burials lately I’ve been using my Kindle/iPod combo because it’s just easier at the graveside rather than dealing with the pages in my folder.

So that’s my journey through different tools for reading my ceremony! I hope it’s been useful 🙂 (And sorry that I’m so useless with images and some of them are sideways or upside down!)

What’s the go with overseas weddings

Anka asks

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of celebrants on Facebook have started advertising that they can do weddings overseas?? I didn’t think we could? Im presuming they might be just completing paperwork at the airport before they depart? Or did u miss something

Hi Anka, this is a question I personally field often and I’m glad I get to address it on the Celebrant Institute today.

Under what authority?

The Attorney-General’s office has the authority to appoint marriage celebrants according to Australian law. That law and authority is only valid in Australia. So when an Australian authorised marriage celebrant leaves Australia and enters another country they no longer carry the authority they did in Australia, and they are subject to that country’s laws – marriage and otherwise. In simple terms, Australian marriage celebrants in New Zealand lose the title “marriage celebrant” whilst retaining the title “Australian”. Outside of Australia you are not a celebrant. That’s why celebrants cannot witness notices of intent overseas.

So if you see myself or others performing ceremonies overseas, we are subject to the laws in that country. In that country, if we have the authority to marry we may well be, and if we are not then in a technical sense it’s not a legal marriage ceremony.

I personally at the time of writing this article have the authority to marry people according to the law in Australia, the USA, and British Columbia, Canada.

If you see me in any other country, the couple are not getting married-married, just married, in their hearts.

Even with the opportunity to legally marry in Canada and the USA many of my couples choose to still take the Australian paperwork route just so it’s free to change names and get new passports and drivers licenses.

So how do people get married-married?

In each country around the globe the people getting married have the responsibility to seek the best route for themselves. Some people value the ease of paperwork an Australian marriage ceremony presents an Australian couple so before or after the international ceremony we’ll go through the required steps on Australian soil. Others value the date on their marriage certificate being the date they exchanged vows, so it’s up to them to figure that out.

Isn’t this weird?

I know that for many of our European it’s very common for the celebrant to have no actual legal authority so the couple will visit the marriage office in the days before their wedding, or even on the morning, and solemnise it there. (Do I get 10 points for using solemnise in a sentence?)

For many Australian couples who would like a friend to marry them I perform a similar service.

The business end of the deal

You’ll meet very few wedding vendors who have made a successful life, financially and socially, from being a destination wedding vendor. I’m lucky that Britt’s a bigger traveller than me and Luna, well Luna has no choice. So we love travelling the globe and we build our international wedding schedule around our own hopes. I’m sure most reading this would like to travel as well, so I wish you the best of luck, it’s not easy living with the word ‘destination’ in your bio, if only because everyone else has it there too. My advice would be to focus on your local market and take the destination work that suits you and your family.

How do I do marriage certificates?

I was just wondering how you all prepare your pretty Form 15s. Does anyone use traditional calligraphy? Hand write? Use a template on a printer?

Julia Hern

I’ll answer Julia’s question along with a wider explanation of how I prepare all of my paperwork, including the Form 15.

I recently found my original “red book” of marriage certificates whilst packing to move house. I used it five times before I started investigating other means. Around that time I found Ron Hoare’s Celebrant Suite (I particularly enjoyed his company name “Byronware” aka By Ron Ware, ware being slang for software). Almost six years on I still use Celebrant Suite and have particularly enjoyed Ivan Conway’s addition to the product (Celebrant Connection) with the ability for couples to fill out an online form and then I can import all of their information into Celebrant Suite. When I first started using Celebrant Suite I used the software on a spare Windows laptop and printed the paperwork onto good A4 paper. I kept the celebrant copy (instead of the red book), and mailed the BDM’s copy to the BDM. Today my Celebrant Suite use is a little different, so I’ll lay down how I manage my paperwork today, and maybe some of these tips can rub off on to your workflow.

Bye bye red book

So step number one is to put the red book away. Retire the book, step out from behind it like the big bold awesome celebrant you are. And now everyone hates me because they love their red book selfies, but I’m cool with that. The thing is, the red book isn’t the only way to fulfil that part of our obligation as a marriage celebrant, and the mere fact that you need to pick up a pen to do the work means that we’re letting potential errors enter our workflow.

How do I use Celebrant Suite?

