Great events seldom just “happen.” Study, planning and organization are all key components to creating exceptional parties. And weddings, even from the DJ and MC point of view, are no exception.
Now is the time of year when I find myself fully immersed in first planning sessions for my weddings to come later this year. My wedding couples and I are in full swing, brainstorming, outlining, and putting together the pieces for the great weddings that each of them will be hosting this year.
With the significant number of details that come with planning the average wedding today, it is imperative that I insert myself into the conversation of the wedding planning details many months in advance. I do that in a variety of ways such as
communicating with all vendors involved in that wedding and doing venue site visits.
The majority of the planning conversations I am involved with are face-to-face with my wedding couples. This week’s thought will outline the common topics of those conversations and the timeline that is generally followed.
5 – 6 Months Prior
The first planning meeting scheduled with my wedding couples is a major one. It often lasts 2+ hours in length and can be even longer if I am also involved in their ceremony. I will drive up to 30 minutes away to meet them (most often at a coffee shop or their house) or we’ll simply meet using video chat software such as Zoom.
Ahead of this meeting, via email, they’ve been instructed to fill in all three of the contact forms in their planning portal area (powered by DJ Event Planner). They’ve also been told that, as a bonus, if they are able to completely fill in their Love Story questionnaires, it might help inspire a uniquely creative idea for their wedding. Well over half of all my couples have their Love Story questionnaires finished prior to this meeting.
After spending some time catching up on what’s been happening in their lives and my own, we get down to details.
This meeting begins with general conversation about the timeline for their ceremony and reception. We discuss the ceremony time they are hoping/planning for and how that will work with the times for their reception. Often, this meeting takes place before their invitations have been finalized, so I am able to influence the times and wording they use on the invites.
In my region for instance, wedding couples often write in cocktails at one time and dinner at another (Cocktails at 5:00, Dinner at 6:00). What I coach them do instead, is to list the cocktail start time and then the “reception” start time (instead of “dinner”). The reason of course is that many things are going to happen before dinner actually begins and the guests don’t know how much earlier they should arrive. For instance, we don’t want guests still arriving while we’ve got the Grand Entrance underway. (Seldom does the wedding ceremony flow directly into cocktails/reception here, travel between locations is common, as is an hour or two of open time.) This is one simple reason why I ensure I am a part of this conversation, without simply having them TELL me when things are happening.
From there, we discuss various formats that are possible for their grand entrance. While the formats don’t always vary to greatly from one wedding to another, the variety of ways in which a wedding couple and their wedding party can be introduced is extensive, as Peter Merry demonstrates in his book “The Best Wedding Reception… EVER” with 10 or so pages dedicated to this very moment.
Options for kissing and buffet invitation activities are then discussed. Rather then pulling from a standard list of game options, the goal with each and every wedding is to come up with something that has a unique purpose or reason for that wedding couple. My couples often ask about game ideas that have worked well at previous weddings, but before I divulge that information, I push the discussion toward what we might be able to create uniquely for them.
What are their hobbies? What do they do during get-togethers with friends? (Yes, enjoying drinks is a common answer!) Do their family have any traditions that come up during holiday time? Was there something unique about their engagement? Are they obsessed with movies? Do they have favourite TV shows? Are they known for unique things among their friends? Are they travellers?
The questions are easy and endless and often provide insight into my couples that is really, really valuable. Many times, this conversation results in a uniquely creative activity designed just for their wedding with reason and purpose, rather then a selection from the regular smorgasbord of activities every DJ suggests.
I will then ask other questions related to someone offering a blessing ahead of their meal (and if they choose to include this, suggest people if they’re unsure of who to ask), what their party favours are (if they are having them), what their thoughts on a cake cutting are, etc.
Music is also an ongoing part of the conversation the entire way through and often they’ll have some of their music choices made and already entered into their online planning portal.
