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Safe Ceremony Planning — How Wedding Officiants Can Still Get to Know a Couple, While Social Distancing

Published Tuesday, Sep. 22nd, 2020

Meeting with a new couple as you begin writing their wedding ceremony can be a lot of fun for officiants. By hearing personal stories and anecdotes, and watching partners interact with one another, you gain a unique perspective of other people’s personal lives. And it’s this insight that helps you to customize the perfect ceremony script! 


But these kinds of meetings can seem more complicated with new public health restrictions... How can we adapt?


If you don’t have much practice with video streaming platforms, or if this is your very first time officiating, here are a few tips for a successful first meeting— while still observing recommended social distancing guidelines during the COVID 19 pandemic.


(Read: How to Write a Wedding Ceremony Script in 9 Steps)



Meeting Over Video Chat

Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype, and video chat options like Messenger and FaceTime, are incredibly useful as we enter the fall season! If you aren’t familiar with these services yet, here's what you can do to get caught up quickly. 


▶ Practice with friends. Have a friend or family member join you over one of these platforms for a cup of coffee or tea to become more comfortable with the interface.

▶ Be aware of angles and lighting while using video features. The goal is to look professional and friendly. To avoid looking like a bedraggled creature emerging from the dark shadows of your home, sit in front of a window or a soft, bright light source. Avoid glare by utilizing diffused light, and place your computer, tablet, or phone at desk level (or elevated just above). 

▶ Be aware of your background, and consider moving that clothes hamper or stack of comics if you don’t want them on-screen. Don’t feel the need to ‘stage’ the room, because it’s best to be yourself, but remove anything you don’t want someone to see. 

▶ As strange as it might seem at first, act natural. Try not to watch yourself on the screen while you talk to keep from getting distracted. (This is a tough ask for anyone, but it helps.) Gesture and talk as you normally would to let your personality come through. Just remember to stay in frame.

▶ Take extensive notes. This is good advice no matter how you meet, but it’s especially true when meeting remotely. Don’t just write what they say, but how they say it. Write down their tone of voice, observations on personality, and the overall feeling the couple gives you. Make notes about their cadence and rhythm of speech to help you emulate them when writing the ceremony

▶ Use a ‘screen share’ function when available. This is an excellent tool for sharing images of ceremony rituals you, or the couple might not know about (for example sand ceremonies or handfasting). This feature allows everyone to review and discuss the same document, image, or website at the same time. If there are specific wedding colors or themes that you will need to dress to match, this feature allows couples to display examples while you talk about 


The main takeaway here is that video interfaces are widely available and more widely used than ever before. It’s absolutely possible to get a ‘feel’ for someone (and their energy) over video. Rather than being a hindrance, these services offer all the benefits of an in-person meeting with the addition of convenience and safety.  Schedule as often as you need to, because you never need to leave home to meet!


(Read: The Officiant Timeline)



Meeting In Person

If everyone decides they’re comfortable meeting in person, caution is essential. It’s already September 2020, and there’s no excuse for putting others at risk. Showing that you care, and know how to take precautions, sends a strong message. Couples will notice, and appreciate your forethought. 


Here are a few suggestions to help make sure your conversation is successful and stress-free. 


▶ Meet outdoors whenever possible while keeping the recommended six foot distance between you and the couple. Parks, patios, porches, and cozy gazebos can be great places to sit down and chat. 

▶ Discuss any safety concerns in advance of the meeting over the phone or email. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about comfort levels, and to express your own. Open communication is always key for keeping everyone on the same page.  

▶ Use the opportunity to get some fresh air while you get to know your couple. If they bonded over nature hikes or a love of gardening, this can be a unique opportunity to head to a park or garden to get them talking about their shared passions in their ‘natural habitats.’ 

▶ When meeting indoors, distancing is even more important. To maintain professionalism and keep things stress-free, learn the mask guidelines in your area and follow them carefully. 


The takeaway here is to be mindful of each person’s comfort level and to remain safe and professional. Having fun, low-stress meetings in person can absolutely happen as we move into fall, and it helps when everyone knows what to expect.


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


Using Phone and Email

Phone calls and email chains are excellent ways to stay in contact during the months and weeks leading up to a ceremony, as you refine and finalize your script (and confirm that all the paperwork is ready to go). But these are not always ideal methods for gathering initial details and stories about a couple, especially if you’ve never met in person. 


Visual cues and tone of voice are a large part of how we communicate with one another. If you choose to use these as your primary form of communication, stick with phone chats to start to hear tone of voice, and consider conference calls so that everyone can join in at once.


Whatever you do, however you choose to meet — have fun, ask lots of questions, take lots of notes, and remember that above all else, this ceremony is about and for the couple. For a thorough guide on how to officiate a perfect ceremony, order Asked to Officiate for a detailed look at an officiant’s role from the first day to the wedding day, or the AMM Minister’s Manual. (We have lots of other helpful books to use as resources for your ceremony, too!)

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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