My marriage paperwork workflow starts with every single couple being entered into Celebrant Suite, even though for a majority of my couple’s today I won’t even generate their paperwork in Celebrant Suite. But in my workflow Celebrant Suite is the ultimate keeper of answers to the following:

  1. Who has booked me?
  2. Has the couple competed a NOIM?
  3. When and where is the couple’s wedding?
  4. Record of use of Form 15 certificates and printing the certificates (with pretty fonts)
  5. Have I submitted the paperwork to the BDM?
  6. How many weddings did I do this year?

I know that Ron will be horrified when he reads that list, but being a Queensland-based celebrant who works primarily in New South Wales there are too many benefits in me registering my couples marriages directly with the BDM online, plus NSW BDM calls me every time I lodge a marriage the traditional way, just to make sure that I know they have an online system. They won, I got sick of the phone calls. For couples marrying in Queensland or New South Wales I enter the data into Celebrant Suite and the state’s BDM online system for double data dexterity (the BDM online systems are far from perfect) and then print the forms from the BDM because that’s the most important data point. I need the BDM-entered data to be spelt and typed correctly.

Couples of mine who are not getting married in Queensland or New South Wales, have their marriage paperwork generated in Celebrant Suite, because it’s quite simply a really beautiful way of generating and printing their paperwork.

The base premise is that you enter data once and use it many times. So in Celebrant Suite you’ll enter the couple’s names once and then on every certificate that original spelling is used. I’ll even enter the couples details either manually, or via the Celebrant Connection, then export a PDF of their NOIM to send to them just so they can check spelling and typos. No more errors!

Isn’t Celebrant Suite a Windows program?

I am a Mac and iPad user, who has a single Windows program to run – and Celebrant Suite is that app. I know there are other web-based programs but I’m not happy with them, and all my data is in Celebrant Suite. So I actually pay 9 cents per hour to rent a Windows computer in the cloud. When I’m not using it I shut it down and it costs me nothing. I can just remote desktop into it from my iPad or Mac, where ever I am in the world. It’s quite handy!

Celebrant Suite running on a Windows Server instance in the Alibaba Cloud for 9 cents per hour, being accessing through the Remote Desktop app on my iPad

How do I print/do the paperwork?

“Printing” the paperwork takes on two different meanings here. I personally print as little as I need to, but for most of you, that is, people who aren’t asking their couples to sign on iPad, you’ll need to print more.

So, if I’m printing paper: In my office I’ll print the paperwork from either Celebrant Suite or the BDM online and carry it in my Oroton folio. The BDMs online give you PDFs to print.

My general use case is that I’ll export a PDF from Celebrant Suite or BDM online and save it into Notability, my iPad singing app of choice and have the couple sign the paperwork in Notability. The only paper at the marriage ceremony is the Form 15 which the couple takes home.

If it’s a NSW wedding I can get home and upload that paperwork directly to BDM, essentially a paperless wedding on my end. In Qld I can upload but I still currently have to print and mail the paperwork as well. In the ACT I can simply email the paperwork in, and in other states I mail it in.

Printing the Form 15

The online BDM’s template for printing the Form 15s are pretty ugly, so I still use Celebrant Suite for my Form 15s. Coneria Script is my font of choice (to instal custom fonts onto your iPad, use AnyFont).

If Celebrant Suite is having a bad day, or if I’m too lazy to turn on the virtual machine that runs it, I also have a Apple Pages template which I can manually type the information into. Those templates are available for purchase below.

Form 15 (Marriage Equality Version) Apple Pages template

$5.00 – Purchase Excluding 10% tax

Form 15 (Old Version) Apple Pages template

$5.00 – Purchase Excluding 10% tax

How I make personal ceremonies

When creating a marriage ceremony, my goal isn’t to personalise my ceremony, but to make it personal.

That’s a subtle but pointed difference.

Personalising my ceremonies is the act of having existing ceremonies and then changing them to suit the couple. It’s the mail merge of ceremonies. And for many celebrants, for many of their packages and price-points, thats’ as much work as the couple paying that fee deserve.

But if you’re interested in doing work that matters, the kind of work that fills your cup every day, whilst also filling your sales budget and bank account, let me tell you about another way.

I don’t personalise my ceremonies, I make my ceremonies personal.

I’ll take your through my processes as if I was marrying fictional Jack and Jill today.

