Your wedding ceremony sets the tone for your special day, welcoming guests and starting the celebration you and your loved ones have been looking forward to for months (or years!). And when most picture a wedding ceremony, they think of one long aisle, rows of chairs, and an altar where the couple exchanges their vows.
However, these days, there’s no shortage of unique ideas you and your partner can use to elevate your wedding ceremony. Whether opting for a different seating arrangement or incorporating show-stopping decor, we sat down and asked a handful of industry experts for their best tips to level up a ceremony – here’s what they had to say.
Be mindful of your decorations
Though decorations are a great way to uplevel your ceremony, you’ll want to be mindful of size and placement. The last thing you want is for guests to feel uncomfortable or unable to see what’s happening!
Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates notes, “Keep in mind your sight lines. Often, people decorate aisles with beautiful treatments that unfortunately block the guest’s view of the ceremony. This causes guests to either shift seats to get a better view but leaves your aisle seats empty, making your pictures look like the ceremony was not full, or it causes people to listen only instead of watching you get married.”
Involve your guests
Nobody wants to see guests yawning or twiddling their thumbs at their wedding ceremony! Involving your loved ones is a great way to keep everyone engaged. Think about ways to incorporate them, creating a more memorable experience for all.
“Weddings are a chance to invite your community into a sacred space with you,” reminds Maureen Cotton, coach and officiant at The Soulful Wedding. “Instead of wedding arches being a decorative backdrop to the ceremony, I’d love to see these arches at the back of the aisle. This would mean guests walk through them when they go to their seats — helping them feel the special moment they are partaking in.”
Monika Kreinberg, president at Furever Us, agrees, stating, “Make it personal. Most guests will remember the personal touches more than the overall decor. Adding a little bag of flower petals for the recessional toss can be something fun guests will remember.”
Incorporate a treat
Traditionally, venues don’t serve food and drink until cocktail hour, but if you’re looking to take your ceremony to the next level, think about serving treats ahead of time. Consider what will be most refreshing for your guests and talk to your venue about having a few servers on deck.
“Whether it’s a champagne wall, fruit-infused water, or hot chocolate, welcoming your guests with a beverage is a fun and interactive way to engage guests,” shares wedding photographer Jessica K. Feiden. “It also helps create a welcoming experience from the moment they arrive.”
Keep it simple
An unforgettable ceremony doesn’t always involve lavish decor or interactive experiences. At the end of the day, it’s simply about you and your partner committing to one another for the rest of your lives. So don’t feel as though you have to break your budget to have an enjoyable ceremony!
“Sometimes less is more,” reminds Kreinberg. “Don’t overdo it with the decor to the point that it takes away from the centerpiece at the end of the aisle.”
Samantha Leenheer, creative director at Samantha Joy Events, reiterates this idea, sharing, “We recommend not adding decor for the sake of more. Be thoughtful in what you add but make sure it doesn’t impede the guests’ experience or get in the way of them or you enjoying your ceremony.”
Focus on the furniture
Switching up the furniture is an excellent way to make your ceremony unique. Keep comfort in mind for your guests, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your decor.
“Bring in fun furniture,” recommends Jen Avey, vice president of marketing for Destination Weddings Travel Group. “Instead of a traditional seating arrangement, opt for a lounge set up with various loveseats, benches, ottoman poofs, etc. Chandeliers are also a great way to elevate design.”
Syrie Roman, founder and lead planner at Social Maven, also appreciates the idea. “Use alternative seating, like love seats, comfy chairs, and banquets,” she shares. “Or arrange your chairs differently, different from the expected rows of chairs with an aisle in the middle.”
Consider alternative angles
Traditional ceremonies typically include rows of chairs that lead to an altar. But to elevate your ceremony design, think about the different angles your photographer could snap shots. Of course, it’s easy to look straight down your aisle, but it isn’t the only view to consider!
“I love when couples incorporate décor at the very back of the ceremony, as that is what guests will see when they first arrive,” notes Nora Sheils, co-founder of Rock Paper Coin and founder of Bridal Bliss. “Also, thinking of looking at the ceremony design from above can make for an amazing aerial shot.”
Keith Willard, owner of Keith Willard Events, seconds this thought, stating, “I like to think above and below. What can I do above the ceremony to create a wow moment as guests arrive and what is happening below? We hand-tied ribbons onto wire for one wedding and then suspended them above the ceremony chairs. Not only did it create a dramatic effect when walking toward the ceremony site, but the ribbons flapping in the air also created a soft sound that resembled waves on a beach.”
Remember your backdrop
As you plan your ceremony layout, think about the view behind you and your partner. Since the backdrop will be in almost all of your ceremony photos, it’s worth adding a personal touch in this area!
“The right backdrop elevates the look of a wedding ceremony and gives photos a finishing touch,” says Peter Mitsaelides, director of catering at Brooklake Country Club & Events. “Simple arches and screens decorated with lush florals and greenery are elegant and can also serve as reception decor. And an outdoor grass aisle can be transformed with a runner of swirling rose petals.”
Keep your guests entertained
Not all ceremonies start on time, but with most guests arriving early, think about ways to keep them entertained. Sitting outside in the hot or cold checking the time on their phones won’t leave the best impression! Instead, use technology to create a memorable experience for them.
Sandy Brooks of Timeless Event Planning recommends, “Create a mini-clip about your favorite things about each other and put a QR code in the programs for your guests to watch before the ceremony, as it will keep your guests entertained and get them excited!”
Be mindful of the landscape
If you’re getting married outdoors, keep the scenery around you in mind. Embracing natural elements is an easy way to get the most bang for your buck from your venue.
“Don’t block a gorgeous view,” suggests Janice Carnevale, owner of Bellwether Events. “Be it mountains, an ocean, or something in between, if your ceremony spot has an incredible view, let that be your backdrop, and don’t block it with extraneous decor. You can still do elevated aisle or entrance decor, but I would recommend keeping the altar area understated to allow the guests to appreciate the landscape.”
Prepare for weather conditions
The outdoors make for a beautiful ceremony, but having a plan B in case of a weather change is vital. This way, your ceremony will go off without a hitch regardless of Mother Nature, and you won’t need to scramble to figure something out on your big day.
Feiden says, “If you are planning for an outdoor ceremony and have some sort of installation, make sure it is secure in the ground and won’t fly away on a windy day. The same goes with welcome signage, often hanging from a fairly light stand. There is nothing worse than having your floral arch start to fly away during the middle of your ceremony!”
Welcoming creativity is one of the best things you can do when planning your ceremony. It’s okay to do something different here! It’s your big day, so each aspect should represent who you are as a couple.
“You can use items that aren’t a ‘normal’ event decor,” encourages Jennifer Sulak, lead wedding photographer at Weirdo Weddings. “Think about the things you LOVE as decor and then expound on that on your day of design! Go with your gut instincts for some designs, AND lean into your wedding professionals to help you finish all the main touches!”
Pinterest and Instagram are fantastic sources for gathering wedding ceremony inspiration, but remember to keep your and your partner’s vision top of mind. Together, you’ll be able to plan a ceremony that looks beautiful and that you and your guests will never forget!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.