Thumbtack presents the 12 biggest ceremony planning mistakes and expert advice on making your ceremony RAD

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By: Vanessa HayesCC BY 2.0
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If there's one detail that we consistently see couples confused about, it's finding an officiant and crafting up a meaningful ceremony that rocks their socks. We've written before about writing your own ceremony and your own vows, and even having a friend officiate.

But with the help of our sponsor, Thumbtack, we've got insight from loads of amazing professional officiants to inform your choices! This is the inside scoop on the biggest mistakes couples make when planning their ceremony right from the source — the amazing, incredible officiants.

Let's pick their brains…

"What's the biggest mistake you see couples make when crafting their wedding ceremony?":

Story Catcher Pat Murphy:

Couples sometimes don't realize that they can re-envision old traditions. For example, you can create a unity ritual with elements that are meaningful for the couple. If you met at a coffee shop, why not create a unity ritual with the sharing of coffee? Try to find an officiant creative in ritual design.

Also, it can be easy to forget the comfort of guests. For example, if you are having an outdoor ceremony in the middle of summer, make sure to have water nearby to prevent dehydration and possibly having a guest faint.

Rev. Bonnie J. BergerThey ♥ OBB; we ♥ them:

With so many ideas popping around on the internet today, I have seen a lot of couples who want to include everything in their ceremony. They want a unity candle ceremony AND a sand ceremony. They ask for their friend to sing a (long) song during the ceremony AND have their best friend read a long poem. Sometimes it can be too much. Ideally, a ceremony is best when it's under 30 minutes. At that point, the guests are thinking about what kind of drink they want at the bar or sneaking a peek at their Facebook page, or simply spacing out. Have a vision. Like DIY projects, don't try to include every idea that sounds good to you.

Jay Binnebose, Officiant:

The biggest mistake I see couples making is waiting too long to book the officiant. The officiant should be booked around the same time the venue is booked. Many couples are trying to book an officiant within 60 days of the wedding and some within the same month. This will limit your choices significantly.

Kimberly Burke, Officiant:

I feel the biggest mistake is not having a back-up plan for an outdoor wedding. Although having a wedding outdoors can be very beautiful, you must realize we are working with Mother Nature here. Try to have a plan in case of inclement weather.

I have done many themed weddings. It's very fun, but please remember to tell your photographer if the ceremony will be in a room with lower lights, have fog, or any other things that may effect the outcome of the pictures of your lovely ceremony.

Gary Shultz, Officiant:

The main mistake I see couples make is not thinking about the location of the ceremony when planning the unifying elements of the ceremony. For instance, if you have an outdoor wedding, think about not using a unity candle. It will blow out and someone will inevitably tell you it is bad luck. If you have a wedding in a carpeted church, avoid a sand ceremony. It is very hard to get sand out of the carpet!

Janine Nichol, Officiant:

Alotting too much time to the ceremony. Couples should keep the ceremony between 10-25 minutes (unless religious or personal reasons deem otherwise). Anything longer than that and you begin to lose the crowd.

Karlene Williams, Officiant:

Couples forget a checklist of what they need at the wedding. I've had multiple couples arrive without their wedding licenses, without all or some of the wedding rings, and without the brides' bouquets. One couple forgot everything! If you do forget one or more things, relax. You may have wanted those rings exchanged during the ceremony; begin planning on doing so a few years down the road when you might renew your vows. The same with other items. If it's the license, immediately ask your officiant how they want to handle this. Bottom line, it's all happened before with other couples. Laugh, relax, and enjoy the new life you're starting together. You're fine.

Make your witness or witnesses immediately available to your wedding officiant after they have concluded the ceremony. They are probably tired and want to be on their way.

Interview prospective wedding officiants. Make sure the one you select is a good fit. Don't hesitate to tell your wedding officiant what you like and don't like. There are no wedding police, and if they can't give you suggestions and work with your decisions which will make this wedding uniquely yours, keep looking!

Rabbi Gary Spero:

Many ceremonies aren't very personalized. Both individuals are unique and coming from different paths in life to join as one. A ceremony can reflect the story of each partner, with readings, customs, and rituals tailored to each person. If two people come from different religious, cultural, or spiritual traditions, you can blend elements of each into a ceremony that celebrates the couple.

Sharan DePalma, Blissful Bonds:

The biggest mistake is trying to do too much. In other words, the couple chooses two readings, three rituals, and four different songs. Sometimes this can dilute the beauty of the ceremony because there are too many focal points. It's my job to guide the couple to narrow down their choices to create a memorable service.

