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More Than Words: 5 Body Language Tips for New Officiants

Published Wednesday, Sep. 16th, 2020

Illustrations by Jessica Levey

You know a great speaker when you see one, sometimes before they say a word. Great speakers know how to move, they know how and where to stand. They know just how much space to take up in a room. They capture our attention and hold onto it, making even a mediocre speech great. That’s because great speakers aren’t just intentional with their words -- they’re intentional with their bodies, too.


Understanding body language is what makes an adequate speaker great.


First time officiants, or any officiant still finding their footing professionally, will understandably spend a big chunk of time writing and perfecting their ceremony scripts until the words fit each unique couple.


(Read sample scripts: "Wedding Ceremony Script Library")


But a great script is only half of the equation. The next steps—polishing the delivery and presenting the ceremony—can be incredibly daunting to anyone new to public speaking. Some aspects are obvious (you know you shouldn’t jump up and down, or sing each word at the top of your lungs), but the details (how to stand and where to put your hands) can be less clear.


To get you stepping and gesturing in the right direction, here’s a simplified look at the basics of effective body language, from top to bottom!



Eye Contact and Facial Expressions

Cicero said, “ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi,” or, the face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter. It’s true. Our eyes and face communicate at least as much as our words do--emotion, empathy, urgency, and attention--so being thoughtful about how we use them is important.


Maintain comfortable eye contact when speaking, and keep a calm, neutral expression or small smile while listening. Listening with a sense of curiosity (instead of thinking about what to say next) will be reflected in your expression, and help communicate to couples and guests that you’re fully present and attentive. If direct eye contact causes you initial anxiety, try resting your gaze on the person’s forehead or nose until you’re able to relax.


When speaking to guests or delivering the ceremony, avoid panning or quickly scanning your eyes back and forth across the group. Remember, you aren’t searching for someone in a crowded bar, you’re making each guest feel welcome and appreciated! Instead, pause occasionally on friendly or familiar faces. If the group is large, it can help to focus on the spaces between guests or just above their heads instead.


Practicing a script in the mirror can help you become more aware of your facial expressions, and which might need slight adjustments. Don’t stress too much about what your face is doing or not doing, and try to have fun… Joyful thoughts or hopes for a couple’s contented future will be reflected on your face. But don’t forget to smile!


(Read: How to Prepare For Officiating a Wedding Ceremony)


Breath and Voice 

It’s hard to speak while holding your breath. And if you do manage to get a word or two out past a tightly-held chest and tense jaw, projecting your voice to reach an entire group of attentive guests will feel impossible. Focusing on breath can make a tremendous difference in your delivery!


Deep breathing is great for calming nerves and centering the mind. And slow, full, steady breaths while speaking will help you enunciate, project your voice, and pace yourself.


And while we're on the subject, pacing is especially important, because while it’s almost impossible to speak too slowly, it’s easy to rush through an otherwise beautiful ceremony and make it sound like you’re blasting through a powerpoint presentation.


Mindfulness breathing and meditation are great any-time practices that can help officiants (and couples) prepare in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to a ceremony. Why not get started well in advance? Not only will practicing your breathing help you find your voice and pace, it could transform you into a more mindful, more relaxed person!


Not feeling the zen approach? For professionals struggling to ‘find their voice’, joining a local singing group, taking voice lessons, or even rocking out with a home karaoke machine can help you loosen up and improve your technique.


(Read: Wedding Ceremony Stage Fright: Tips for Officiants (and Couples))



Arm and Hand Placement 

Arms and hands. You know, those unwieldy things dangling from your shoulders that feel awkward and in the way the moment you step in front of a crowd. People brand new to officiating weddings always have the same question: What the heck am I supposed to do with my hands!


They’ll usually approach the dilemma in a couple of ways… Some hold their arms stiffly at their sides as if afraid to move, others go straight for the pockets, and still others gesture nervously (and seemingly at random) like an excitable Muppet. Unsurprisingly, you shouldn’t do any of these. But this one is easier to solve than you might think!


Officiants have the option of holding a prop, like a tablet or a book (or our officiant folios, which also protect your scripts, certificates, and credentials). Having something to hold helps limit the uncertainty. It also has the benefit of distinguishing you from a guest and helping you look professional. Just be sure not to lean or rest your arms against anything, even if there’s a convenient podium or tree present.


If you choose to speak from memory, without carrying anything, let your arms hang loosely at your sides. It might feel awkward, but it will look natural. 


In general, avoid crossing your arms, putting your hands in your pockets, and only gesture if you want to emphasize a key moment or draw the audience's attention toward something specific. Audiences follow a speaker’s hands, so limiting gestures will keep their attention on the couple.


Once again, we strongly recommend having something in your hands, ideally the script. Our wildly popular Royal Officiant Folio will look great (and official) in your hands, and keep those pesky things from flailing around during the ceremony.


(Check out our other AMM Officiant Apparel, including lapel pins, tote bags, stationary and custom stoles, all of which will keep you looking and feeling sharp and professional!)


Posture and Stance 

Place your feet about shoulder-width apart and keep a loose, slight bend in your knees. This will give you an air of openness and optimism, and will also help you to avoid stumbling if you’re nervous or standing on an uneven surface. Standing up straight makes you look more sure of yourself, and has the added bonus of making you feel more sure of yourself, too.


Just don’t be rigid about it… your muscles should feel engaged and activated, but stay loose. Put your shoulders back but relax them, and keep your body open. ‘Open’ means that the front of your body (your chest, torso, and hips) should be facing the audience in an open and welcoming way.


Yoga and dance classes (even online classes or self-guided movements practiced alone) can be great tools for raising awareness around posture and body language. These kinds of intentional, practiced movements can help speakers cultivate a sense of ease and comfort in their bodies and improve spatial awareness in front of a crowd.



Share What You Know

Once you’ve learned a few simple tools for effective body language, pass them on to couples. Many nearlyweds will be understandably nervous about standing up in front of everyone they know, and will welcome a little professional advice. Share your knowledge! A few simple tips on how and where to stand, and what to do with those arms and hands, can go a long way toward making everyone more at ease and able to enjoy the wedding day. 

(Read: Couples: How to Work Best With Your Wedding Officiant)

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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