Planning a Wedding During the Pandemic?
First off – I’m sending you a big hug. This year has been hard. I am a wedding planner, a small business owner, AND a 2020 bride. If you’re totally unsure about what to do – I truly understand. You’ve come to the right place.
Planning a wedding in these times is complicated. Like, really complicated. There’s so much to consider on top of the onslaught of the news. If you’re feeling sad or frustrated right now, then you’re pretty much normal.
Let me tell you my story
I’ve been a wedding planner for over ten years, and I (like many people) blissfully entered 2020 thinking –
For the first 60 days – it was. My year started with an amazing mother-daughter trip to South America full of amazing adventure. When I returned home, my wonderful fiancé popped the question! Nowhere to go but up, right? I booked all my vendors, put my bride hat on, and a week after we sent out our save-the-dates for our November celebration – coronavirus hit the U.S.
At that time my immediate focus was on helping all my couples work through plans for their weddings – postponements, fear, and tons of rescheduling. As a human full of empathy, I slugged through these impossible situations with them with a heavy heart.
But like many of us at the beginning of the pandemic, I was sure this would all be over by November. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
By mid-summer, my husband and I knew we would have to rethink our plans. We had invited 240 guests (with 35 first cousins between my husband and me!) and the idea of everyone gathering even remotely safely was impossible. After many hard conversations – we decided to hold our wedding ceremony on our original date of November 14th with immediate family only, and host a party and reception in 2021 or later when it was safe to do so.
When we notified our guests in August about these new plans – we were excited to tell them that even though we couldn’t welcome them there in person for our ceremony we would be inviting people to join us virtually!
But here’s the secret. At that time I had literally zero idea how to host a virtual wedding, or if it would even work. As a wedding planner, I had heard about virtual weddings – but the results I’d seen were mostly mixed. A virtual meeting between three people was old news at this point in the pandemic but a virtual wedding felt infinitely more complicated. So for the next few months, I learned. Often the hard way.
After many months of work and one microwedding later – I can happily tell you – it was an amazing success and I’m so glad we did it. Having our family and friends there virtually was the next best thing to in person, and I truly believe it lifted the spirits for all at a really dark time.
The Future of Virtual Weddings
As I’m writing this in December, it’s still really a dark time. I believe smaller, augmented weddings and events are going to be with us for a while to come, even once a vaccine is available. Adding a virtual component to your wedding allows guests to be a part of your day in a way that’s safe for them. It shows that you value their presence and their health. That being said, it does take a little extra effort.
I don’t want another couple to waste precious mental and emotional bandwidth figuring out the nuts and bolts of a virtual wedding. Literally, no one has extra time or capacity right now. So today I’m summing up my tips and lessons learned for a successful virtual event.
A couple of notes (I know – get to it already)…
My biggest takeaway that supersedes everything below is to work with a professional A/V technician or team. Although I learned a lot along the way I would not have attempted a virtual event without the help of a professional. If it’s in your means to do so I STRONGLY recommend you hire someone to help with this. I worked with the lovely folks at Encore Audio Event Services (local to The Berkshires) but a quick google search can put you in touch with someone local to you.
Secondly – we used Zoom. There are other video meeting platforms that I’m sure would work just as well, but a few of the points in this article will reference Zoom features specifically.
Lastly, I’m not an A/V professional, I’m a wedding planner. As with most creative entrepreneurs, I am not a technology savant. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not either – so let’s figure this out together.
The virtual wedding tips and tricks
wifi is everything
Like, literally everything. Do not attempt a virtual component of your wedding event unless you have a rock-solid WIFI connection. A video meeting with multiple users utilizing video and audio drains heavily on any WIFI connection and can cause serious connection issues for your guests.
The team at Encore Audio recommended a few tips to lessen the drain.
Get to know your venue’s WIFI setup. Speed, location of the router, and who utilizes the different networks. The fewer people utilizing the WIFI, the better.
Your A/V vendor should hardwire into the router if at all possible, for a stronger connection
Limit the number of people (ie guests and vendors) logging into the WIFI during the virtual component. Better still, ask people to place their cell phones on airplane mode.
buy the right package
Chances are, the “free” version of your video meeting platform isn’t going to cut it. I had many long chats with the customer service team at Zoom to quadruple check I had the correct package for what I needed.
The two biggest considerations are time and the number of guests. Even if your ceremony isn’t over 40 minutes (generally the cutoff for the free packages) when you add in time before and after – it will be. Video meeting platforms also spell out the number of people that can be logged into the meeting at any one time. For Zoom users, I ended up with a “pro” plan and added in the “large meeting” a la carte option so over 100 guests could join.
Hint: you can pay monthly so you don’t lock into an entire year of services.
check the settings
There are tons of settings on Zoom that might make sense for a business meeting, but not for a wedding. We wanted our wedding to be safe from the dreaded zoombomb, but it also needed to be accessible and make sense for our guests. While there are likely other ways to do this — this is where we landed.
Waiting room: essentially this setting allows guests to enter the “meeting” directly rather than having to be admitted by the host. This is a safety feature that in a normal meeting makes sense – but the idea of admitting 100+ people individually who arrived at the same time just before our wedding ceremony felt like a logistical mess for our A/V team, so we disabled the waiting room.
Passcode: for the love of all that is good – have a password for your meeting. You can either have the passcode embedded in the link you send to guests or guests have to type it in manually. Either way – have a password. No one wants uninvited visitors on the internet at your wedding.
Authentication: This is a two-step security process that I can see going either way. We disabled two-step authentication because we had a lot of first-time zoom users and we thought it might be too confusing. However, if you’re very concerned about security – turn it on.
