I have a game face. Not a poker face, a "game face." This means that no matter what is going down right in front of my nose at a wedding, I have the ability to plaster a smile on my face and keep on plugging along. This is an absolute requirement for a successful wedding planner, and actually, for my whole team working the wedding.
We see some really bad stuff happen at weddings. Right in front of us. And while I have no idea what our faces look like when we're actually jumping into the fray to help separate fighting wedding guests or diving for cover when an inebriated wedding guest throws a three-foot burning sparker our way intentionally, 20 seconds later we're back to where we're supposed to be -- "game faces" on.
Why? Because our job is to facilitate a bride and groom's perfect day, not our own perfect days. And part of doing that is helping lighten the mood of the event by always being smiley and friendly to the guests. Until they cross the line and we cannot be. And then we step in and deal with the problem as discretely as possible. Afterwards, we step back, take a breath, and put our "game faces" back on.
Here's the thing, we are thinking the EXACT same thing you are, if you're a wedding guest at a wedding where the grandfather of the bride has just physically attacked the father of the bride (during cocktails, before the couples' entrance, mind you). We are thinking "OMG" and "how tacky" and "did the bride see that?" But we can't stand there with our jaws gaping open like all the guests are doing -- we have to wipe up blood and escort the grandfather out of the event (he started it). And we have to smile (or at least look pleasant) while we're doing it.
Here's another excellent "game face" example that I'm quite proud of -- let me set the scene.
Perfect wedding, newly married couple has just finished pics and made their grand entrance. Mother of the Bride rushes up to her daughter to hug her in congratulations but loses her step and literally tosses an entire bright orange Vieques Love Martini down the front of the bride's white wedding gown! I wanted to shriek along with the MoB.
You can imagine the drama! Fortunately, I was close enough to step in and literally grab the bride by the hand and drag her out of the circle of well-meaning, concerned friends who were reaching for her with cocktail napkins to blot her down - the kiss of death to that dress. She would have been wearing a huge orange stain all night long.
We sequestered her in a villa bedroom and I told her not to cry -- we would fix this. Her gown was a polyester blend -- more plastic than natural fibers of any kind. And the martini was beading and glistening. The dress was gathered across the front and I had her bend over and shake as hard as she could. Then, with a fresh clean fluffy white bath towel, I began to absorb the beads. I'd like to come out of this sounding much more heroic (tell you I spent an hour with the Shout wipes to save the day), but the truth is that I was able to get it out entirely by blotting because the gown was made of an unnatural fiber never actually meant to be worn by ANY human form. Then again, I guess there's something to be said for plastic gowns. She did look pretty and that drink could not be absorbed. She was back at the party in 15 minutes. But I've digressed.
When I first saw the giant spill, I thought we were screwed for the night. Truly. But I never let on. Nor did the interns who helped corral the "concerned" friends and now sobbing MoB away so I could take the bride inside and work my magic. We all kept smiling, we all said it was going to be okay, and we did everything possible to be the calming influences in a scene of chaos. It worked. And thank God that dress came clean, but it was because every one of us kept our cool and a game face throughout the incident.
The thing is, those smiles on all of our faces are often truly "game faces" because we're dealing with really unpleasant issues behind the scenes that we can't let the guests know about. Twice now, I've had to keep the parties rolling while a mother of the bride was in the hospital on the big island quite ill. Keeping the fun going and focusing on the happy couple when the family is whispering about transporting someone north via medical plane to the states is not an easy job.
You can't just stand around with a fake smile -- you have to interact with the guests, chatting up the island and giving information about activities available for their entertainment.
In another instance, your boss may be back at the office desperately trying to book flights for 18 people who must leave at the crack of dawn after the wedding because a close family member was tragically killed back home during the wedding weekend. You have no idea the kinds of things that happen behind the scenes when you are a guest. Sometimes the brides and grooms are just a blissfully unaware until after the wedding when their parents tell them somebody died. But we still have to fix the mess and make it work for them. With our "game faces" on the entire time.
Those "game faces" we rock in the face of client drama are the easy ones -- we are sympathetic and we know that we need to help keep things going while part of our crew is doing triage behind the scenes. The difficult "game faces" are the ones we have to force when a drunken wedding guest gets out of control. This happens more often than you would realize.
