The following is a guest post written by Larry Martin of A & A Disc Jockey Service. For more on A & A, visit their website or call (336) 292-5446.
Why have a timeline
A complete wedding timeline will cover everything from arrival of the vendors, pinning on boutonnieres, to what time linens will arrive. For our purposes, because it's the part of the day I'm involved in, I'm going to focus on the timeline for the celebration.
You absolutely MUST know your objectives. A wedding celebration consists of a lot of moving pieces. Think of it like a jig saw puzzle. If you have no idea what it is supposed to look like once it's complete, then it is more difficult to put all the pieces together in the proper order. Find your vision for what you want it to look and feel like.
Ask yourself some questions about your dream celebration:
How do you want your guests to feel about your day?
What do you want them to say about your celebration as they drive home that night?
What are the most important memories you want to have when it is over?
Once you have a clear idea of a destination or your goals, determining the correct path will be much easier!
In the southeast, most of the wedding receptions average about 4 hours in length. Roughly, they usually break down this way: Approximately an hour for cocktail hour, about an hour for the meal, and then that leaves 2 hours for several traditional activities (bouquet, garter, formal departure, etc.) and open dancing. This is usually enough time for everything you wish to do, however you can always add more time if you like.
Purpose of a Timeline
1. It establishes your goals for the event.
2. It sets out YOUR priorities for your event. If you don’t set them, someone else will.
3. It assures things that are important to you are done and not overlooked in the excitement of the moment.
4. It allows you to set the tempo and mood for your celebration.
5. You can use it to arrange activities in a way that flows smoothly and tells your “love story”.
There are certain activities that must be established and demand specific time allotments, so those must be set first to build a logical time. Keep in mind that almost anything you include in your timeline can be planned for and worked around. Anything that happens that isn't in your timeline, simply puts you behind schedule and cuts into other activities.
The ceremony: What time does it start? Keep in mind that your prelude music should start approximately 30 minutes prior. How long is your ceremony? Ask your officiant because the denomination matters. Vendors will be asking you what time the reception begins. Calculate it: start time for ceremony + length of ceremony + travel time (if any) for guests to get from the ceremony to the reception = the start time for your reception.
Photos: Unless they take the majority of your pictures before the ceremony, most photographers will need some time to take post wedding photos after the ceremony. How much depends on your photographer and you. Are the photographs one of your highest priorities? If so, you might want to allow a little more time to get a few more "creative" shots. Include that time in your timeline and you can plan other activities around it, but be aware of extremes.
Food: One of the most important reasons to have a reasonably accurate timeline is for your food service. Food has a short window of optimal time to be served and your caterer wants your guests to get their food within that window to maximize their enjoyment of it.
Toasts: Want to know what a difficult job is for a bride? Try going to your dad (who may be paying for all of this) and telling him to please keep his welcome speech short. It is going to be a difficult conversation, but we did an event last year where the bride's dad (while guests were waiting to eat) spoke for 25 minutes, even as his daughter was running her finger across her throat, which is a sign that we thought was universally understood!
Weddings are emotional times and if any speaker gets on the microphone without a script or at least bullet points to keep them on topic, they could ramble on longer than you would like them to. Perhaps the easiest way to deal with this is to simply contact each person that is doing a toast and set some parameters, if you want to maintain control over your schedule for the night.
Party Time: First, let me state, no MC or wedding director will let you leave the night without cutting your cake or doing your first dance if those things are on your schedule. The party time is one area where you have some flexibility. If you’re running ahead of schedule, you’ll have more time for you and your guests to dance and celebrate your union. If you are running behind schedule, then this is the area of the celebration that will have to be cut. Here’s where knowing your priorities will help. If you know that your family and friends aren’t big dancers, this is not a priority for you and time could be cut from that if you get behind. No matter which events during the night are most important or least, you must not allow yourself to get too far behind.
Your Ending Time: One of the most important times to get from your venue is the time by which everyone (including your vendors) must be off the premises. As an example, the average DJ will need at least a solid hour from the time they play your departure song to pack everything up and get off the premises. If you added extra lighting and other equipment or in the case of a band it could take longer. When doing your timeline allow for your vendors to pack up and get out.
It may sound like just another piece of paperwork you have to complete, but your timeline is your opportunity to take control of your celebration and make certain that your priorities are observed. There is an old saying: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." One of the reasons I've always put a premium on proper planning is that I am, at heart, a bit lazy. And I have found over the years that it takes much less energy to avoid a problem, than it does to fix one after it happens. If you have questions or need assistance as you tackle your personal timeline, feel free to call.