5/11 Ceremony Stage Fright

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I’m an odd chick.  For many, many reasons that I won’t get into… but there’s something about me that always surprises people when I tell them… so here it is: I have terrible social anxiety and stage fright, yet my favorite thing in the world is the feeling I get from (successfully) performing in front of a crowd of people.

I am horribly afraid of speaking in public, and cannot stand being put on the spot, and for the most part I loathe being the center of attention.  I get nervous just speaking in social situations, and expressing my opinion when asked, so you could imagine how scared I get when I have to make a speech, or act onstage in a sketch or a play, or sing in front of people. My heart beats out of my chest, and I get the nervous sweats and the oh-my-god I’m going to pee my pants and vomit at the same time feeling… yet I still do it because in the end, despite the initial fear… I would hate myself for ignoring something I was so passionate about. I love to entertain people, make them laugh and express my creativity through performance. But the lead-up to the performance is unbearably difficult for me.  It’s no secret that public speaking is the #1 fear of Americans… so I’m not alone there.  And ultimately that fact brings me comfort, but it doesn’t stop the anxiety. And it certainly doesn’t stop the physical effect the anxiety has on my body.

Tensed shoulders, tightly clasped hands: Wedding day nerves. Image: Jeff Speigner Photography

I’ve known since the day we got engaged that we would have a big wedding… and a big ceremony filled with personal details, and a script written by us, and we would for sure say personal vows.  I couldn’t imagine our ceremony any other way.  Yet the prospect of actually performing this kind of ceremony–one where I put myself and my emotions on display–scares the pants off me.  And this fact really started to sink in over this past weekend. We basically have 2.5 months left before I walk down the aisle in front 150 people, and express myself in the most deeply personal way possible. And holy balls… just the thought of that is giving me panic attacks already.  But there is no effing way I’m going to chicken out. I will regret it for the rest of our married lives if we don’t perform the intensely personal ceremony we have dreamed of doing for the 20 months we have been engaged.  Even if it means having to consume a xanax-horse tranquilizer-tequila-champagne cocktail to get me through, it WILL be done.

I’m sure everyone experiences some sort of nerves before walking down the aisle. But when you have terrible stage fright like I do, the nerves are 10 times more intense. And the thought of messing up, or shaking, or stumbling over my words, or awkward pauses, or something going wrong with the music makes me want to throw up and throw out all the bells ‘n whistles, and personalized what-have-you, and just say “I do.”  But I know myself. And I know my FH Mike.  And we are crowd pleasers. Nervous-as-hell crowd pleasers. But crowd pleasers all the same. And as a result, we’ve committed ourselves to having a personalized ceremony complete with us being the center of attention for at least 45 minutes (yowza). No matter how nervous that makes us, we are going to do it, and I know we will feel amazing that we were brave enough to do it in the end.  It’s the lead-up that’s going to give me an ulcer.  So that got me thinking… what can I do to help ease my nerves?

So for those of you who may be in my same boat–nervous as hell, but still want a let-it-all-hang-out kinda ceremony–here’s a few tips for ceremony stage-fright:

  • Remember that everyone is the audience LOVES YOU. Like really, really loves you. And wants you to succeed. And wants to share in the joy of your union. So never lose sight of that.
  • Don’t be ashamed to have a cocktail before you go on. Even just a little relaxer makes a huge difference. I don’t recommend getting loaded. But a drink or two won’t hurt.
  • In fact… You know what I’m going to do to cut nerves? Honest-to-balls I am going to wear a garter flask and take a few pulls off it *right* before we go out.

There WILL be tequila in my garter flask. And I WILL be taking a few rips before I walk down the aisle. Photo by Piknik Studios

  • Before you go on, surround yourself with people that make you calm.  Usually this task lies in the hands of your wedding party… but sometimes that’s not enough. If the only person that calms you down is the partner you are about to marry, then stay together until the last second you are supposed to go on. You don’t have to walk down the aisle hand in hand necessarily, but you can hold each other’s hand backstage until it’s time.
  • OR… just go ahead and walk down the aisle WITH your partner. The person that calms me down the most isn’t my dad, or my mom. It’s my partner. Mike is the only one who knows how to successfully calm me down. Sorry, Mom & Dad. But if I’m too nervous to the point where I’m shaking, I’m going to need Mike there every step of the way–even if those steps include the ones we take to get down the aisle.

    A bride and groom who chose to walk down the aisle TOGETHER. Via Offbeat Bride

  • Don’t get married on a stage. Instead, make the altar area as intimate as possible. There may be 150 pairs of eyes on you, but it won’t feel as intimidating if you create a space that feels like it’s just you, the one you love, and the person who’s marrying you.

    Our intimate ceremony setting at BOXeight Studios.

    Our intimate ceremony setting at BOXeight Studios

The STAGE at BOXeight that we *could* have chosen to get married on. But we decided in the end, that we wanted a more intimate setting. So we went with the garden setting pictured above.

  • Choose your officiant wisely. Someone who can run a show, and ease tension if shiz hits the fan. Someone you have a connection with. Someone who knows you and your partner as a couple. Someone you trust.
  • Remember to breathe. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Big deep breaths. Meditate if you have to. Just force yourself to concentrate on your breathing, and your nerves will at the very least be put slightly to ease.
  • Don’t concentrate on trying NOT to cry during the ceremony. Just let it rip. This is a big moment in your life. And I can’t think of any big moment in my life where I didn’t shed some sort of tear.
  • Pick songs leading up to your processional that calm you.  The song I always listen to that cools my nervous groove is “Dear Prudence” by The Beatles.  Something about that song just makes me breathe easy.  Choose the song that does that for you and listen to it on an iPod, or go ahead and play it for the audience before you come out.

