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Wedding Ceremony Stage Fright: Tips for officiants (and couples)

Published Thursday, Aug. 20th, 2020

Illustration by Jessica Levey

Wedding ceremony anxiety isn’t just something couples face. Wedding officiants occasionally feel it too.


You’ve been hand-picked to lead a wedding ceremony! Plucked from a pool of friends, family, and beloved community members and excitedly designated The Officiant.


Moments later, you rush to the computer and type “How To Officiate a Wedding” and then, “Become an Officiant Online.” You visit The American Marriage Ministries website and are ordained as a minister in mere moments. Hooray!


You sit back, basking in the glory of this moment, before realizing that while being a minister who can happily marry two people you love and respect is very cool, you still have no idea what to do next. Luckily, a flurry of searches on AMM’s website lead you to posts like, The Officiant Timeline and Helpful Tips for the First Time Wedding Officiant, or Should I Officiate My Granddaughter’s Wedding? (We have lots more posts and training tools for eager or nervous first time officiants.) Whew.


Still, there’s one more hurdle on your mind… stage fright.


How do you kick a fear of public speaking and avoid ceremony jitters so that the wedding ceremony goes smoothly? This one is tricky but you’re not alone. First time officiants, couples, guests giving toasts - many people get nervous speaking at weddings. 


To help, we’ve gathered some tips that can help anyone overcome ceremony stage fright: 


1. Take a deep breath: 4-7-8 Breathing

“Just breathe!” can be an annoying piece of advice but it’s a frequent one because it works. 4-7-8 breathing takes this old advice a step further for powerful results.


And it’s simple: 


  1. Breathe in quietly while mentally counting to 4
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 7 
  3. Slowly release your breath while mentally counting to 8 (we like to do this exhale noisily for full relief!)


Repeat this a few times whenever you feel your nervousness or anxiety start to climb. It helps! Especially during those minutes before you step up to the front of the room, as you wait on the sidelines for the ceremony to start.


2. Shift your focus.

The old advice to ‘picture your audience in their underwear’ or to ‘lighten the mood with a joke’ isn’t always the safest advice for weddings when you’re nervous. (If you want to know good strategies for adding humor into your ceremony we can offer some suggestions.)


Another way to shift the focus? Remember why you’re speaking and move your focus off of your nerves and back onto the couple. Before the ceremony, consider the ways you can be most helpful to them, talk to them, ask them what they need, and forget your worry with the simple act of being present for them.


Thinking about someone else is always a great way to think less about yourself and can help reduce the effects of stage fright.


3. Come prepared.

This tip is actually a few tips rolled into one. For a lot of folks, feeling prepared for an event that’s outside their day-to-day comfort zone reduces anxiety. We like to know what we’re walking into! 


In addition to reading our guidance articles and training materials for first time officiants, see the next tip below...



4. Use a script.

Try not to wing-it and don’t go off script. While you may be a master of easy banter in a party setting or when joking around with coworkers, leaving a ceremony speech to chance is likely to lead to more anxiety, not less. So think about what you want to say, write it down, revise it, and then write or print it out to bring with you to the ceremony. 


We have some great sample scripts to get you started so you don’t have to work from scratch.


5. Make a checklist.

Organization is key for a smooth wedding and will also help you have fewer things to overthink when the wedding day comes. Instead of wasting energy the day of, wondering if you remembered to wash your wedding outfit or searching for directions to the park where everyone’s meeting, we recommend making a checklist well in advance with each task that needs to happen leading up to the event and each item you might need. This will leave you calm and collected the day of the wedding, and ready to officiate!


We’ve compiled a list of items for “Officiant Do’s” and an Officiant Wedding Emergency Kit, too, so you can see if there’s anything you want to add to your checklist. And we offer several officiant kits to get you on the right track.


6. Practice, practice, practice.

Once you have a ceremony script written, spend some time reading it aloud to yourself. Practice in front of a mirror, with a friend, or try recording yourself to get an idea of any adjustments you want to make in your tone or volume level. Spend time familiarizing yourself with the words and pacing. If you notice any sections or phrases that are difficult to say or pronounce clearly, or that are jumbled or confusing when read out loud, revise them to make them easier. 


When the script is familiar and comfortable to you, a rehearsal with the couple and any members of the wedding party is a great idea. Rehearsals give everyone the opportunity to practice where they’ll stand, how long the ceremony will take, and to work out other considerations like distancing and photographing in real time.

Practice makes for a calm and smooth wedding day!



7. Put the coffee DOWN.

This is a hard piece of advice to give, considering what a delicious and magical elixir coffee can be on those hard-to-get-out-of-bed days. But when it comes to stage fright and anxiety, coffee is not your friend.


Caffeine will amplify any nervousness you’re already feeling. So consider reducing your daily coffee dose the day of the wedding and let those endorphins and your natural excitement add the necessary pep to your step.


8. Show up early to meet the couple’s friends and families.

Having the opportunity to connect with guests ahead of time can go a long way toward reducing stage fright. Plan to arrive before guests start showing up and then spend time saying hello. Simple gestures like making eye contact as guests arrive, offering a smile, and exchanging a pleasant word or two before the ceremony can help you settle down and settle into the vibe of the event. 


This has the added bonus of making sure you’re at the ceremony with plenty of time to spare!


9. Don’t expect perfection, aim instead for authenticity and joy.

Perfectionism and performance anxiety go hand in hand. The truth is, nobody’s perfect and nothing goes a hundred percent to plan. So cut yourself some slack, remember to go with the flow and take things as they come, and focus on doing your authentic, heartfelt best. There’s a good chance that these qualities are a big part of why you were asked to officiate such a special day in the first place.


And remember: Mistakes happen to all of us, whether we’ve officiated one wedding or a hundred. If you make an unexpected blunder, stay calm, keep going, and don’t draw more attention to the moment.

Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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