I’ll sit down before the wedding and think about how I can make Jack and Jill’s ceremony personal. What can I do that would make it feel like this ceremony was 100% about Jack and Jill, and not a mail merge ceremony.

What can I say that would give everyone there the idea that I actually know Jack and Jill, and that I care about them?

What can I say to Jack and Jill that would truly encourage them and engage them in the ceremony

You can take those points and go to the extreme, a dangerous place to be. Imagine if you just met Jack at a party, and in an effort to make Jack feel included and special, you call him Jack every 45 seconds for the rest of the night.

Friends don’t talk like that, people that know you personally almost always don’t call you by your name. They’ll call you by cute names, or nicknames.

So in the ceremony I don’t begin with the classic line “We are gathered here today to celebrate Jack Daniel Smith and Jill Rebecca Brown’s marriage” because that is possibly the most impersonal thing you could say. If everyone at the ceremony doesn’t know their name then why are they even there?

Many celebrants personalise their ceremony by including the couple’s full story. Which is an easy and comprehensive way of making it all about Jack and Jill.

But I actually don’t tell the whole story for four reasons:

  1. I’m assuming everyone there know’s the story. With weddings being so small and personal today, it would be weird for strangers to be there.
  2. A common complaint I’ve heard from couples is that they have heard other celebrants do this and it seems insincere.
  3. I think reading the story off a page is a dead giveaway for a not-personal ceremony.
  4. I’m really bad at reading long passages of text off a page into a microphone.

So if I’m not reading the whole story, but I still have their story, how do I make it personal?

Jack and Jill might have met at the baggage carousel at Nashville Airport, tow kids from Brisbane meeting on the other side of the world in the least friendly of places. So in the ceremony I might say:

“We’ve come a long way from the baggage carousel in Nashville airport to this little wedding ceremony in Byron Bay, but that’s the beauty and oddity of love, is that you find it in the weirdest places, and it doesn’t get any more normal along the way!”

So I’ve referenced their story, but not in a “reading off a page” kind of way, meanwhile I’ve proven to everyone there and the couple that I care and I listened when they told me that story.

Everyone receives encouragement differently. Some people would prefer a gift, or a cuddle, and some respond better to words than high fives. I always look out for ways in which the couple comfort each other and encourage each other, and use those methods before and during the ceremony to encourage them.

I know that if a guy is a hugger, then a hug before the ceremony will make him feel at home, and he’d probably appreciate a warm slap on the shoulder as his partner comes down the aisle.

If a person is wordy and descriptive in how they explain their love of the other person, I know that a personal affirmation that references something they’ve done or said in the closing words of the ceremony would really warm their heart.

I believe that subtle references and encouragements, maybe towards pop culture favourites of the couple, or references to personal jokes or cute names, references that most people there would’nt even get will make for a much more personal ceremony that brings rave reviews and referrals.

I know that this style of ceremony isn’t what they teach you in Cert IV training, and it’s also not the normal kind of ceremony, but I do believe that if you can start making your ceremonies more personal and less personalised that you’ll start finding a new well of creativity and joy in your ceremony creation.

Rehearsals – to have them or not to have them?


Sarita asks:

Normally I’d do a rehearsal or rough run through with the couple. I have a couple asking about a rehearsal with the full bridal party. 

Would I be ok to say I’d normally just do it with the couple? Or should I go with the flow & do it with everyone? 

What do we normally do?

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Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.

Scheduling multiple ceremonies in a day


Sean asks “Do you have any advice on taking multiple bookings in a day? Accounting for travel time of course what’s the minimum amount of time you leave yourself in between ceremonies, and is this something you discuss with your couples at all?”

Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.

Co-delivering a marriage ceremony

Josh asks:

I have a celebrant mate of mine whose registration is pending with the AG’s office. But, she has a friend’s wedding coming up towards the end of September, which is the reason why she completed the course. I initially completed the NOIM for her and kept the date in September free (just in case), but what would you recommend I do to help from here? Should I just hang tight and wait for the AG or can I take care of the legals and have the other celebrant deliver the ceremony (other than the legal elements of course)? Also how would this work if the other celebrant has spent the time getting to know the couple and I have simply helped in a legal capacity? 

It's definitely possible for an authorised celebrant to manage the legalities of the ceremony while another person (whether a pending celebrant or a friend of the couple) delivers the "ceremonial" aspects of the ceremony. 

