Outdoor ceremonies, including weddings, namings and celebrations of life have a lot going for them. They’re usually intimate and relaxed, and if you love the sights and sounds of nature, you’re right in it. Of course, where there’s nature, there’s also weather, and even relaxed occasions need good planning. So, how can you make sure your outdoor ceremony is a big success?
My tips for a memorable, successful outdoor ceremony
In time-honoured blog fashion, I have 10 tips up my sleeve, and they apply to all kinds of ceremony. I’m interested in beautiful, practical and personal ceremonies, which skip neatly around most of the most common pitfalls.
1. The UK weather. Enough said. You and your guests are planning to look your best, so don’t let the weather ruin it. Having a Plan B is essential. Fortunately, we’re very good at this in the UK. Too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy are all things that happen. Wet weather is best dealt with by going under cover. Umbrellas work up to a point but only when the rain comes straight down, and even then you’ll have a soggy lap – not a good look. On a hot day, it only takes a few minutes sitting on a plastic chair to feel uncomfortable. So seek out natural shade, rig up an awning, hire a gazebo, or a marquee. Offer water, paper fans, white umbrellas and suncream. For the odd shower, white or clear umbrellas look nicer than a mismatch of wonky, patterned and branded brollies.
2. Are they sitting comfortably? This question is just as much about focus and concentration. We all relax better when we’re sitting down. Also, it’s good to consider the needs of the older generation and families with young children. People tend to overestimate how long they’ll be comfortable standing. I reckon 20 minutes – tops. Arrange your seating in a warm, friendly curve, so everyone can see each other.
3. Create a backdrop. Again, Nature often provides a stunning solution. If you’re having a photographer, she/he will make a bee-line for a good backdrop. You can also create a beautiful focal point with flowers, awnings, archways, or just the view into the distance. I wrote a blog all about that, if you need some inspiration.
4. Think about the light. Most photographers prefer the light earlier or later in the day. It’s not only more flattering, but the noon sun can be unforgiving. The general tendency in life is to have a ceremony, followed by a feast, so if you’re offering lunch, I would start the ceremony at 11.30am. Sunset ceremonies are also lovely.
5. Theme it. Even a simple colour theme brings a ceremony together visually. Looking deeper, how do you want your guests to feel and remember about the occasion. Will your day be playful, joyous, serious or reflective? If you want an relaxed, romantic atmosphere – what will you choose for the colours, sights, smells, tastes and sounds?
6. Manage background noise. When the stage is all set for a romantic declaration of love and someone decides that THIS is the perfect time to rev up the chainsaw or mow the lawn, it does breaks the spell. If you’re at a hotel venue, that’s less of a problem. If you’re using your own garden, have a friendly word with the neighbours.
7. Can everybody hear me?! Forget the chainsaw, even Nature can be surprisingly noisy and if you have seagulls (we have lots of seagulls in Dorset), or even just a windy day, you can lose sound very easily. A simple microphone and speaker may be needed.
8. Music makes a ceremony. The right choice of music really brings a ceremony to life and helps create the atmosphere you’re after. Live musicians are always wonderful. If you’re using recorded music, check your system and then check it again. It’s incredible how something that works perfectly in one setting, refuses to in another. If you’re paranoid like me, have a back-up, preferably with lovely wires.
9. Have a clear beginning and end to your ceremony. It can be slightly more challenging to round up guests for outdoor ceremonies. Have a ceremony sheet or at least clear instructions that We’re Starting Now and Time For Champagne, and so on. At the end, you want to keep the momentum and not have confused people drifting off into the middle distance. Rounding people up and keeping them in the right place for the ceremony is also part of my job as a celebrant.
10. Put your heart into it. This is a bit of a cheat but it’s as true of an outdoor ceremony as an indoor one. A ceremony is only as good as the words that are used: beautiful, heartfelt words that capture your thoughts and feelings. The real magic comes when a ceremony is a true expression of you. This takes time, thought, experience and an excellent celebrant (lol). Words and I have been best friends for a very long time.
If you have an occasion in mind, think about how a bespoke ceremony could lift it from being a special day to an extraordinarily wonderful, brilliant day! If I can help you, I’d love to x.