10/30/2012 12:24 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2012

Is This Your First Wedding As An Officiant? 6 Tips For How To Hold People's Attention

To officiate a wedding ceremony for a couple you know and love is truly one of life's great honors and delights. And it can also be nerve-wracking! You're standing in front of two people who are having an out-of-body experience and you have to be their rock and emotional support throughout the ceremony.

Over the years I've coached many a panicky uncle or grandmother, sister or brother, not to mention college drinking buddy, who is nervous because they don't know what they "should" do or "should" say when they officiate the wedding of a cherished friend or relative.

Well, here's the thing -- five years after the ceremony no one will remember what you said, but they will remember the tone and feeling of the ceremony. When done well, a ceremony renews and refreshes people in an emotional way.

So what does this mean for you as a guest wedding officiant? Well, it means you don't have to offer guests groundbreaking insights into the existential meaning of marriage! It simply means you have to: Be Prepared. Be Engaging. Be You.

You've probably been to enough weddings to know that they can easily turn into a boring, funeral-like affair. So, in this post I'd like to focus on how you can be an engaging officiant and hold people's attention during the ceremony.

The tricky part about speaking in public is that all of what we communicate takes place simultaneously on two levels: content and tone.

We often think that if our content (words) is solid, then the way in which we present it (tone) doesn't matter. However, a full 80 percent of what we pay attention to is the non-verbal, i.e. tone of voice, pacing, and facial and body expressions. Only 20 percent of what we pay attention to is actually the "what" of what is being said.

So, while you can have a well-written ceremony laced with loving, inspiring words, if you don't deliver those sentiments with enthusiasm and conviction, then it all falls flat. Yes, what you say is important, very important, but if you don't "deliver" it so that people pay attention, it's all for nothing.

6 Non-Verbal Tips for Being An Engaging Officiant:

Eye Contact: When you make eye contact with people as you speak, you build a bond with them. Memorize your opening words and deliver them looking at the couple and their guests as this will make everyone feel you're talking "to" them and not "at" them.

Smile: No one is judging you. The vast majority of people are relieved it's not them standing where you are! So, smile -- it's a wedding and not a funeral.

Body Orientation: When the couple stands in front of you, make sure they're facing each other so the guests can see their profiles. If the microphone is on a stand, adjust it to the correct height so you're not leaning down and into it. With solid preparation, you won't have to be glued to your book and you can stand straight and look directly at the couple and their guests.

Space: Oftentimes couples don't know how to stand or what to do in the ceremony, so make sure they're not standing far apart from each other. I usually suggest they hold hands. The three of you want to stand close enough to the front row of seats so that an intimacy is created. And if you are standing in front of an arch, make sure the flowers don't droop on you. I've had photos taken of me where it looks like I've got roses sprouting out of my head!

Voice & Pacing: Be animated -- avoid speaking in monotone. Don't rush! Pause between thoughts to emphasize what you're saying. You're taking this group of people on an emotional journey, so have fun with it. There's no hurry. Pause for dramatic effect. Pause so guests can think about what you've just said.

Attire: Ask the bride for her preference in terms of what you wear, i.e. suit and tie? Dress? Length? Color? I typically wear a black suit, white shirt and my tie compliments the groom and his groomsmen. You don't want your clothes to distract from the bride and groom.

Although your "title" is officiant, what you really are is the "host" of the ceremony and as such, you are in charge. Prepare with generosity and focus. Bring to the ceremony the "you" whom your couple loves. And most especially, use the above tricks that will let people want to pay attention to you.

Do all this and five years from now your couple and their guests will still be smiling when they think on the gift of your ceremony!

JP Reynolds, M.Div. has officiated more than one thousand weddings and has coached hundreds of people in how to create and deliver heartfelt, personalized ceremonies. If you've been invited by a friend or relative to celebrate their wedding ceremony and are wondering what to do, visit JP's website: