In the course of my ten-year career as a wedding photographer I’ve been to over 250 weddings, and the sad reality is that when weddings aren’t designed for experience, they often end up feeling pretty much all the same. I believe most couples genuinely want their weddings to be meaningful, engaging, and memorable experiences for everyone present, but since most have never planned a wedding before, there’s a tendency to focus only on the aesthetic details because we think that’s all we can control. A truly remarkable wedding requires expanding the focus of your wedding planning beyond the tangible details to the emotional journey as well, creating intentional moments, rituals, and experiences to help your group gel, foster and deepen personal connections, and ensure everyone feels a deep sense of belonging.
Now an Experience Designer, I created this list to help you create an unforgettable experience for your guests. You can use them as-is, or as inspiration to come up with your own ideas, and most of them cost absolutely nothing extra to implement. That’s right, when you focus on experience, you can create a magical wedding on literally any budget!
Rethinking Wedding Invitations
The experience of your wedding actually begins months before the wedding itself at the moment people first hear about it. This is your opportunity to set the expectation that your wedding is one not to be missed, and the possibilities to build excitement and anticipation are truly endless. We all know what a wedding invitation looks like. It’s a fancy sheet with calligraphy information inside of an envelope and maybe a couple extra inserts for RSVPing and additional info. But what if you completely broke the format and did something totally outside the box? I love this example from graphic designer Kelli Anderson who created an invitation that is also a record player. I mean, it doesn’t get much more creative than that. But what about a hide-a-book made from your favorite love story? Or an invitation printed like a magazine or newspaper that includes stories about your love story and details about the destination where you’ll wed? What if the invitation is handwritten on a piece of notebook paper and is folded like an old note like the kind kids passed in middle school? Or a fold-your-own-fortune teller. Or a vintage postcard from the place you’re getting married? Think about how surprising and delightful it would be to get something so unexpected in the mail, something interactive or nostalgic!
Online Quiz to Collect Information
This is a great free option to get people excited about your wedding because by collecting information from guests you are letting them know that their needs matter to you and that you plan on ensuring that they feel well taken care of. If you have less than 100 guests you can create a beautiful web survey totally for free on TypeForm, or just a few bucks, and you can collect information about anything that would help you deliver an incredible experience: dietary restrictions, favorite songs, travel details so you have someone greet them, Covid concerns so you can be sure to address them, or even get more esoteric with it and ask them more personal questions like what makes them cry.
Ritual of Putting Away Phone
Phones are one of the biggest intrusions in being fully present to the experience of your wedding. Making a hard rule around no phones might make people defensive, especially since people also use them as cameras. The best option I have found is inviting people to leave their phones in a safe place when they enter. Presenting it as an invitation instead of a rule makes it more appealing, though it’s important to let them know they are free from having to document the day because you will be sharing a gallery of all the professional photos after the wedding. Then when they pick up their phones perhaps they find a little surprise with them!
Surrounded by Guests
This is a unique way to host your ceremony that is both incredibly meaningful to you as a couple, and to the people who are a part of it. The traditional ceremony set-up—couple and officiate front and center with guests lined up in rows facing them—puts the guest in the role of passive observers, and you as essentially the entertainment. By creating a circular ceremony where the couple is at the center and asking your community to surround you with love and support, you purposefully add meaning to their presence at this ritual and ceremonialize their role as your larger community who will provide foundational support throughout your marriage.
The Seven Blessings is a timeless Jewish tradition that can easily be adapted to be nonsecular and personal. If you’re not familiar with this tradition, I recommend you look it up because it’s really beautiful and meaningful. Often seven individuals are invited to read one of the blessings to the couple during the ceremony. For example: “With the strength of your relationship, may you help transform the world in big ways and small ways. May your love for each other be a source of warmth and inspiration for your community.” In the Jewish custom there is a set list, but what if you invited a handful of special people, such as your parents, grandparents, or other family members who played an important role in teaching you about love and marriage, to stand and give a brief blessing to your marriage or wish for you as a couple? It would be deeply special both to you as a couple, and to the people honored with the request.
