I volunteered to be the day-of coordinator for a friend's wedding, and it may have been one of the best things I could have done to prep for my own wedding. Despite the fact my future husband and I have been joking that now we might not need to have a wedding since we both feel like we just threw a wedding ourselves, I'm sure that this bone-deep exhaustion will go away by the time our date rolls around.
Until then, here are the things I've learned that I hope I can remember when it's my turn to play Mayor of Wedding Town.
1. Have a day-of coordinator
No, really. Have a day-of coordinator. When I first entered the world of Actual Real Live wedding planning (no, hidden boards on Pinterest that my exes weren't supposed to know about DON'T count) I was surprised by the idea of a day-of coordinator in a non-Wedding Industrial Complex-y, DIY wedding. And I'm sure on some level I thought “That's something that only a high-budget wedding could use.” But dude… duuuude. The amount of trouble-shooting, delegating, hand-holding, tension-diffusing, and general wrangling that I found myself doing at my friend's wedding was incredible.
And as exhausted as I am, this is a feeling I freely embody, because the bride and groom shouldn't have to feel this on top of the emotional (and sometimes literal) hangover of getting married, nor should their parents or their bridal party. They need (and deserve) to have their memories filled with beautiful words spoken and beautiful memories made, not the layout of the venue's kitchen, nor who was the last person to have the Scotch tape. (I'm looking at you, paper lanterns room!)
If you can't pay a coordinator, do what we did and barter: I coordinated my friend's wedding and she is supposed to coordinate mine. Problem solved.
2. Buy more tape
Tape is the most useful product to have ever been invented, and Gaff tape is the stuff of the gods. It can be used to keep tablecloths from blowing away in the lakeside breeze, affix (nearly) all your lighting to ceilings and walls, and keep daisy-chained plugs from separating (no need for any Back to the Future re-enactments).
The only thing more useful than tape would be scissors. Have lots of scissors.
Because, while it may seem like you aren't going to need more than the 60 yards of tape one roll contains or that more than two pairs of good scissors is unnecessary, many people will need to use these things simultaneously. So rather than baton-pass it off, and chase them when they inevitably wander off, wouldn't it be easier if you can just hand each of those wonderful volunteers their own roll and tell them to go nuts?
3. Delegate, delegate, delegate
Or, as I've been singing to myself all weekend: Deeeeelegate good times, come on! There are people who want to do things — they love to do things, they crave doing things. Find them. Use them. They will be as happy as a pig in shoes. Sometimes you will have strokes of brilliance (aerialist climbing the tall ladder to hang the twinkle lights from the top of ceiling — brilliant) and sometimes you will be not-so brilliant (yes, I spent a couple hours re-doing someone's incredibly well-intentioned but ultimately un-usable work and let's leave it at that). If people don't want to work, don't waste your time freaking out and chasing them down; your time is valuable — you have a wedding to pull off. Let those who want to day-drink and sit around day-drink and sit around. Trying to make them be useful is only going to cause more stress, so focus instead on the people that are there to help and Get It Done.
4. Learn who your allies are
And then learn their names and cell numbers. When it became apparent that the venue's coordinator was somewhat inept, I was so fortunate to have stumbled on some wonderfully efficient staffers that then became my best friends for the weekend. Thank god for them.
Although it shouldn't be a surprise to a venue that regularly caters big party events that we may need speakers and a microphone or two, I was told repeatedly by the coordinator that that was something he would have to check up on. It got to the point that it was an hour before the ceremony and there still wasn't anything even approaching a speaker. So I went ahead and called my buddy-on-staff, Greg. Greg swept in at the eleventh hour and got everything set up and so quickly that nobody even realized that sound was a thing that very nearly didn't happen.
5. Grab a moment
There may or may not have been a moment when I dragged my future husband into the coin laundry building so that I could silently cry. It's fine, it happened. I was stressed and overwhelmed and it was time to take a moment for me. When I was done, I wiped my eyes dry. Could I have used that time more productively? Oh, I'm sure I could have. But crying was the release valve I needed and after I had taken care of that little bit of business, I could let it go and get back to work.
6. Sometimes people just need someone to yell
I have been in some form of customer service my entire gainfully-employed life. One of the most important skills I have acquired is the ability to be yelled at. Some people are yellers. They just are. They are going to have grossly inappropriate reactions to minor setbacks and while it sucks, it's just going to happen.
When it does, plaster on your most sincere “listening face” and nod along while their words blur together into white noise (there's really no use in listening to their entire problem at that point. It won't be rational and most likely they are just going to say something that will hurt your feelings). When they have slowed down, that's when you unleash the magic phrase.
Repeat after me: “I am so sorry you feel that way. What is there that I can do to make this better for you?”
A yeller is someone that for one reason or another feels powerless. They want to be heard and acknowledged and even though they are lashing out at you, it's rarely personal. Once you get the ego out of the way, then you can tackle the actual issue in a form that is useful and productive. If there is nothing you can, in all honesty, do to help their situation, then give them something. No, really, I've given people water, a chip, a chair to sit in, just about anything that is nearby and mine to give away. If you make a yeller feel like a VIP it will help ease that powerless feeling and most likely, it will turn you into their best buddy.
7. Mind your Ps and Qs
I have seen it with own eyes: a sincerely given “thank you” can move mountains. There will be tons to do, and you might be tempted to forget the things your mama (or Sesame Street) taught you. But let me tell you now: don't sacrifice politeness for efficiency.