Often times, this meeting will end with discussion about who might be presenting the toasts and welcomes. I’ll coach them on who they might ask for these moments (if they haven’t chosen people already) and we’ll discuss the style of speaker each person might be and why that person has been chosen to present their speech. I will ask them to confirm with each person in the coming weeks that they are indeed speaking and then I prepare material for sending out to all of those presenters. (see this post for more info on that)
I’ve only described to you the major points of this meeting, but that covers most of the larger aspects. Seldom do answers come forward for every discussion point listed above, but this meeting is designed to start getting the wheels turning so that by next meeting, a lot of solid plans are beginning to formulate.
1 – 2 Months Prior
This final meeting is really important for a variety of reasons. The most important of which, is that it takes place at the wedding venue. If the ceremony and reception venues are in different locations, both places are visited during this meeting.
It does not matter if I have worked at the wedding venue twice or 30 times, a meeting always takes place at the venue for the benefit of the wedding couple to understand what I know about how the space might be setup for their big day.
General layout is discussed, why certain things might be placed in particular areas of the room and everything is looked at from a guest experience point of view. Does they layout contribute to the shortest possible average distance between the head table and all of the wedding guests? Where will my setup be placed? Where will the cake be placed and does that work with the flow of events that have been planned out for the evening? Where will the Grand Entrance take place? How will you and your wedding party be walking in? What staging positions will be used throughout the Grand Entrance?
If the couple is hosting a cake cutting ceremony, a dry walkthrough of how they will actually cut their cake is performed. With the bride and groom standing in appropriate places, they will be walked through how to cut their cake, remove the piece and cut it into two. Then what happens from there is discussed. Will they feed each other? Will they simply link their arms together and feed themselves? Will their cake cutting be silly and fun? Will it be a more touching and romantic moment? What will I, the MC, be saying during this time?
We then move to confirming and discussing all other details of their reception. I will go over their wedding party biography forms in detail with them there and ask any questions that I might have in relation to what they wrote. If anything needs further explanation, this is when those details are discussed.
If any custom recording needs to be done for voice over edits or anything else along these lines, this is the meeting where that happens. The reason for recording at this meeting is very particular. My relationship with the couple has often grown into more of a friendship by this point and that allows for a more open and honest conversation to take place if, for instance, I might be recording for a special first dance audio edit.
Staging positions for where the speeches will take place (see here) and discussion of lighting is also brought up at this meeting. I will have brought some light fixtures (Chauvet Freedom Par Hex-4) to the venue which, if they’ve booked my uplighting system, allows us to play with colour and decide on what, exactly, they’d like.
Rarely do all of the details become 100% finalized at this meeting, but most often, whatever is left can simply be done via email and phone calls. This meeting, without any recording sessions, is generally about 2 hours in length.
In-between Meeting & Additional Meetings
With the overwhelming majority of my wedding couples, there is often a smaller 30 – 60 minute meeting that takes place between the initial 5 – 6 month meeting and the final 1 – 2 month meeting. This is made available to them if they’d just like to touch base and chat about whatever is going on. This meeting generally takes place through a phone call or using Zoom, but sometimes takes place in person.
We will often begin by confirming details that were decided on at the first meeting and continue to brainstorm on any activities that still haven’t been finalized from that first discussion. If they are needing help with any song ideas, particularly song ideas for their wedding party members during the grand entrance, I’ll help them brainstorm that, based on what they have written about that person. (Most of my grand entrances take place with every single wedding party member having their own theme song.)
Background music is also discussed at this meeting. Background music ideas, tempo, and overall feel for their cocktail and dinner hours are talked about as well as the prelude music for their ceremony (pending my involvement in their ceremony, which is currently about 75% of the time).
If they haven’t yet completed them, the wedding couple is advised that we will be going over their wedding party biography forms in detail at the next meeting (the 1 – 2 month meeting).
During the final few weeks leading up to the wedding, sometimes the wedding couple will ask to have a phone call or another meeting with me. Provided my schedule allows, I always oblige them. My wedding couples are informed during the initial consultation that I hire myself out by the event, not by the hour. They understand that I will meet with them as many times as is necessary to ensure their satisfaction.
Again, music is a common thread in all of these meetings. Insight into the likes and dislikes of my wedding couples becomes very apparent as I often witness the process by which they’re deciding between different songs for certain moments. This insight is remarkably valuable when it comes to my role as a DJ because I can often create moments from this knowledge and experience that other DJs might otherwise miss.
