One wonderful reception: a brilliant event and the DJ/MC behind it
A few years ago, I had the privilege of watching one of the world’s top wedding disc jockeys work his magic at a wedding in Long Beach, California. Having been in the wedding industry for the past 25+ years, I’ve seen my share of great weddings-along with a whole lot of bad ones. This one ranks right at the top.
The reception was held outside, at the Long Beach Museum of Art (visit www.lbma.org for a look at the venue). It’s a magnificent facility, with a grass patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The weather was California-perfect that day, with neither a breath of wind nor a single cloud overhead. And as the sun melted into the horizon and night fell upon us, the evening came alive with candle-lit tables and twinkling lights all around.
Adding to that night of perfection was the presence of a great group of guests. The marriage enjoined a firefighter with a police officer, so the audience was mainly comprised of their colleagues. And while the mixing of the police department with the fire department can sometimes spark fireworks, in this case there was just a friendly rivalry that spawned some hilarious toasts and evolved into some hardcore partying (the hosts even chartered a bus to drive everyone home afterwards).
But the key factor in the success of that particular event was the masterful work of the man at the podium. He was like a seasoned conductor who used all his tools to quite literally “play” his audience, bringing them from a comfortable mellow to a glorious high, then back down to a pleasant finish that focused on the collective joy of a wedding well-celebrated.
The Perfect Start to a Perfect Night
Having organized and presided over my share of special events over the years, I can say with absolute certainty that one of the keys to a great event is to make guests feel welcome the moment they arrive-and music can play a big part in that (along with friendly “greeters” at the door offering flutes of champagne). If you can put a smile on their face when they arrive at the event, it will often extend right through to the end of it.
And that’s precisely what happened that afternoon: guests were warmly greeted, the champagne flowed and the “vibe” was immediately defined with a selection of light orchestral pieces that said “this promises to be a fun, classy event.”
Once everyone was seated, the wedding DJ (now serving as event MC) offered a formal welcome (on behalf of the bride and groom) and then immediately oriented them as to how the event would unfold. He was gracious with his approach-upbeat, sincere and genial-but slightly low key and self-effacing. His focus was on the bride and groom; they were the stars, not him. His goal was to honor them and to lead their guests through an evening that would celebrate their marriage (rather than showcase his talents).
He took immediate command of the event with the kind of confidence and professionalism that is the hallmark of all great MCs. While he had great presence and a deep, melodious voice, I think the main reason he was able to so effectively engage his audience was the fact that he was so thoroughly prepared.
Doing Your Homework
He rolled into his intro like a kid entering a classroom on the day of an exam, totally confident in the knowledge that he had done his homework and would ace the exam. This was his event-he was the guy who had helped the bride and groom plan it from start to finish-and he could hardly wait for it to get underway.
He had met with the couple well in advance of the wedding to map out a detailed agenda (in this case, he had filled out five pages of notes that accounted for every element of the event, from the manner of welcome to the eventual wind-down and bidding goodnight). In his words, it was the “script” he would use to direct the wedding (in the same way that a movie director would use a script to guide the production of a film).
He had made sure to get final approval of that agenda from the bridal couple so as to avoid any misunderstandings. And he had shared copies of that agenda with each of the other vendors involved (photographer; videographer; caterer; wedding planner) to help ensure everyone was quite literally on the same page throughout the night.
He had also reviewed a detailed checklist with the bridal couple that covered everything from the availability of power for his gear to the selection of music throughout the event. He knew precisely where the event was to be held, when it should start, when it should end and what it should “look like” through the eyes of the host (in this case, it was decidedly laid back, informal and designed for lots of dancing and frivolity).
The Grandest Entrance Yet
He orchestrated a grand entrance like none other I had seen. Again, he had done his homework by asking the bride and groom to provide background on each member of their wedding party; then, with the couple’s permission, he had contacted each one to conduct a brief interview designed to draw out a bit of “color” for their introduction (e.g. “How did you meet the bride and groom?” “What words of advice would you offer the bride about living with the groom?” “What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?” “If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would that be?”).
He then used that information to assemble some insightful-and often hilarious-introductions that were accompanied by a particular song to match the personality of each person being introduced. He even added sound effects and pre-recorded material to each intro. The guests loved it, the members of the bridal party each felt recognized, and with the audience now primed and ready to party, the bride and groom made their grand entrance to an absolute roar of cheers, laughter and applause. Believe me, this wedding was off to a great start.