Oh, and picturing everyone in the audience naked NEVER works. Sorry, Grandpa, but picturing you butt-ass naked on my wedding day would make me ralph faster than rabbits f*ck. Just sayin’.

For those about to wed… are you nervous for the ceremony? And have those nerves forced you to create a certain type of ceremony? For those who are wedded already… Were you nervous for the ceremony? What did you do to calm yourself?

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  • Fabulous article. I may need to show this to some of our brides LOL

  • Guest

    Something that always helps me with any nerve-wracking situation is to remember—nothing lasts forever. This is just a moment in time that will pass. You will not feel anxious or nervous forever.

  • Another tip that I constantly use when I'm center of attention: It's okay to laugh at yourself. You don't have to bring attention to it, but if you stop and roll your eyes and laugh at yourself, people will know you're relaxed and willing to just go along with it. And especially at something like your wedding, when (as you said), everyone there loves you and wants you to succeed. They know you're probably about to wet yourself and will laugh with you because they know you won't freak out over something that in the end won't take away from the amazing day.

  • I can not tell you how many times I've made sure the bride has a shot before she walks down the aisle. Let's just say: a few. These are GREAT tips. Everyone there loves you, and wants the best for you. And you're going down that aisle towards the person you're most comfortable with in the world. Or eve better, WITH him. Yay!

  • Where can i get a garter flask?! Best thing ever!

  • These are great tips! Especially the first one about how everyone you're standing in front of loves you. So true. And if they love you enough to come to your wedding, then they love you enough to accept any weirdo idiosyncrasies.

    I'm not nervous, really. I used to be *extremely* shy but got over that fairly quickly in college. I am a big goof, though, and I know my stupid ass is going to make a weird face or an awkward comment or god-help-me a completely unnecessary Ashlee Simpson-SNL-style jig. But again, these people love me and know that I'm really strange 🙂

  • Jen

    Great article! Thanks! I'm a super nervous public speaker and yeah, saying very personal vows in front of 100 people makes me get wiggles in my tummy just thinking about it.
    We are going to try and set a easy going, celebratory tone for the ceremony that its more lose and not so stuffy and formal. That'll help me not feel like I need to act perfect or a certain way – just be myself!
    Also, I'm going to write my vows down and read them. No memorizing. Just reading and crying my eyes out. 🙂 Its the performance part that gets me, so if its something I just have to read and be familiar with and look up here and there from – I can handle that (better).
    Thanks again for the tips!

  • Tina

    this is EXACTLY how i was before our wedding ceremony. I get SO incredibly nervous speaking in front of others. So nervous that my sister and i made a pact. a pact that said, she didn't have to toast at my wedding (b/c of her nerves) if i didn't have to toast at her wedding. sure, it'll be hard not showing everyone how i feel about them on their wedding day, but at least we both feel the same way. (and we can write eachother a nice letter instead, something to keep). but anyway, these tips are SO helpful! I did almost everything on this list and it helped A LOT. Especially surrounding myself with people that make me calm, which happened to by my husband. So we did our photo's right before the ceremony and i felt like a could finally take a deep big relaxing breath and aftwards all i could think about was was marrying him. 🙂
    we also got married outside in a little garden area, which was very intimate. I think that helped me feel more comfortable standing in front of everyone i knew. 🙂 I think I'm going to pass this list onto my sis who's getting married next year.

  • Garter flask, awesome 😀

    These are great tips to help relax. I just started thinking about what I want under the arch at my ceremony. I saw a wedding album with a table that just looked in the way and wondered "Do we need a table? What DO I want up there besides us and the officiant?" I'm not sure what sorts of things I'd want there to help us relax. I think I prefer the rose ceremony to the sand ceremony so I don't need a table for that. How do you plan to make the area more intimate?

  • So great! I love these tips…I'm terrified of the day…Embarrassing story: I was the flower girl in my grandma's wedding when I was 6yrs. old and I made this weird nervous face the whole way, all-but-sprinted down the aisle and barely threw any flower petals at all.. couldn't stand the eyes staring at me!

    Thanks for the tips, definitely a help and I love ::both:: of those ceremony areas, great finds!

  • I wish I read this most a few months before my wedding.I am also incredibly anxious about being the center of attention and very infrequently talk publicly. I thought about our ceremony and my anxiety for at least the last three months of our engagement. I was feeling the same exact way, so so nervous that I was going to pass out, get overly emotional, make awkward sounds and faces. I was so scared that I actually thought about the priest marrying us ahead of time. I wound up drinking a mimosa or two while getting ready and was so excited that I barely had time to be nervous.

  • I'm not someone who usually gets nervous on stage. But, I *will* get nervous if people around me are nervous. So, people trying to talk *me* down (when they are really trying to talk *themselves* down will ramp me up…and make me frenetic.

    So, I'll need time alone.
    We are having an outdoor wedding in a state park. So, I'll take a few minutes under the trees, listen to the leaves and birds and have a few moments with God.

    And, I'll prolly take a few minutes to be with my sweetie. He calms me. it's about him (and his son) and me and God. The rest is details.

    It won't be perfect.
    I don't expect it to be.
    But, we will laugh, and cry and remember that people there are want us to have the best day ever.