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iPad Celebrants, you need this tip

If you’re a celebrant who reads off your iPad, you might not be aware of a simple way you can help photographers and videographers.

If the ceremony is inside with lower lighting, your iPad’s screen brightness will often reflect onto your face, like this:

iPad reflecting off my face with standard brightness settings

This is normal and to be expected, you do after all need to be able to read your iPad’s screen. The problem is that most lighting in a darker setting like this would be warmer coloured lighting. The normal colour from an iPad’s white screen is quite blue, instead of warm.

A simple flick of a switch on your iPad can make the screen warmer, like this:

iPad reflecting off my face with warmer brightness settings

Enabling this setting will make it so much easier for videographers and photographers to edit the wedding because the light on your face will be a similar colour to the rest of the lighting.

If you’re outside in full light you need not worry, and if the room is lit with cool (blue/white) colours then adjust appropriately.

The setting is called “Night shift” and it’s designed to make it easier for your iPad screen to be viewed at night.

You’ll find it in the Settings app, then “Display and Brightness” and manually enable it until tomorrow.

How to MC a wedding reception, a guide for celebrants

We’ve had a number of questions about MC’ing wedding receptions recently, so I’ve wrapped it all up in this quick and easy how-to guide.

The host, or MC, of an event is as unique role as the whole event is held in your hands but you’re not at the centre of it. You’re the ringleader, the master of ceremony, the voice, and the host, but if you’re any good no-one will remember you – because it’s your job to make the couple shine and for all of the guests to have an amazing night.

MCing the reception is a natural fit for a celebrant, we’ve already spent the time getting to know the couple, and we already start the event, it’s only natural that we’d continue hosting the after-ceremony proceedings.

Ultimately what happens at the reception, and how you navigate those waters, will be 45% the couple’s doing and 45% you being you, so this article is on the remaining 10%: how to be the best MC.

Your role

I see the MC’s role as being the middle-person in-between the couple, the venue, the kitchen, the other vendors, and the crowd.

We want to have a good understand of the couple’s needs and desires – they’re paying the bill after all – so that as we interact with everyone else we can respectfully communicate that “all of that is great, but the couple would like it to happen this way” so that a suitable outcome can be found when the kitchen needs to serve dinner, but the photographer ran late with photos, the band is due to start soon, but you haven’t communicated the housekeeping and introduced the couple yet.

Your role is a little bit like a doula. A doula isn’t a midwife, but they are a third party liaison for the couple giving birth so that they aren’t hindered with making decisions they don’t need to make. A doula is like a professional best-friend when giving birth, and a MC is a professional best-friend on your wedding day.

Speaking is only part of your role, the rest of it is understanding the flow of the event, everyone’s priorities, and then leading the couple and the crowd through that.


Runsheets are powerful yet useless. They are powerful because they lay out the groundwork for what’s going to happen at a wedding, and what order they’ll occur in, but they’re useless because in the 15 years I’ve been running events I’ve never seen a runsheet obeyed. They’re a rough guide as to what will happen and when.

The kitchen

The chef and kitchen staff hold an important aspect of the day: the food. It’s your job to be in communication with them around their timelines and what they need so that everyone has hot food in front of them, so establish a good relationship with the appropriate people in the kitchen so that flows well.

Another aspect of your relationship with the kitchen is working out if they would prefer to clear plates before speeches begin, or after. I prefer that the plates are cleared before we begin speaking, but some kitchens can do it quietly.

Photographers and videographers

It is your responsibility to communicate to the photography and videography crew about what they need to capture on the night, and how you can make that easy for them. It might be that they need 10 minutes notice on speeches so they can set up, if so, give them 10 minutes notice, and not less. I recommend talking to them about positioning in the room, if that is flexible, so they can get great photos and video with ease.

Band or DJ

I prefer to use my own PA system in a reception, but if the band or DJ has a good setup that you trust, use theirs, and that will require you to work with them on levels, and also cues on you speaking and them stopping the music.

A hint here: try not to cut in to the middle of a song, but tell them “I’d like to speak at the end of this song”. That way they have notice and can also give the event a better flow and feel instead of you interrupting everyone’s favourite song.

The couple

As the couple’s liaison, through the event stay in touch with them about what you’re planning on doing next and if that suits them, also offering them an opportunity to change things if required. The couple having a fun and relaxed night is more important than any runsheet.

