The key to a truly successful wedding - which is altogether different than the key to a successful marriage - is creating an environment where your guests will enjoy themselves. If your ultimate focus is on your guests' comfort, you will find that they will be more involved in reception activities.
Not all receptions are geared towards getting the guests involved in activities, but if, like most couples these days, you are hoping to get people on the dance floor and keep them there, then the steps in this series will help you achieve that.
The first item of focus in this series is on the ceremony itself. Although the ceremony is often so completely separate from the reception that it is actually in a different location, the ceremony can have a huge impact on how much fun people have at the reception. When planning your ceremony, you should have a definite time frame in mind. To keep people engaged and prevent sleepy eyes from taking over before you even get to the reception, aim to have the ceremony run no longer than 35 minutes, start to finish. If you have to shorten your ceremony initially, try using shorter songs or using song time to accomplish ceremony tasks, such as the lighting of a unity candle. You can also fade out your processional song before it is finished.
A good start time for a wedding is 4 p.m. This time allows for a short ceremony, pictures of the wedding party, and transportation to the reception hall in time for a 6 p.m. dinner. Plan to have light refreshments available for your guests starting around 5 p.m. so that no one will be starving while you are finishing up your photographs.
Make it a high priority to start the wedding on time. People are often seated 20-30 minutes prior to the ceremony, and if you keep them waiting, that only increases the likelihood that they will start to get bored. Again, keeping your guests comfortable plays a huge role in how much fun they will have later at the reception.
Use your ceremony to keep people engaged in a way that is personal to you and your soon-to-be spouse. For example, in one wedding where the bride was a big fan of Green Day, she involved the band's music in her ceremony, which brought a lot of energy to the room and kept people awake. Others have used creative entrances or exits for the wedding party or humorous quotes to hold the attention of their guests. Ultimately, trying to look at your ceremony from the eyes of a stranger will go a long way in helping you decide what to include and what to let go. Always keep in mind those painful times when you have been at weddings that dragged on far too long.
Finally, have a plan for post-ceremony pictures. Make sure that grandparents are the first to be photographed so that they can be among the first to get to the reception and be seated. Then follow up with parents and anyone else outside the wedding party, and finally, get your wedding party pictures taken care of as fast as possible, leaving just you and your new spouse for a few pictures together. If everyone else is able to go ahead and have some appetizers and drinks while waiting for your arrival, there will be time for people to relax and get into the party atmosphere.
*This article is the first in a series describing the various steps to take in order to produce the kind of wedding that people will talk about for years. Links to other articles in the series are listed below.