Why I meet with my couples so frequently and for such lengths of time boils down to two major things:
- As I wrote about years ago, I do not want to work for my wedding couples, I only want to work with them. The professional experience I bring to the table often influences their choices before a major decision they might have made on their own becomes too difficult to change. The results I am able to help my couples produce and the word of mouth that often follows, make all of this effort worth my time.
- Just a couple of months ago I wrote about the idea that I only work with friends. Yes, “clients” hire me, but if I’ve done my job correctly, I only end up working with “friends.” Spending this time in planning sessions with my wedding couples allows that relationship to organically and honestly grow in a way where nothing is faked or acted through on wedding day.
This is an outline for what creates the events I am so blessed to be a part of and what creates the word of mouth machine that drives my business to this day.
I’m sure you have many questions, so ask away in the comments section below.
8 thoughts on “Planning For Success”
Thank you for sharing your process. You are a true “Go-Giver” in our industry.
How do you coordinate with the venue to have the final planning meeting there? I have done site visits but usually for venues that are new to me, and most of the time they give you maybe 15 to 30 minutes.
Hey Adam — All venues hear from me 4 – 5 months before the wedding (particularly important if I’ve never worded there) and then again when that final planning meeting is booked. Even if we can only see the room for 15 – 30 minutes, we’ll then do the rest of our meeting at a restaurant/cafe at that venue or somewhere else close. If recording is required, then the venue often has no problem setting up a quiet board room or some other place for us.
Thank you for your comment!
All great tips on your process Dave. I find I am booking many new wedding clients from other cities and most of the time they are only home locally during holidays. Which of course makes it more difficult to meet when family gatherings are a priority. I know we use zoom for the CPDJA meetings but do your clients prefer other methods? Maybe Skype or FaceTime?
Hey Ritchie — I insist on using Zoom for all client meetings. The “sell” on it, if you will, is that they require no particular account or username/password for it (unlike Skype where they also have to add me as a contact). The benefit to Zoom is because I can easily screen share if I need to in order to show them photographs, videos, documents, etc. Zoom is just EASY and it is rock solid. And not platform specific (unlike FaceTime, that requires all users be Apple/iPhone/iPad users).
All great stuff for planning, personal dedication to the client’s needs and very good questions to ask or consider. A wedding is a very special day for the couple, the family and close friends. Every DJ, MC, vendor, event planer all should treat their services the same. Thank you for sharing. I’ve learned quite a bit from this blog that I can add to my event planning and preparations.
What’s a common suggestion for cutting the cake? I always have a difficult time suggesting something unique to the couples and how to announce it.
Do you incorporate a slide show for the love story? I like to include a short movie trailer before photos to grab peoples attention.
What recording device do you use for voice over edits of a special song? Would like to best possible audio when I overlay.
Do you like getting the parents involved in the planning? Typically they love to be part of it one way or another.
Hey Jesse — Dealing with the cake cutting in an effective and appropriate manner truly requires attending the Silver Level MarBecca MC workshop. The basics though, are that you should do some research into the REASON for a cake cutting to begin with. Mark elaborates on this A LOT in the Silver level MC workshop (and takes nearly a day to do it…!)
If you’ve attended a MarBecca workshop, you’ll fully understand the Love Story and the uniqueness to it’s presentation, as Mark & Rebecca initially developed it. That is the route I take to presenting most of my Love Stories. Having said that, I have, only once or twice, used visual imagery onscreen to aid in the presentation of a Love Story. But in each case, there were very specific reasons for doing so. It’s not “a thing” that I always do.
For recording interviews, I use this microphone on a table top mic stand: http://www.shure.com/americas/products/microphones/pg-alta/pga27-large-diaphragm-side-address-cardioid-condenser-microphone
Parents are not typically involved in the planning I am most heavily involved with. What the wedding couple & I are working on will be a better surprise for them too, unless the couple insist on their involvement. Having said that, I do involve the parents in a few small things, but that’ll come in a later blog post. 🙂 (it requires more space then just here in a comment!)
Thank you for the questions!
Planning is essential, I love hearing about your process.
Thank you Rob.