You speaking

Imagine that the whole crowd are idiots, but treat them with the upmost respect. Simply, don’t assume that everyone knows what is happening, and why, but talk to them kindly, slowly, and clearly.

My MC style is to talk as little as possible while saying everything needed to be said, however there are other equally good wedding reception MC styles that are on the more verbose side. DJ friends of mine are trained in the Marbecca Method which really intrigues me, but for today I like my minimalist approach.

Most of your role on the night is off-microphone, but what you say on microphone is also important, just be sure to be clear as you communicate it because as you start speaking you’re interrupting everyone’s conversations so it best be good.

How much to charge

I’m not going to dictate a fee, but the way I view it is that I could be at home with my wife, so it better be worth it. I don’t like charging by the hour, only because I don’t want to be the guy that tells the couple that my time is up. I’d rather charge a good price for the whole night and then leave when appropriate. But if you’re going to charge by the hour, make sure it’s clearly communicated to the couple.

How to sell it

Many couples have already identified a friend or family member that will MC, and most of those MCs are terrible at it. Your pitch should communicate your professional public speaking ability that has already sold you as a celebrant, but you just extend that service past the ceremony into the reception.

What to do about crying

Here’s a fun one for you guys. How do you deal with crying? I’m currently studying and in my performance assignment, my “bride” burst into tears and I realised I was totally unprepared for what I imagine is a very common occurrence. Do I just hand her a tissue and keep going? Do I wait until she regains composure? Do I try cracking a joke? Do I devise a “safe” word with the couple before the ceremony? I don’t want to embarrass anyone by drawing attention to it or making them feel bad about their reactions, but I also want to make sure they have a wonderful ceremony and can be present in the moment. How do long-time pros handle the floods of emotions from the couples – crying, uncontrollable giggling, nervous twitches? I’d love to know your techniques and any other thoughts from celebrants in the comments section.


Personally I’m a big fan of tears in a wedding ceremony, it’s a visible symbol that the couple aren’t dead inside and that the marriage ceremony means something to them.

But as I thought more about this I do have a few things I do to help the moment pass organically.

  1. If the tears are getting in the way of the person reading their vows and I get the feeling that they can’t get past them, I’ll invite the crowd to show them some love. A round of applause or a cheer sometimes is enough to encourage you forwards.
  2. If the moment allows I’ll step aside from the ceremony and let the couple hug or kiss and calm each other down. This is real life, no need for me to make it more awkward.
  3. Finally, if they seem embarrassed by the tears I’ll vocally encourage them, either personally or on the microphone that its ok to cry, that it means they’re human, and that they’re alive and that this matters to them.

How do you work with a party to a marriage ceremony losing their composure? Comment with your ideas below.

Where I stand during the ceremony. Sarah’s view

Ann asks:

Sarah, I've just had a quick look at your website. I noticed you usually stand to the side of your bride and groom, not behind them. It looks really good. I imagine when you first started you tried all spots to stand and this was the best? Any hints on this Sarah?

You're absolutely right Ann, it took me a bit of trial and error and a lot of talking to other celebrants to figure out where I was most comfortable standing during the ceremony. Let me take you through how I worked it out! But first a reminder that this is the way it works for ME; I'm not saying it's right or the only way, I'm not saying the other ways are wrong (even though I will tell you why they don't work for me), I'm simply letting you know that this is how I prefer to operate.

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How to position your PA speaker for a wedding ceremony

Veronica asks

After reading this article and listening to the podcast “A tribute to the greatest episode in the world”, you mentioned speaker placement. Being a newbie to the industry, where would you suggest is the best place for the speaker so I majority can hear?

Speaker placement is a fine art for weddings because you’re battling with venue noise restrictions, keeping things pretty, keeping everything practical, battling with stylists and musicians, whilst also trying to make everything sound good.

So I’ve recorded a short and rather amateur screencast video that you can watch below to explain this post in ways that words cannot, alas I’ll also try put some words down as well.

