It’s a given that your wedding will be the event of the year, right? Well, for you and your man at least – and maybe your mum. But if you want your guests to rate your day as one of the best weddings ever, being oh-so-in-love isn’t enough. Instead, throwing a fun celebration is about making guests feel relaxed and encouraging a good atmosphere.
While you can’t guarantee everyone will smile so much their cheeks hurt, there’s still plenty you can do to create the right environment for guests to make their own fun.
BACK TO BASICS
Pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about ways to make your wedding fun? For many, the answer will be games or activities that give guests something to do. But before you spend hours Googling ideas for party games, don’t overlook the fact that many people will be happy just to socialise – so long as they’re comfortable. “Most people just want to get together and chat,” says wedding planner Emma Newman . “If you have ‘controlled fun’, you’ve got to be careful how you do it.”
Rather than load up on scheduled activities, first focus on getting the basics right. Think about providing plenty of good food, easy access to water, bathrooms and warmth or sun protection if needed. “If you don’t have those things, all the photo booths and face painting in the world won’t make up for it,” says Emma.
Having said that, games can still be a great addition to the party, so long as you recognise that different people can have very different definitions of fun. Strike a balance by making sure there’s plenty of time without planned activities and that people don’t feel obliged to join in if they’d rather relax on the sidelines.
Also, look for moments where guests might well welcome something to occupy their time. Emma gives the example of guests travelling on a bus, where a small gift can save them from being left to stare out the window.
For instance, try handing out packets of lollies with a note explaining the significance of the venue and why you love each other.
Take a moment to recall the last social occasion where you had a great time and left feeling happy and energised. Chances are, it involved connecting with other people – and probably talking a lot – rather than standing alone in the kitchen with a bowl of chips. In the same way, if your guests enjoy plenty of engaging conversation and make a new friend or two then your celebration is likely to rank highly on their fun-scale.
Although humans are social creatures, we sometimes need a little help to break the ice – and there are ways you can encourage this as a host. Steer clear of cheesy name tags or team-building exercises – forced interactions are awkward and will send many people into their shells faster than you can say “trying too hard”. Instead, give guests opportunities to chat and mingle in a natural way, says Emma. “A nice way is in the ceremony for the celebrant to say, ‘If you don’t know the person next to you, introduce yourself and find out how they know the couple’. It changes the whole atmosphere of a stilted ceremony.”
Seating guests next to someone they know will help them to feel at ease, or if you’re struggling with your seating plan then consider whether there might be shared interests that could help spark conversation between guests who didn’t know each other beforehand; perhaps they have a shared love of tennis or passion for the environment.
But don’t confuse common interests with common temperaments – research from Keystone College in the United States found close friendships often thrive because of personality differences – so feel free to sit your chatty friend next to your quieter cousin.
With all the tradition involved in weddings, guests will expect you to follow the formula. That leaves plenty of opportunities to create memorable moments that bring a fun atmosphere to your day – from having your grandma as the ‘flower girl’, to serving popcorn at the ceremony. Unexpected events make guests sit up and pay attention and are a good chance to make them smile. Just make sure your surprise is low-pressure for guests, as there’s a big difference between “Surprise! Ice-cream sundaes for everyone” and “Surprise! It’s time for impromptu speeches”.
Entertainer and Master of Ceremonies, Mike Steffens , says that if you do want guests to jump into the spotlight, when making a speech, for example, then offer plenty of warning. “Most people don’t like public speaking, so if you have formal speeches then suddenly ask if anyone else wants to say anything, you’re likely to have a tumbleweed blow through the venue.” Instead, he suggests making the request a few hours beforehand and providing paper and pens for people to note down thoughts if they wish. “If you do that, these speeches can add a lot of fun, but you can’t just spring it on people.” It’s best to keep guests well informed of practicalities (such as when dinner will be served) and add a few fun surprises along the way. “If you let people know what’s going on, they’re comfortable,” says Mike.
Throwing a fun party is like choosing the New Zealand flag: you can’t please everyone. But while some guests will love a wild night and others will seek out quieter spots in which to sit and chat, one thing they have in common is that they’re there to celebrate your marriage. If you can tap into their emotions and get them smiling, laughing, or even shedding a few happy tears, you can bet they’ll remember your special day fondly.
From your vows to your first dance, emotional moments help to keep your guests’ energy up, says Mike. “What happens with weddings is the energy builds. Those emotional moments are key to creating a fun atmosphere.” One way to pluck at your guests’ heartstrings is to find a way to tell your love story. You might string up photos showing highlights of your relationship, or have your celebrant or MC tell the tale of how you fell in love.
Another emotional moment is your grand entrance to the reception, which Mike says makes for an ideal transition between a romantic ceremony and a party atmosphere. “The grand entrance is a moment to savour, and is key to getting the night off to a good start.” He suggests having your MC deal with any housekeeping information before you and your man arrive. “There’s nothing worse than a bride and groom being told where the toilets are.” Your MC can then cue your chosen music and welcome you in. “Then you absolutely raise the roof and all of a sudden you turn that laid-back, romantic afternoon into a celebration.”
A SENSE OF OCCASION
One of your best opportunities to wow guests and get them in the party mood is when they first see your venue. Beautiful, creative styling is a sure-fire way to add atmosphere and gives guests something to look at when they arrive. Interactive displays are especially effective as they get people involved and provide a talking point. You could display segments of your love letters, or offer a dessert buffet where people can concoct their own sweet treats.
What you include in your centrepieces can also keep guests entertained. Auckland bride, Amy Cleary, placed cards in the middle of the reception tables, asking guests to write advice on topics such as date night ideas and how to keep each other happy. “It gave our guests something to talk about and they had fun writing words of wisdom – both heartfelt and tongue-in-cheek – for us to read later.”
Music is also key to setting the right tone for your wedding. Celebrant Felicity Murray suggests a live performance to add energy to your celebration. “There’s nothing like live music, especially if a guest can do it!” A string quartet, reggae band or DJ will all create very different vibes, so choose music with the tone of your day in mind. Even if you’ve hired musicians for the whole party, have other music prepared for when they need to take a break, or as background music for games. “It’s just like a game show on television – they never do it to dead air,” says Mike. “The music keeps the energy going and keeps things fun.”
LET IT GO
A paradox of parties is that the less you try to make guests enjoy themselves, the more fun they’re likely to have. And key to letting fun unfold naturally is for you to be relaxed. Wedding planner Aimee Shadbolt says if you and your groom are having a good time, your loved ones will be more relaxed in turn. “Stress and worry can be easy to notice, so your guests will pick up on this and may feel uncomfortable themselves.”
But how to relax when there’s so much to think about? Make sure you’re well prepared and that you’re happy with your choices, says Aimee. “It’s hard not to get bogged down in details during the planning process, but if you keep reminding yourself that this day is all about you, you will definitely feel more relaxed.”