The energy from that opening had everyone sky high, and the only thing I can liken it to is the experience of being “warmed up” by a comedian prior to the star’s big entrance (if you’ve ever attended a taping of “The Tonight Show” or “The David Letterman Show,” you’ll know what I’m talking about). And that buzz carried right through the entire event.
A formal dinner followed, and our MC recognized a few special guests and read some congratulatory notes and e-mails from guests unable to attend. He also entertained everyone with a little “game show” routine that tested guests’ knowledge of the wedding couple’s history together…and that, too, resulted in some truly hilarious moments.
Again, music set the mood. In this case, it was comprised mainly of jazzy little numbers that were never overwhelming but which nevertheless got the audience tapping their feet and primed for the dance that was to come.
Wedding Toasts Made Easy
Dinner was followed by a round of toasts – and again, the MC truly impressed me with his professionalism and attention to detail. Each of the “toasters” had been briefed in advance about the approximate time they would be expected to speak, the suggested length of their toast (no longer than three to five minutes, max) and their particular spot in the order of toasts.
They had also been given a quick lesson on the use of the microphone and offered the opportunity to experiment with it prior to the start of the reception. And finally, the MC made sure to offer a brief but classy introduction for each of the people chosen to speak (“And now I’d like to welcome the Bride’s brother, James O’Brien, to offer a Toast to the Bride.”).
The toasts were excellent-no drunken diatribes, no horribly unprepared ramblers and no material that could be considered Restricted Adult (and pardon the plug, but that’s because each of the speakers had been provided with a copy of my book, Wedding Toasts Made Easy six weeks prior to the wedding along with a personalized note from the bride and groom to thank them for their time in preparing the toast and to offer the book as a gift to guide them in their efforts).
The traditional cake cutting and round of first dances followed-again, seamlessly coordinated by our master of ceremonies (who had also “blocked out” the best locations for the photographer/videographer to set-up and capture the moment).
Dancing Under the Stars
But it was the dance that proved to be the highlight of the event. And again, I credit the DJ for making that happen.
Like the event itself, the playlist was carefully designed to offer a steady “build” in intensity, followed by a gradual return to the more mellow “good-night” numbers. The guests had a rollicking good time; the dance floor was pretty much full the entire night. And our party host shared a couple of secrets with me that I think helped make that possible.
First of all, with the agreement of the facility manager and wedding planner, he had recommended a slight reduction to the size of the dance floor. Through his trained eye, he had immediately determined that the relationship between size of guest list vs. size of dance floor was disproportionate. There simply weren’t enough guests to keep the dance floor full (as was originally configured).
But through the magic of downsizing (in this case, simply moving some tables closer to the dance floor), just a handful of dancers could provide the illusion that the floor was active and the party was non-stop. That, in turn, seemed to encourage a steady influx of dancers throughout the night. (Of course another theory was based on the vast amount of booze consumed by the off-duty fire and police officers, knowing that a bus was waiting to drive them home).
Factor #2, however, was perhaps the key reason for a flooded dancefloor. And it’s an incredibly simple concept that’s often overlooked by wedding disc jockeys. Our “spinner” in this case had presented the bride and groom with a suggested song list that was pretty much entirely based on “dance-ability.” He also got permission from the bride and groom to refuse to play any request that wasn’t similarly “dance-able.” The result: No sudden transition to the kind of heavy metal or country classic that can clear a dance floor faster than a cowboy with his boots off.
The evening concluded with a heartfelt “farewell” for the couple. The reception was a huge success, and everyone seemed genuinely happy for the new couple.
I also noticed a steady stream of guests asking the disc jockey for his card. That’s apparently the primary source of new business for him-guests who see him perform and referrals from satisfied clients. There is no better way to build a service business-focus on providing exceptional value and the phone will continue to ring.
So who was this mysterious master of wedding entertainment? You might know him. His name is Peter Merry-DJ, author, seminar speaker and past-president of the American Disc Jockey Association. And on a near perfect night beneath the stars of Southern California, he was about as perfect as you can get (unless, of course, I had been the MC).
Tom Haibeck is the author of The Wedding MC handbook and Wedding Toasts Made Easy, both of which can be purchased from his website at WeddingToasts.com or at major bookstores throughout North America.
He was like a seasoned conductor who used all his tools to quite literally “play” his audience.
Filed Under: Issues from 2007, Performing
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