Pastor Mark Turansky:

The biggest mistake I see couples make is hiring an officiant as an afterthought thinking that all officiants are the same. A good wedding officiant will connect with you as a couple, make you and your guests feel welcome, and create a service that is both fun and memorable. Be willing to pay a little more to get a seasoned professional. It will take your special day from being okay to being one to remember for a lifetime.

Hannah Desmond, Heartlight Weddings:

The biggest mistake I see couples make is trying to follow a wedding format that does not truly resonate with who they are, their lifestyle, personalities, and beliefs. Rigidly adhering to a set program of how the wedding has to be because this is the way a book or relative says it has to be, leads to a ceremony that is filled with tension. I have seen weddings where no one is comfortable and the greatest day of their lives turns out to be something they must endure.

Brian Borgia, Monterey Bay Wedding Officiants

My advice is that a wedding ceremony should be something that has meaning to you as a couple. Often, I will meet with couples who are looking to please parents and grandparents by inserting readings that don't have any meaning to them. The most important thing to remember is that this is YOUR ceremony and YOUR memory.

thumbtackThanks to our sponsor, Thumbtack, for making this post happen.

Thumbtack helps you accomplish the personal projects that are central to your life and wedding by helping you hire the right professional (like a kick-ass officiant!) for the projects.

Get started by answering a few questions about what you need, and Thumbtack will introduce you to several available and qualified professionals.

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  1. RE: Officiants/not booking early: We found our officiant several months ago, but I agonized for months over it. My fiance kept telling me not to worry, we'll find someone, but I wasn't comfortable with that. I'm super glad I didn't listen, because our backup was his childhood rabbi who told his mom that he'd do it if we flew him down (it's a three hour drive between his hometown and where we're getting married). Yikes! Find your officiant early, folks! It takes time to research and get responses. Schedules fill up fast, and if you're like us and are having your wedding close to any holiday (secular or religious), those openings fill up even faster!

    1 agrees
  2. I started reading this with a bit of trepidation, as we're currently neck-deep in planning our ceremony, but to my relief, it sounds like we've got the main things well in hand! The biggest issue we're having right now is how to involve our wedding party and families without the ceremony becoming too long or cluttered. My partner really wants everyone to have an active and unique part, but I think that a lot of people just want to be told what WE want, and I just don't want people to stress out!

    Anyhow, I love these types of posts because it's so helpful to hear directly (-ish) from the people who have seen it all!

    4 agree
  3. Do what you gotta do to make sure you don't forget anything. If we had forgotten our marriage licence, they wouldn't have married us. So I put a huge sign on the door to remind us. A week in advance. I also added a footnote not to forget the rings a few days after putting the sign up. (We did forget the cat's lunch–which we felt really bad about.)

    Here's a tip. Don't use sugar sand in place of real sand in your unity ceremony if you live in a humid area. It was VERY humid for us that morning, so all the sugar sand hardened in its bottles by the ceremony–I had only filled them the night before. This may have been avoided if we'd filled the bottles on the day of, but we had too much else to think of (and I already gave my day-of coordinator too much to do).

    3 agree
    • Re: marriage license – See if your officiant will take it before your wedding day. Our officiant advises her clients to bring it to the final planning meeting and she brings it to the ceremony. It was much less stressful to remember to bring it to the planning meeting than remembering to bring it the day of our wedding (our wedding was an hour from where we lived and my husband had to drive home twice because we forgot things). I know other officiants suggest that the couple brings it to the rehearsal (we didn't have a rehearsal).

      Our officiant also wears two plain rings that she uses during the ceremony if the couple forgets their rings.

      9 agree
  4. I love reading posts like this. Seeing as we are only about a month away, its reassuring to read comments from multiple experts that we seem to be doing things correctly. I had been kind of worried that some of our personal touches might be "too much" for guests as they are pretty saturated with obscure references that a few might not get. I'm kind of relieved that this is not something that the panel of experts mentioned.

    Anyone else find themselves in an odd cycle of reaffirming their ceremony decisions and then doubting them, only to gain confidence in them again (usually due to the lovely Tribe!)?

    1 agrees
    • I loved when I found things that reaffirmed how/when we were doing things. We got a lot of push back on things from our best man, my in-laws and even some vendors. We doubted ourselves a lot. Having never planned a wedding we questioned if we were out to lunch on how things are done. Our best man repeatedly told us that we were doing things too early (he procrastinates) since he did things later for his wedding. While my in-laws questioned our non-traditional choices (they are from a small town were you get married in a church, you have large wedding parties, the guys wear tuxes, you give favours, you don't have an open bar and you have centre pieces). It was great when I would find comments like these from people in the industry or even comments from other brides saying they were doing something in a similar way.

