Welcome to part four of a five-part series on planning intentional, artful weddings, inspired by Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering. In past posts, I shared smart insight from Parker combined with my experience as a destination event planner to help you create a wedding that begins with purpose and choose a venue that speaks for you. I also shared how you can prepare your guests for a joyful and connected wedding day. This week, you’ll learn some secrets to create a strong wedding day timeline!
Without a strong wedding day timeline, it’s easy for an event to go off the rails quickly. Your professionals won’t know where to be or how to collaborate with each other. Your loved ones won’t know what time to be on site for hair, makeup or photos. Important intentional moments can be rushed or outright skipped.
But what if I told you that all these things are really just the basics of your wedding day timeline? What if there’s a whole other level of timeline planning that really creates the special sauce for a once-in-a-lifetime day?
Welp, that’s what I’m about to tell ya. Almost anyone can write up a decent wedding day timeline that keeps things from blowing up. Here’s how to create an advanced timeline that actually brings meaning and connection to your event!
Priya Parker, as always, tells it like it is:
“In the first few moments of a gathering, we are all . . . reading cues and asking ourselves: What do I think of this gathering? Am I in good hands? Is the host nervous? Should I be? What’s going to happen here? Is this worth my time? Do I belong? Do I want to belong? The opening is, therefore, an important opportunity to establish the legitimacy of your gathering.”
In other words, when you’re planning your wedding day timeline, concentrate on opening powerfully. You have many opportunities to open each part of the evening. Consider, for instance:
As Parker says, “Your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy. It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honor them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.”
A strong wedding day timeline takes into account the way that the sun changes throughout the day. We are human, and our bodies respond to the physiological cycle of circadian rhythm. In the mornings, we may struggle out of bed, but then we have a time of great productivity. After lunchtime, we might feel a bit snoozy in the afternoon. After dark, our inner party animals come out to play.
Always consider sunlight when you create your wedding day timeline. What lighting will your ceremony location have at that time of day (see the photo at the top of this post, when the sun gently dipped behind the tree line during the ceremony)? How might that impact the overall mood and experience? How will lighting change the energy captured in your wedding photos?
Some venues require strict event times that may not be ideal with the way the sunlight changes, and that’s okay. Experienced planners and photographers know how to mitigate these situations and will support you in these situations.
When everything is planned to the second, there’s little time left for magic. We’ll talk more about this more in the final blog post of this series, but for now, just know it’s best not to over-engineer your wedding day timeline.
If you’re trying to accomplish every special moment you’ve seen in wedding videos and Pinterest, you may be operating out of fear. I know, because I did it myself at my own wedding years ago. I spent months living in DIY hell and planning every moment to the exact minute. My husband and I paid for our own wedding, and I was in a time of my life when I was young and still felt I had so much to prove. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t suck every bit of life out of that one important and expensive day.
When the wedding day came, I was sadly much more focused on “What’s supposed to happen next?” than on letting the story unfold. In the end, some of my favorite moments weren’t scripted at all. I hardly remember the dad/daughter first look I insistently put on the schedule (thanks to Pinterest), but I can remember exactly how the world looked and felt when I sat on my suite balcony waiting with him, listening to the quartet playing before the ceremony. My favorite picture from the day is a simple one of my husband and I walking to our reception. It’s a photo that was nowhere on my “must have” list, but was a moment that my brilliant wedding photographer had the eye to capture perfectly.
If you leave no room for spontaneity in your wedding day timeline, the event will feel stale and contrived. If I could go back and give my engaged gal self some real talk, I’d say, “Cut down this laundry list of moments you want to engineer. Let the day happen.” It’s a little late for that now, so I’m passing the advice along to you, as an experienced planner who now knows better.
Toasts should be something magnificent and special. Not just good. If you’re putting them on your wedding day timeline just because you think you’re “supposed to,” or “have to” to honor your VIP wedding party members, think again.
I have seen some extraordinary toasts. One of my favorites of all time is the one you can see a snippet of in this wedding I planned in Italy. It’s engaging, funny, sincere, and in tune with the couple’s purpose. I wish I could share the entire toast with you so you could understand just how well it connected with the room and brought a deep sense of meaning to the event.
This toast was not self-serving, boring, or an unrelated comedy hour about the groom’s fun times in college. It wasn’t a yawn-inducing string of compliments to the couple. It was a highly impactful element of the day that would have been sorely missed if it didn’t happen.
I challenge you to only add toasts to your timeline if you know they will have this kind of positive impact. Then, challenge your “toasters” to share something with your guests that they don’t already know. Here are some guidelines to share with them:
If you don’t know 100% that toasts will be a valuable addition to your timeline, but can’t fathom scrapping them completely, schedule them for the rehearsal or welcome dinner. Don’t allocate valuable wedding day timeline space to anything that doesn’t serve your purpose. If you really need convincing, calculate the cost per minute for this shin-dig and see how that changes your perspective.
Priya Parker tells us about Lady Anson, who has been Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth’s party planner for more than 50 years. Anson recommends you end a party when there are still at least twenty people on the dance floor. She once told The New York Times, “If you let it peter out, it’s death.”
Death, y’all. On your wedding day. Not cool. The Queen is 93 years old, and her event planner still isn’t letting her dance parties dwindle. Don’t allow the energy of the room to evaporate while the party drags on. End strong!
On your wedding day timeline, schedule for your DJ to let guests know there are only 3 songs left. Or, if your venue allows it, announce last call. It lets everyone know the evening must die a small death, and if they have any unfinished business to attend to, now is the time. They can leave it all on the dance floor!
Lastly, find a way to connect your tribe and circle back to your purpose at the end of the night. Maybe it’s with a quick-edit slideshow of photos from the weekend. Or, perhaps it’s a fireworks show to your favorite song. It could even be a sing-along to that song you all loved in college. No matter what you do, end strong. Then, get to living happily ever after!
Meggie Francisco is a destination event planner based in Columbus, Ohio who can help you bring your wedding purpose to life. She plans and designs intimate and intentional events with clients all around the world, and she’d love to work with you!
Some of her favorite destination wedding locations include Cabo, Tulum, Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. She also adores planning events in Colorado and Italy, and of course in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio!
If you’re interested in working with an event planner who sincerely cares about your experience, contact Meggie today to get started.