Take a moment to tell each person thank you when you assign a task; tell them thank you when you check in on it; and track them down after and say thank you when they finish. This is not me moralizing here, it's strategic. Everyone wants to feel valued, even the most bristly and combative personalities. If you make someone feel like their most minor contribution matters they will feel like part of the team. Once they are invested, they will be easier to wheedle into performing the next task you need from them, and when that task is just as appreciated, they will be fine with doing another task. Sometimes they will even start to do wonderfully helpful things before you even ask, and it will be a beautiful thing.
At the end, everyone came together. And while there were some snags along the way, some things I really wish could have been smoother, that stuff will fade from memory eventually until only the beautiful moments — the waitress that teared up at the bride and groom's light saber reception entrance; the bride's mother's memorial candle still lit by the lake, quietly keeping vigil while her daughter danced and laughed indoors; watching the man I will eventually marry carry a glowing grocery bag of LED lights through the night to change out the mason jar pathway luminaries from white to blue because “staff was supposed to” and it “was important to the bride and groom” and know in my heart of hearts that this is who I want to spend the rest of my life with — only these moments will remain.
Who else has learned a thing or two about throwing their own shindig from being “behind the scenes” at a wedding?
Comments on Buy more tape, and 6 other things I learned as a day-of coordinator
Repeat after me: “I am so sorry you feel that way. What is there that I can do to make this better for you?”
God that is some great advice. Seriously.
This is such a great article! My wedding is in three weeks and we are basically doing everything ourselves. No money for a coordinator, but now I’m thinking of asking a friend to co-coordinate with me to take some of the pressure off. We have lots of friends and family who are willing to pitch in, so this was the perfect pat-on-the-back, go-get-’em advice I needed to help me confidently and efficiently ask for help. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!
I’m an event planner. I’ve been a wedding planner, a day-of coordinator and venue coordinator. All of the above. There is no way I could have said it better. I have always been the best person to be yelled at. I’ve been yelled at at close to midnight for something minor that happened in the morning that I already took care of. One guy at my venue coordinator job was always mean to everyone and yelled all the time. As the youngest and newest employee it was my unspoken job to take his abuse while everybody else ran and hid. No sweat.
Minding your P’s and Q’s makes people want to help you. I am always sincerely grateful for help. It can get crazy out there, especially if its a wedding. Help, even for 5 minutes is so amazingly wonderful.
My last thought, I have known for awhile that whenever I get married I will have a day-of coordinator. I know I won’t remember or enjoy MY wedding day otherwise. But I never considered battering with another friend getting married. That’s an amazing idea and one that can be pitched to others. Love this blog!
This is honestly great life advice. With this and the oh-shit-kit, I feel prepared for the world, not just a wedding. Thank you.
This is great. I don’t have a coordinator, but so far the venue staff have been great, so I’m hopeful that will continue, and I’m arriving at the venue the night before with the bridal party which I hope will give us lots of time for setup and sorting stuff out. I may try to find a friend I can pay back in favours and see if they can also help out, though!
Gaff tape is MAGIC. I worked as a costumer on some fairly involved shows, and I can’t tell you how many quick fixes were made with that stuff. When it came time for my own Oh Shit Kit, items involved were sewing supplies, safety pins, isopropyl alcohol (will take ink out of almost anything), and gaff tape.
Fantastic advice for weddings and working with people in high stress situations period. You sound like an awesome friend.
I wish I had a coordinator for my very DIY wedding last year, mostly because I couldn’t be nearly as assertive with my future inlaws when they said they would do something and didn’t….over and over again. I thank heaven for my many many friends who did bits and pieces without being assigned, but I should have chosen someone.
I was the amatuer planner–always wanted to be a wedding planner–with my new husband as back-up a few months later. Thank heavens he always has gaff tape and tools!
I went to two outdoor weddings this summer. One bride wore a floor length satin gown in her parents’ red clay dirt back yard. The bottom of her her dress had red dirt on it just from the walk down the aisle. She is a country girl and didn’t mind the dirt. The other bride had a tule dress with a train in a park with twigs and bark everywhere. Her skirt was full of pieces of bark after the ceremony. I helped pick them out and bustle her train. Either of those situations would drive me bonkers and if I get married out doors I’ll probably have a shorter dress, or be prepared for the bottom to be a mess. I had not been to an outdoor wedding before these two, and I’m glad to know about the potential for dress mishaps.
Yes! That’s great that you recognize that as an issue for you that you’ll solve in your wedding. That’s how I planned most of my wedding “what things did I see at weddings that I didn’t like? Ok let’s fix those things.” Perfect (for me) wedding!
And my outdoor wedding was also a long dress. Satin AND tulle! Biggest problem was gnats getting between the layers of tulle. We regularly had to lift the skirt and brush them out in the photo shoot. And the tulle got snagged a lot around the rustic-wood venue. So now it’s pretty much destroyed, but I didn’t have any hopes of saving it anyway.
My favorite piece of advice to give is: “stress all the details up until your wedding day, then let them go if they don’t happen”
We had board game centerpieces, and one board got left at the hotel. Oh well! (It was Yahtzee so still playable!). My 2-year old ring bearer didn’t want to wear his blazer that made him match the groom. No problem! My 12- and 18-month old flower girls wouldn’t keep their hand made by me tutus on, so they wore their backup outfits–perfectly fine! (PS-backup outfits for wee ones is a MUST!) Bus bringing guests arrived 30 minutes late? That’s why we built in buffer time.
I was very attentive to details. My coordinator, my family, the venue owner, were all very impressed by my level of detail. But I had a BLAST on my wedding day, because I didn’t sweat ANY details!
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