Where should the celebrant stand in a marriage ceremony? There’s no rule, law, or correct answer, but I’ll lay out the fundamentals on how I make my decision on where to stand, because it’s not always the same decision being made.
If you make different decisions, like Sarah does, your view and decision is valid and fine. Like, I might think you’re wrong, but I’m not your mum or the police, so you’ll be ok.
Comics and musicians often talk about not wanting to work in certain rooms again. The vibe, the layout, and the positioning can all be wrong. Sometimes it’s about symmetry – or lack of it. Or whether we’re up on a stage, or down on a different level from the couple. Some ceremony areas have a left or right-leaning basis so as you look at the room your eyes get lead a certain way.
Or if its outdoors, are there leading lines in the trees or the field?
What I’m trying to get at is that most rooms lend themselves to a certain kind of ceremony. The feel of the room, and where the eyes are lead, almost naturally instructs us where the ceremony should be and how the three of us in the ceremony should be positioned.
Most ceremony locations have seats with an aisle down the middle, with symmetry either naturally occurring, or being crafted by a designer or stylist, so the ceremony being in the middle is the ideal place. And the person creating the ceremony, the ringleader, the master of ceremony, the leader, the person running this show, should be there – in the middle.
I’m obsessed with taking ownership of how the room/ceremony feels. Are the chairs too close or too far
In my 14 years of creating thousands of marriage ceremonies, I have had three couples who wanted to face their guests. I’ve had one couple who wanted to face me, and I honestly found it quite confronting for my style of ceremony. Everyone else felt most comfortable facing each other. In that moment they almost levitate away from the burden of being watched by a crowd, and they are in the zone with each other.
So if they’re facing each other, and if I’m talking to them, the ideal place for me to stand is between them, facing the guests, whom I’m also talking to.
The five senses
One of the wisest things I was taught in business was to consider how people interact with your business using their five senses. How does this experience smell? How does it sound? How does it look? How does it feel/touch? How does it taste?
Aside from considering if the marriage ceremony is happening next to a seafood restaurant’s garbage bin, or if the seats are made out of razors, the two most important ones for a wedding is sight and sound.
Can the ceremony be heard well, is it amplified appropriately, so all can easily experience it? Is the speaker raised off the ground and at ear-level so the sound is natural? Is the microphone a quality microphone so the amplified voice sounds like their actual voice (that’s a solid dig at MiPro microphones which sound like a dying mule)? You probably knew this one already, but here’s one more: is the amplified sound coming from the same space as the actual voice? This is why we don’t put out PA systems at the back of the ceremony, it’s confusing for our brains as the voice is coming from a different direction than our eyes are seeing the lips moving.
But one extra point is this: is the action of the ceremony coming from where the ceremony is or is the person speaking for most of the ceremony physically situated in a different location than the actual ceremony? This is confusing for listeners’ ears and viewers’ eyes.
A ceremony that is taking into account the guests’ senses, is amplified from and situated in the same location as the ceremony – in the middle.
Are there cases for the celebrant to present the ceremony from the side of the bridal party, sure, I haven’t ever experienced one. Is there a case for the celebrant to present the ceremony from the aisle, facing the couple with their back to the crowd? Only if the ceremony isn’t important and the celebrant doesn’t want to be listened to.
Do your couple a favour and let them face each other, and do them and their guests a favour by standing in between them.
A final note on photography: The celebrant isn’t a vendor to be excluded from the photos and video. We are literally creating and presenting the best part of the wedding. We’re allowed to be in the photos and video. Are there times when we could get out of the photos, yes. But don’t let the focus of your efforts be to remove yourself like you were never there, you can’t actually be that terrible of a celebrant. Maybe if you’re really bad, then try and stay out of the photos, but seriously, if you’re reading this blog then you’re the kind of person who is committed to being awesome, I reckon you deserve to be in a photo or two, because the ceremony is more important than the photos and videos. As far as removing yourself for the kiss and maybe the vows, I try really hard to do that naturally and organically. For the vows I’ll offer my handheld microphone to the couple to use to exchange vows and at that time I’ll step out of the picture for the moment. But some would prefer I held the mic, and when I do I stand there naturally and normally holding it. I’ve been sent too many photos of celebrants trying to hide and the end result is that it looks awkward, so it’s better to look normal and just own the fact that you’re there. As for the kiss, in my moments before the pronouncement, I’ll casually step away from the middle and bring my ending remarks and pronounce them married. I’ve also seen lots of photos of celebrants awkwardly running away from the ceremony. Take these opportunities to move around your ceremony area a little bit. Own the room, command the guests’ attention, breath this awesome marriage to life, you’re really good at this!
Also, the wedding photography and videography community would like you to know that they’re actually skilled enough to get the kiss shot the first time. They don’t need to be denigrated in front of the wedding guests by you saying “let’s do it again for the photographer!”
I pulled a few moments out of a recent ceremony of mine to give you an example of how I move in and out of a ceremony to give the photographers and videographers some space to make art without my noggin in it. I also consider it nice to step out for the vows to create intimacy for the couple.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, but before we get to them, we’ll hear from some of your colleagues on what they like to do.
I ask the couples where they’d like me to stand. We rehearse both scenarios, and then they choose. Predominantly, Couples seem to have me smack bang in the middle. It’s their choice and the rehearsal seals the deal.