  5. I agree 100%! Your wedding day is yours and your significant other! Do not try to please everyone else, even your parents! It's not their day, it's not your friends day, those people are not getting married with you (unless you are doing a double wedding) don't let everyone else tell you how it should be or what it should be like! I've talked to people who say, because their parents are paying for or helping to pay for the wedding, you feel obligated to agree with them or go with their suggestions. No! If they offered to help pay, that was their choice. It doesn't give them the right to decide everything for you. I'm glad I don't have parents like that! If I did, I would decline their offer and pay for it on our own. I also would not be inviting friends of my parents, family members that don't care about us any other day or friends that are never there. Your wedding day should be spent with people who love you and support your relationship. It should be about you two, a celebration that expresses your love. I wouldn't want anyone ruining that for us ­čÖé

    2 agree
  6. As a wedding coach, I agree with so many of these 'words of wisdom'. The biggest challenge I see is getting caught up in the small details and trying to create something for everyone else. Instead brides and grooms should think about all the little details as something greater that creates the bigger picture– the marriage. As a wedding coach I can help brides and grooms plan all the little details ( flowers, tables capes, escort cards) while simultaneously coaching couples beyond the day they say ' i do.' It's a totally fun and interactive way to plan a wedding AND become even stronger as a couple!

  7. I agree with booking your officiant as soon as you have your venue(s) booked.
    If planning an outdoor ceremony, always have a back-up plan (your reception venue might be a possibility).
    If writing your own vows, don't wait until the last minute. One groom waited until the morning of his wedding to write them and ended up reading his scribbles from a wadded up piece of paper. If he had gotten his vows to me in time, I'd have included them in the keepsake copy of their ceremony and also printed them onto pretty paper for him to read.

    2 agree
  8. I booked our officiant as soon as we had paid the deposit for the ceremony. Because we're having a destination wedding, I had to go on online reviews and thier websites and that was pretty Our officiant is a Reverend and we're both atheist, but he performs secular, religious and all sorts of blended ceremonies, which made us feel comfortable that he would be happy to work with whatever we came up with (and my FH felt that someone who catered for literally everyone was probably naturally likely to be good!). I was worried about planning the ceremony, but he is giving us a quiz to do nearer the time (like, a few weeks out from the wedding!) that will help us put it all together. Normally doing something that soon would make me panic, but I trust him so much that I am just not worried about it now at all and I know he will do a great job. TL;DR, a good officant is SO important and makes planning so much less stressful!

  9. Firstly pause on all the good comments, Ariel/Meghan/editors this is a GREAT native advertising piece ( that's what this is called right?) I knew it was sponsored (and by whom – it's amazing how rarely that's clear) it was relevant with experts you might have asked even had it not been sponsored. Plus it was the sponsors that sold me on their services not just their sponsorship of such a great site. Now I live in Canada and needed a leader of ceremonies who speaks Russian and English so this isn't the right vendor for me but they could have been had an Anglo and American FH.

    3 agree
  10. Secondly here's my tip – Plan your wedding as if your guest are all standing. What are they and you really gonna care about when they're 10 minutes in to standing still in painful shoes (that you warned them not to wear)? Because that's many people's maybe even your attention spans.

    My wedding ceremony started as a fluffy ballgown with a cathedral length veil and train and 10,000 swarovski crystals. Then I realized that to me if the whole shebang was in English it would feel like only my wedding and not his. Everytime I'm with my future in-laws they speak Russian. Just because they understand English doesn't mean they feel in English. So basically repeating everything twice cut that getup down to a fluffy ballgown with jeweled hairpeice. Then we figured out due to schedule limitations we need to have people standing so there no chair takedown time. Well that brought the ceremony down to a simple column dress with tie under bust. One song sung during registry signing, two handwritten vows, one commitment speech. No personal how we bloomed story, no readings, no unity ceremony. And now it feels like our very authentic ceremony and not a single out of place rhinestone in sight.

  11. This has been danced around a little so I thought to mention it. Do not surprise a pastor at the rehearsal or ceremony with entrance antics, alteration to or unscheduled performances.

    While it is a big day for the wedding party, if you are having your wedding in a church it is also a worship service. All respect and glory should be centered on God. Any alterations to the service should be cleared by the pastor in charge.

    2 agree

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