Planning For Success

July 15, 2017 by Dave Ternier

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

Why I meet with my couples so frequently and for such lengths of time boils down to two major things:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

~ Dave

Dave Ternier Dave Ternier (26 Posts)

Dave Ternier began his DJ career in 1997 as a self taught, part time, mobile DJ. Since 2011, Dave has gone full time as a single operator DJ/MC for his company, Special Request Weddings. He is a proud Canadian DJ, MC, member of the CPDJA and recipient of the international WED Guild® certification. Family life is kept busy alongside his beautiful wife Kathryn and their two daughters, Kiana and Marika. Dave is also the founding author of www.aDJthought.com, an industry blog focused exclusively on mobile wedding DJs.


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