A few weeks ago (when the sun still shone!), I was reminded what it was like to conduct a wedding once more. I realise how much I’ve been missing!
Becky and Chris are lovely people and very much in love. They make a perfect couple, especially as they share quite a sense of humour!
They were a pleasure to work with, knowing their own mind, yet not averse to taking guidance. The vows were most important to them, so they basically took in hand the composition, They kept the wording a secret from their partner until the moment arrived. Then they got them spot-on.
In addition to the elements you might expect (eg ring blessing), Becky’s brother wrote and delivered an apposite and amusing poem about the couple.
It was all over so quickly (or so it seemed)!
The couple sent me an enormous testimonial, which I was so happy about (for obvious reasons!). I’ve edited it considerably, but this is the gist:
“Michael was amazing … We had so many lovely comments from friends and family about the service and lots of them had said it was the best wedding service they had been to; my father-in-law was the most sceptical as he is a traditionalist and had never been to a celebrant-led wedding before but he was wowed over by the detail and thought put into each element of the service… We were able to add a small blessing and read our own vows, which meant the world, as well as add in some humour in places. We wouldn’t change a single thing about the service … and would recommend Michael to anyone getting married that wants a personal touch to their big day.”
Customer satisfaction should be any supplier’s bottom line. Under almost all circumstances.
Things can, and do, go wrong. Most people understand this. It doesn’t matter how careful you are.
What matters so much is how you respond when something goes awry.
Some suppliers will pass the blame to others. Some deny responsibility. They may even argue and accuse the client of being unreasonable.
That solves nothing.
Suppliers need to remember the adage: “the customer is always right”. If a client is unhappy, the supplier should be concerned. It’s important to listen closely to the complaints and understand the issues.
It may be possible to rectify the problem quite simply and quickly. The vital thing is to resolve it, preferably, graciously. The supplier should acknowledge the matter. An unreserved apology is a good starting point.
Then, can they put it right? This shouldn’t cost their client any extra money or time, either, and the supplier may even have to accept a loss.
The important thing is that, by making it up to the customer, the supplier accepts responsibility and resolves to try and avoid a repetition.
They may well be given a second chance.
I am not alone in believing that a supplier should aim for “value added plus”. It’s not just a question of satisfying the client, or putting right potential mishaps, but of delighting them.
Shortly after conducting a wedding for a lovely couple, I received this e-mail:
“The ceremony was perfect and flowed seamlessly, our guests also commented on how much they liked Michael and how the whole ceremony was conducted.”
So what should a supplier be doing, to make that ceremony “perfect”?
Of course, there’s no magic formula – not least, because each profession and each supplier is different. However, there are a few principles that will apply generally.
In my field as civil celebrant, I encourage and ask a lot of questions in our initial meeting or conversation. The client may be nervous and needs to appreciate what I can offer. I certainly need to understand their true vision. On occasion, I need to scratch beneath the surface.
If they don’t really know what choices are available, it’s my job to explain them.
I aim to ensure that my clients normally understand my process. That involves sending them drafts that they can change, if they want. It includes payment terms, Ts & Cs., and what I do – and do not – offer. It’s important to be transparent. If there are likely to be any extras, then I’ll be up-front about it.
I don’t want the client to receive any unpleasant surprises. Especially on the big day. I ensure that they approve beforehand every word that I am going to utter at the ceremony.
On occasion, there might be a lot of time between agreeing the ceremony and the big day itself. Keeping in contact – even irregularly – gives peace of mind. It can also serve as a nudge if the client still has something to do (eg write their own vows!).
It’s also important to be accessible, patient and helpful throughout the process.
On the day, I always try to arrive in very good time, check everything carefully and do what I have to do calmly and without fuss. I shall have practised the ceremony, so I can expect to present it professionally and beautifully. I always remember that the event is all about my clients, not about me. I aim to keep them calm and happy.
If you want to find out more about how I can deliver that “wow” factor, please give me a call! A “perfect” ceremony is by no means impossible!
As you’re probably reading this around the New Year, your next special occasion may well be New Year’s Eve. Well, to be honest, I don’t think I can help you there!
However, I might be more useful to you in some other areas. So please read on!
What about your Birthday!
When that comes round, how do you plan to mark the occasion? Off down the pub? Throw a party? A special outing? A restaurant meal out together with family or friends, or both?
What if it’s a “big” birthday, though? Ever thought of adding an extra dimension to the affair? (And if it’s not your birthday and you’re having a peek out of curiosity, you may consider adapting the following and organising this as a surprise!).
If you’ve decided on an event with guests, then why not book a civil celebrant? With your input, he can come up with the right words, maybe a blessing (which may or may not be religious) and perhaps a short summary of your life and achievements. It needs last 5-10 minutes only, and could end, say, with a toast being proposed. It would be something very special and memorable.
Note that if you are organising this at a restaurant or hotel, you need to check practicalities (especially if you’re sharing the room with the public!).