I too like to stand in the centre
I remember being so inspired at the Celebrant Conference you guys ran with that lady (Ed: Vickie Musni) who spoke about personality types and storytelling, she’d been involved with toastmasters I think, and she told us that story about the Christmas tree – remember? I cried! She explained how she used her body moving from right to left as she told the tale, as it gave the watching audience member the experience of reading from left to right, and added to the unfolding of the story. I’ve never been bold enough to try it but have mused on doing this during a ceremony – shifting sides and even moving down the aisle and turning to face the couple as I speak their story to bring it to life more. That section of the ceremony is always the largest chunk of my talking and I’m always aware of holding guests’ attention and making it interesting beyond just the content!
I like to stand in the middle as well, that way I can have the couple holding hands to ‘anchor’ them. If I stand anywhere else, I find they tend to turn and follow me instead of focusing on each other. I always explain to the photographer/videographer that I will move out of the camera shot at the important parts (kisses, etc) so they can get a clear shot, but I also hold the ceremony for a moment while they do that
I move about. I set up off to the side, like the narrator in the Rocky Horror Show – sometimes moving in to talk to a family member if they’re being mentioned. I tell the story from the sidelines so that everyone can focus on the lovebirds and their crew. I have found that this helps reduce their nerves as they don’t feel like the eyes of the world are on them the whole time (even if they are) and people can get used to how short I am without seeing me next to the couple towering over me. For the serious stuff I have to say to the couple I move it, and it’s not photobombing if I’m only there for a few moments… I will stand with my back to the crowd and look into my couple’s eyes for an asking and the monitum, special words between me and them – their audience can still see them easily – I’m only 4’10. Then back out to the sidelines if they are reading vows. If they are “repeating after me” (like with rings) then I duck in behind them to hold up a handheld mic for them to speak into (turning off my headset so I’m not amplified) and again with my diminutive stature you pretty much only see my arm extended above my head! Because I’m blessed with the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time I will start the spiel for the declaration as I make my way back out of the way for the declaration and kiss. I am gobsmacked at how many photographers ask me beforehand if I’ll remember to step out of the way for the kiss. After the signing, there’s no set routine. You read your crowd and your couple – and a bit depends on what sort of recessional they’ve planned and how long the photographer faffs about at the signing table.
I like to stand in the middle because it allows me to guide, comfort and reassure my couples. It also allows me to maximise the moment and connection they share. I can read their faces, gauge how they are feeling and know what I need to do and not do. Some photographers are so fixated on the photo they forget what is most important and that is actually being in the moment. Moment comes first, photos comes second. There are plenty of other photo ops without me – vows, rings, kiss, recessional etc. Let me do my job and that is to look after my couple.
I’m an in-the-middle guy all the way! The couple are (and should be) the absolute centre of everything that happens. Everything should be meaningful to and about them, and every word should be relevant. I want to deliver content that matters, with passion and enthusiasm. If I do that while I’m standing off to the side, where do the guests look? Where do the couple look? When we’re all together there’s no challenge, no mental gymnastics, we can all get lost in the moment and be on the same page. Anything that divides people’s attention destroys the atmosphere. I move out of the way a little when I’m not speaking, I don’t want to be in all their photos… but the couple paid me a lot because they trust that my words will matter, so for the bulk of the ceremony I’m with them. That’s where the focus needs to be… in my opinion anyway!
I have always found couples don’t usually have an opinion and ask me the question and usually go with my suggestions apart from one couple who wanted a circular wedding. I like to stand looking at my couple with them facing each other and holding hands. When the ceremony hits the Vows, I stand aside and allow them just to be with each other, the same goes for the kiss. This is mainly for photo shots too. I love to have a photo with my couple when signing but often that has not happened so I have learned to speak to the photographer beforehand and ask them politely to take a shot.
I love reading your updates and I was a Celebrant in Cairns for 6 years and you are in one of my favourite places. I too had a croc encounter when I was doing a rehearsal at Ellis Beach and it was in the ocean behind us! In response to where you stand call me old-fashioned, I have been a celebrant since 2011 and I have always stood in the middle although I did try standing at the end at the beginning when I was in Mt Martha but it was to much tooing and froing for the couple as I always ask them and they always say right next to them for that support as well. However, I always step away to the side for the kiss!
I leave where I stand in the wedding ceremony up to the couple but I do have a preference for standing in the middle. Especially so during the vows. I have found that couples can become overwhelmed during this part of the service and can become very emotional. I have found that it is comforting for them to have me right there next to them in the middle where they can regain their composure and say their vows. Many times it is necessary to signal the start of their vows by a gentle touch from me on the arm to bring them back to the moment where they have to speak. It is difficult to do this if I am standing over to one side of the service. Only a handful of couples have wanted me to stand to either side but want me to stand in the middle of them during their vows for the reasons that I have outlined. As I have said, my couples do decide what is best for them. If I am asked I do suggest for me to stand in the middle where I can see exactly how they are responding during the service and not have their back to me where I cannot see their faces. Always though without exception after The Declaration of Marriage where I say, “it is with great pleasure that I now declare them to be husband and wife” that I make sure that I get completely out of this photo and stand back next to the groomsmen. This is because I want my couples to have that lovely photo of them kissing at their wedding without me in the photo.
Looking forward to your views on where to stand! I attended a PD session and the fellow running it was talking about the advantages of standing to the side of the bridal party, citing benefits such as being out of the photos, and having the bride and groom looking outward toward guests … can’t remember others! For each ceremony I’ve done (and I’m a newbie! so only 7 or so) and they each prefer the idea of me standing close to them and between them. I also prefer this closeness, in proximity which I thnk helps generate a sense of intimacy between me and the couple and therefore the couple and their guests. I have usually had a chance to chat to the photographer prior to the ceremony and so between us we have a better idea of when I can stand back so the photographer can get the photos – but usually, the photographer says – “Oh don’t worry, I’m a professional, let me worry about the pictures, I can easily work around you.”