Video: we turned on the video for ourselves (the host) and our guests (the participants). Guests still have the option to turn their video off. If your WIFI is iffy, video off is probably wise (but we felt the entire point was to see our guests, so we had ours on).
Allow participants to join before host: We disabled this feature so the host (us/our A/V team) was the first one allowed in the meeting space.
Mute all participants when they join a meeting: There are a few ways to approach this – but the bottom line: your guests need to be on mute during your ceremony. With this feature, you don’t have to worry about people muting themselves, but it is then up to the host (in our case, our A/V vendor) to allow each guest to unmute – which ended up being a bit of a hiccup when we were ready to talk to our guests post-ceremony. If we did it again, I’d probably disable this feature to let guests join unmuted and then select the “mute all” button on the meeting screen. Again, the bottom line, guests on mute until it’s time to chat.
Chat: We kept the chat on so everyone could communicate and say hello, since they were all on mute.
Co-host: We enabled this feature so we could have our A/V team (or whoever is running the meeting) as the co-host with all the controls.
There are loads of other settings, but for us, these were the big ones. Make sure you carefully go through all the settings yourself and with whoever is running your virtual component to make sure they make sense for your wedding specifics.
help your guests
Video meeting platforms have become very commonplace due to the pandemic, but are still very new for many folks. Make it easy and give people plenty of time to sign up and get familiar. Here’s the rundown of the timeline we used:
When we knew our original plans were going to change we notified our guests via email (mid-August for a November wedding). We gave them the heads up a virtual component was coming, and details would be sent closer to the event.
5-6 weeks out: We created the meeting in Zoom which generated the link and password info. Hint: have the meeting start 30 minutes before your ceremony time to help guests arrive early and to make sure everything is set up properly.
4 weeks out: We sent a digital flyer via Paperless Post (which has super cute virtual ceremony invites!) with the link, password, and timeline information.
1 week out We sent a reminder email with the Zoom login and the timeline information. We also included this tutorial to help new users sign up for an account.
Chances are if you’re having a virtual component to your wedding, your in-person guests are limited. We had 21 at our wedding. In a normal circumstance, I wouldn’t recommend microphones for the officiant, readers, or the couple for a wedding of that size. However, if you’re having a virtual component you will want some type of amplification. There’s nothing worse than being on a video meeting and not being able to hear – and you definitely don’t want that for your wedding ceremony. Make sure the officiant, readers, and you and your sweetie are adequately amplified.
No matter the scale of your setup, you’ll want to consider the placement of the various electronics. If you have a photographer (we did) work in tandem with them to make sure there aren’t cords, cameras, monitors, etc. blocking their view and angles for photography.
For our setup, we had two cameras, a large monitor so we could see our guests and an 8’ table where our A/V team set up their equipment. We placed all the equipment (in a way that worked for them) on the opposite wall from our ceremony so we wouldn’t be distracted by the monitor. Even if you have a virtual component for your wedding, staying grounded with your partner while you say your vows is truly the top priority.
test, test, test
Test the meeting. Several times. Check the links in each email communication you send to guests. When you have a trial run, ask a family member or friend to join to make sure they can see/hear everything clearly from their end. We did a trial run the day of our rehearsal and it definitely lessened the anxiety that the whole thing was going to malfunction the day-of.
make it interactive
For us, we didn’t want our guests’ experience to be just as a viewer or an outsider looking in. We wanted the experience to be interactive for our immediate families (who were physically present) AND our virtual guests. Here’s a few ways we involved our guests:
Prior to the wedding, we sent our guests a PDF ceremony program so they could follow along.
We worked with our Officiant to involve our virtual guests in the ceremony script. She welcomed them and reiterated the importance of their joining throughout the ceremony.
We reimagined our rituals. We intended to have a candle lighting ceremony where each of our 200+ guests would like a candle to a, particularly sentimental song. With that no longer possible, we asked each guest to come to the virtual ceremony with a candle they could light and we held the candle lighting ritual that way. Our Officiant led us and our guests (both in-person and virtual) to light their candles and we then played a slideshow that featured every one of our guests set to the same song. This was so meaningful to all of us – and I’m so glad we included it.
We took some time post-ceremony to talk to our guests that joined virtually and my husband and I shared a toast to all of them and thanked them for the huge role they play in our lives.
Depending on the package you select, Zoom will either automatically store a recording of the meeting on the Cloud, or you can hit record on the meeting screen just before the ceremony starts. This of course isn’t the same as having a videographer, but it’s so important to have some type of recording as a memory of such a unique experience.
hire a pro
Okay, I know I said this before, but please work with a professional A/V team if you possibly can. My husband and I could not have pulled this off without the Encore Audio team, and it was worth every penny to know it was being handled correctly. Chances are you’ve been able to save a bit from having to downsize your wedding, and it’s worth it to spend the money to have this piece done right.
Let’s Lean In
Fam, this is our reality right now. Weddings aren’t going to look normal for a little bit. My husband and I chose to lean in as best we could – but trust me – we had many sad days and tears over our wedding not being what we imagined. I am a big proponent of not arguing with what is and for leaning into the present moment, whatever it contains. For some of you, that’s waiting entirely and that is one hundred percent okay and perfect. But for others who are looking to still get married and have it be safe and accessible for those they love – a virtual component may be a great fit.
More than anything I don’t want the logistics to scare you off from having your grandma see you walk down the aisle. I hope this guide gives you more confidence and optimism that your day can and will be special and amazing. As a 2020 bride and a professional wedding planner – I got you.
Need more assistance? Let’s chat and see how our team can help you.
Also, check out the links below for additional posts I’ve written on the pandemic and wedding planning – you’re not alone!