Anniversary celebrations are catching on these days. There are lots of reasons to have these. Just a few examples would be:
to mark an anniversary ending in -5 or -0
to renew vows (because circumstances may have changed)
to announce to the world that you’ve successfully come through a difficult period
Whatever the reason, your celebrant can help you mark the occasion in a way that reflects your personalities. The ceremony may last 10-25 minutes (or whatever you choose), and can include religious components, if you want these, or none. You can put in music, readings (secular or otherwise), reciting of vows (new or old) and rituals (such as both of you lighting a Unity Candle – even in conjunction with your children).
So whether someone is planning a surprise or whether you’re choosing this for yourself, your civil celebrant can work with you to create a tailor-made ceremony of your dreams, and will conduct it for you memorably and professionally.
So, for your next special occasion, how about a ceremony that is personal and maybe a little bit unconventional?
Celebrating a big event? Something special? Would you consider a quirky ceremony?
Surely a wedding or something needs to be religious? Or conventional, at least?
Of course, it can be. But that’s not to say that it can’t be a quirky ceremony. (Or partly quirky!)
After all, it’s your day, so you don’t have to be beholden to what other people think or expect.
I’m not suggesting that you should be tasteless or offensive – but you can be different. There is huge scope for creativity. It doesn’t take so much effort to come up with a memorable, meaningful and beautiful ceremony. And for all the help you will need, a civil celebrant can be there, with ideas and guidance. They are professionals and can really point you in the right direction.
So what do we mean by “quirky”?
The venue can be anywhere (subject to permission and possible payment!). I’ve conducted ceremonies at Stonehenge, by a canal, at the Savoy, atop an Iron Age fort, in a back garden, in a field – and the list goes on! You are only limited by your imagination (and purse)!
A ritual that brings a smile to a wedding is “Jumping the Broom”. The couple together jump over a besom (accompanied by appropriate words) to symbolise sweeping in the new.
You may opt for a rose ceremony. Or there’s the Unity Sand option, which is lovely. Both partners simultaneously pour sand in the colour of their individual choice into one larger bottle, so that the colours merge, just as their lives will.
Readings & Music
The content of the ceremony is ‘up for grabs’ too. The tone is up to you. There is no compulsion to include heavy, serious readings, if you don’t want them. Why not have a humorous poem or text, or even several?
Choose who will read – or even sing – for you.
Similarly, while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a serious, classical piece played, your tastes may actually be rather different. So by all means let the music reflect these.
Your story, your vows
Personally, I welcome the opportunity to make ceremonies that I conduct as personal as possible. I believe the guests enjoy and appreciate this a lot too.
One feature I like to include, therefore, is what I call the couple’s “story”. In the case of a wedding, it might be how they met, adversity they had to overcome, and what attracted them to each other.
Another way they can personalise their ceremony is to write and declare their own vows. For a Vow Renewal, maybe the couple would rewrite their vows, or prepare something about key moments in their relationship.
Although I’m always there to guide and advise, I think it’s best if the couple actually write this part themselves, if possible.
So I hope you now see that there’s nothing wrong with individualising your ceremonies – indeed, this can often make all the difference to the proceedings.
There’s a convincing case for celebrating a wedding anniversary with a Vow Renewal. In fact, I can suggest a number of good reasons.
You’re approaching your first anniversary – or a year that ends in 5 or 0. That’s an achievement that deserves to be marked!
You simply want publicly to demonstrate your affection and the strength of your relationship
Your circumstances have changed since your marriage – maybe you have children now. You may even want them to be involved in the ceremony
Perhaps your wedding was small or, for whatever reason, a bit of a disappointment
Maybe your circle of friends and relatives have changed, and you want the new ones to be part of your big event
Your relationship might have successfully come through hard times (illness, finance, etc.) and you want to mark that
You might simply welcome the excuse to throw a special party
Why go to the trouble?
A terribly bad reason – but valid, nonetheless – probably suits men, rather than women. Maybe you’re coming round to a big anniversary. You might be looking around for a present for your spouse, but you don’t know what to do. You could go for a Vow Renewal! The gesture could well be a very welcome surprise, even if secrecy can probably not be maintained very long.
What would it entail?
One thing it would NOT entail is repeating all the arrangements for your wedding. This time it is all about free choice.
You don’t have to go through any legal formalities
You can have the ceremony of your choice – no need to be restricted to full religious or secular Register Office ceremony. There’s no fixed, standard ceremony that you have to follow. It can be quite informal, if you want. Speak to a civil celebrant for ideas.
You may decide to rewrite your vows. They may no longer be relevant to you now. Your civil celebrant will be able to help you with this.
The budget is down to you. This means that you are not reliant on your parents (and dependent on their wishes and choices). You can decide how much you are prepared to spend and keep it at that. You can decide on what (if any) entertainment will be on offer.
The venue is entirely your choice. You can be quirky and allow your personalities to shine through! The world is (more or less!) your oyster!
Most importantly, the guest list is down to you! No battles or squabbles this time!
A vow renewal is a joyous, beautiful occasion. You can make of it what you will, but you will always have your civil celebrant to advise, guide and even inspire you.