The three things to keep in mind when positioning your PA speaker system is:

  1. audio feedback
  2. making the audio sound real
  3. radio frequency

On audio feedback, you simply don’t want the microphone to be so close to the speaker, so you want the speaker far enough away from you that it’s not feeding back, but …

While you want to keep the speaker far from the microphone, you also have to be keeping in mind that you want the audio to sound real, so if you’re talking but the audio of you talking is coming from where you aren’t, like the back of the ceremony, that confuses ears and eyes, so you want the PA speaker as close to you as possible (whilst maintaining distance so it doesn’t feedback), all while keeping in mind that …

You want to leave a clear path for the radio transmitter (your microphone) to clearly communicate to the receiver (the speaker system most likely) and human bodies are great deflectors of radio transmissions.

It’s that easy hey!

Five ways to make your ceremonies better

A recent Seth Godin post about presentations of the corporate/Microsoft Powerpoint kind, spurred me on to thinking about our presentation style as celebrants. My ceremony presentation style has it's roots in a) what I'm good at and b) what I like. Yours should too, so don't read this and feel judged or ashamed. If your style is you at your best, and in a style that you would like to receive, then be proud. Hopefully these five points might inspire you to expand your presentation style and take you out of your comfort zone, which can only make you better. Read More

Personal vows and their content

Veronica asks:

I know according to section 45(2) of the Marriage Act, couples are required to say "I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or C.D.), take thee, C.D. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband); or words to that effect." When it comes to couples personalising their vows, aside from the previous mentioned, do couples have to say certain things, or are they free to say what they see fit?

This one's almost easy: they can literally say whatever they see fit, almost...

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My ceremony writing timeline

Mercy asks:

This relates to the questionnaire you send your couples. I've been doing the same, but as I'm fairly new, don't really have a system in place as to when couples need to get back to me.


When you send the questionnaire do you give your couples a deadline, if so do they generally stick to it, and what if they don't?? And when do you tell couples you'll send a first draft, final draft etc? Or do you sometimes have to play by ear according to the couples.


So far I haven't had any issues but I imagine some couples dragging their feet could affect getting the ceremony written. Would love your input on this.

I definitely have a process and a timeline and deadlines and reminders and it all works! I’m much more process driven than a lot of celebrants (including Josh!) but it works for me, and my couples appreciate the fact that they don’t have to think or remember anything; I tell them exactly when everything is due and send them reminders when necessary.

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My Ceremony Builder Booklet

Mercy asks:

I'd like to know about your booklet. The idea of printing an expensive booklet seemed a bit outdated to me, given that there are so many resources online and such a diversity of options for couples these days. None of my couples so far have been interested in readings, and I'm reluctant to pin them down as far as ceremony structure goes either, until I know more about them.


What does your booklet look like, how many pages etc and what quality do you recommend? Do you find that couples choose structure and content based on the booklet or do you also provide links?


And how do you get around the fact that you may want to update it when you find more content? I worry about the expense when I think about how often I come across new stuff and imagine wanting to change things up often.

I know not all celebrants provide a booklet of information to their couples, but I have since the beginning of my life as a celebrant, and I find it helps both me and the couple stay on track and organised, and the couples who choose to work with me love the way it helps them plan out their ceremony.

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Ceremony script writing skills. Sarah’s view

Liane asks:

As a reasonably new celebrant (2016) my question to you both is how can I improve my skills and knowledge on writing ceremony scripts? How do you guys keep yourselves updated and up-skilled in this area?

Can you recommend any resources, websites etc to increase my creative bank (example quotes, styles of weddings)?

What framework do you both use when creating your wedding script?

Once again, Josh and I have VERY different views on this, so we're answering this one separately 🙂

First up, it's really important to know that ceremony writing is a very personal thing, and EVERY celebrant approaches it differently. This is just the way I do it, and that's not to say it's good, bad or other. It's just the way it works for me and has evolved over my celebrant career.

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How to protect the copyright of your ceremony scripts

Tenielle asks

Just a quick question about intellectual property of ceremony drafts. Hasn't happened to me, but have heard of stories of celebrants issuing a draft ceremony for the clients to look over, and then that ceremony being taken by the couple to a cheaper celebrant. Don't know how true it is, but it did get me thinking about my own Ts and Cs and about how I could best protect myself at the end of the day. Look, I know how easy it is to forward on a PDF or a Word Document and there's stuff all we can do about it at the end of the day, but it's just another aspect of this job that's been on my mind a bit lately.

So there are three angles I'm going to answer this question from:

  1. copyright law, knowing it and protecting yourself
  2. sending scripts
  3. why is your script stolen

And I'll start with the most important one (in my humble opinion): Read More