Parade to Reception
I’ve encountered this at two weddings, and they were some of the most fun and memorable weddings I’ve attended. One was in New Orleans, where a second line parade from the ceremony location to the reception is a time-honored tradition. A brass band leads the parade with the couple up front with parasols, and the guests following behind waving white handkerchiefs. Everyone lines up to cheer them on and dance along in the streets and it’s fun, dynamic, and has an intoxicating energy. But you don’t have to wed in New Orleans to make use of this super fun tradition. I attended another wedding in Rhode Island where the couple led their wedding guests on a parade just down the street from the ceremony location at their house to the reception tent a few houses down. It was a brief but incredibly festive walk. Everyone loved it and arrived at the cocktail hour happy and with a shared experience that made them feel more connected.
It’s a Match Cards
Cocktail hour is a great moment to create some opportunities for people to connect. Often the couple will be off having photos taken so the guests are left to mingle and get to know one another, but without some intentional intervention to help the group gel, people will largely stick with the folks they already know and won’t make the effort to branch out to meet new people. A couple who met on tinder wanted a unique way to get people to connect at their wedding, so they gave guests It’s a Match cards with another guest's photo and info on them, and they had to find their match and figure out together what they had in common that inspired the couple to pair them with each other, fostering new friendships and connections in a fun, unique, and personally relevant way.
If this was a dinner party and not a wedding, you would have the opportunity to introduce everyone who hasn’t met yet, but that’s largely impractical and impossible when your attention will be fairly occupied. If you have multiple tables, consider each table as its own private little dinner party. There might be a compelling reason for the choice behind seating certain people together, but unless they are in on that reason, to the people at that table, it might feel a little arbitrary. A good dinner party has a great host or hostess. Consider assigning someone at each table to act as host, welcoming everyone to the table, making introductions, pouring wine, perhaps making a private toast to the table giving some insight into their relationship to you as a couple and why everyone was selected for this particular table, and asking some engaging questions to the group to get the conversation flowing. They can create a sense of camaraderie amongst their table, treating it as an exclusive club only those particular guests get to be a part of.
Some couples are hesitant to put any of their guests to work at their wedding and may resist the idea of handing out jobs, but for the people chosen for this role, it’s actually an honor to be singled out for their outgoing personalities and warmth. Obviously some thought would have to go into who would be the best people to host, and their willingness and openness would clearly factor into that choice. But everyone probably has a few friends and family members who are clearly perfect for and would relish this opportunity. Similar to inviting people to be in the wedding party, an invitation to play host at a table is a way of letting someone know they are trusted and appreciated. They don’t even have to publicize or announce their role. They can be just as successful in the role by just secretly being that super friendly person at the table that makes everyone else feel welcome and takes responsibility for the conversational flow.
You’ve probably heard of a Receiving Line, where couples and their families line up outside of the church after the ceremony and greet all the guests in a line, and guests have the opportunity to congratulate the couple on just being married. A Farewell Line is a fresh take on that tradition, where the couple and either their parents or wedding party line up at the exit, and individually thank every guest for their presence at this special event as they leave the wedding. People most remember the peak and end of an experience, rather than the experience as a who
Share the Playlist
Everything that happens after the wedding—including the physical artifacts that guests take away with them to remind them of the event, like favors and thank you notes—is a chance to prolong the experience by helping guests to reminisce and savor everything that happened. Nothing sparks nostalgia like music. So if you have a special playlist from an important part of your wedding, consider sending it to your guests afterward so they can be brought back there emotionally. You can of course send it virtually, but for true old school sentimentality send it as a modern mixtape with something like milktapes.
For more ideas and access to our experience design framework for creating an unforgettable wedding, including our full list of 50 Tips & Ideas for a More Magical Wedding, check out our online DIY Program Designed For Connection. Use the code WEDDINGCHICKS for 10% off any order.