I ask all my clients to tell me if they have a problem guest that we need to be aware of but only about half of them are completely straight-forward with me. I will not list specific incidences so as not to embarrass individual clients, but let me just say this: If you cringe at having to interact with this wedding guest at normal family occasions, you HAVE TO WARN YOUR WEDDING PLANNER. If you don't, we get caught unprepared and sometimes things escalate more than is actually necessary.
If we know in advance about your pervert uncle or your violent fraternity brother or your recently-released from rehab/methadone-dependent cousin/bridesmaid, we might just be able to head off embarrassing disturbances during your wedding weekend. Or at least rescue the bridesmaid dress (so somebody else can wear it) before she absconds from the island with it and we have to spend two days tracking it down and threatening her to get it back. At considerable expense and time to the bride and groom.
No, I'm not kidding. That really happened. And through it all, we kept "game faces" and assured everyone that we could fix it. And we did.
I may have stepped away from the clients to explode at the little druggie on the telephone and threatened to call the police where she was and send them to her hotel room at the El Conquistador where she was holed up with a whole bunch of drugs she'd scored as soon as she got off Vieques Island. But I didn't do it in front of the clients so they never knew exactly how I got that dress back. Nice, eh? You do what you gotta do. I put on my "game face" and went back around the corner and asked, with a smile, who would be the lucky girl to wear the lovely coral dress when it arrived.
There are also "game faces" that hurt. The ones we keep up after a drunken wedding guest has called us names, or after a member of the staff has been groped inappropriately and a guest has been asked to leave the event and made a stink. My all-time worst experience was at a gay wedding with two very, very drunk grooms who had a complete meltdown over their seating chart.
They didn't follow our directions and when we set the placecards, we followed our system -- not the one they imagined we would understand (we have everybody do it the same way because we have to do this every weekend). The cards were fixed before the group was seated for dinner -- no harm, no foul. Except the grooms were raging drunk and wouldn't stop yelling at me in front of the guests.
One of them put his hands on me and I had to warn him -- my husband actually had to leave the premises and let our own security guys handle it out of fear he would toss the little guy over the balcony if he verbally or physically attacked me. But that wasn't the kicker.
For the first and only time in my wedding planning career, instead of thanking their guests at the end of the toasts when I passed the microphone to the grooms, they used their ENTIRE toast to eviscerate me. They called me names. They cursed at me. They shredded me. The only saving grace was that one of them wrapped it up by singing "Unchained Melody" to the other -- a cappella and extremely off-key -- and WE GOT THE WHOLE THING ON VIDEO. That's on my internal bloopers reel.
Throughout the verbal lashing, I stood there in front of 60 guests with my "game face" on. I wasn't smiling, I wasn't frowning though either -- and I doubt anybody would have blamed me if I'd burst into tears and left. But I didn't. I'm a pro. I stood there and took it and then spent the rest of the night avoiding them but doing my job.
On their way out the door, after a perfect sparkler tunnel exit, the grooms stopped to curse me out again (and threaten me not to blog about them in The Huffington Post hahahaha!) in front of all the staff standing there to wish them well. Then, after they left, more than half of their guests stopped to thank us and apologize on behalf of the newly married couple on their way out the door. Apparently this is NORMAL behavior for these two. Have a happy marriage guys. Jeez!
But my point is that my "game face" worked. I was ready to throw up. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw the little f*ckers off the balcony of the venue myself (and their guests might have helped), but I kept myself in check - including facial expressions - and made it through the night. Because that's my job and I do it well.
No matter how bad things get behind the scenes or out in the open, your wedding planning staff should be professional enough to appear unruffled, at least in front of the clients and guests (you've all seen me scream behind-the-scenes on my TLC show "Wedding Island"). If the wedding planner shows fear, confusion, or distress, it all crumbles and collapses. So what if the gas goes out in the villa 15 minutes before we're supposed to have hot appetizers being passed, we have a backup plan and if nobody loses their cool, none of the guests will notice a few minute delay if we're passing trays of signature cocktails. It's all in how you approach the solution to the situation. And how you keep your "game face" as the guests arrive and the food is not ready.
The solution to any wedding planning problem is to keep your facial expressions appropriate and your voice as neutral as possible. If the bride and groom see you lose it, they will lose it. Your job is to be the face of calm and organization even when everyone around you is losing their heads. That's called "game face" and if you don't have one, you won't make it through planning your first wedding.