Here's what I learned...
On 05.05.2020 my fiance and I got married in our apartment with our loved ones on Zoom. Here's what we learned:
It’s Spring 2020 and the world is sheltering in place as Corona Virus spreads around the world. Hundreds of engaged couples due to be wed in the next few months have had to postpone or cancel their weddings. But there is another way that seems to be becoming an increasingly popular way to say "F you COVID" and to let love win - getting married on Zoom.
How to host a Zoom Wedding?
I will admit right now before you read any further, I am neither a Zoom pro or a wedding planner (although I have worked in the wedding industry for many years). I can't say I am an expert in throwing Zoom weddings, but I have been the bride in one and it was the happiest day of my life. So, I am here to share my experiences with you as we certainly learned a lot along the way and if you are left with any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I am more than happy to help if I can
On May 5th my fiance and I said "I do" in front of 98 Zoom participants and a further 50 on Facebook Live.
We were supposed to be in Mexico at a magical venue on a private island with our closest friends and family. When borders started closing and travel restrictions were put in place due to Corona virus, I was devastated - absolutely heart broken. This was supposed to be the trip of our lives and now we can’t leave the apartment. It was many-a-meltdown before I confidently declared, “we're doing it anyways!!” Our love is the most important thing, and getting married to the love of my life shouldn’t have to wait just because our dream wedding was nixed. So we decided to stick to the original date of May 5th and get married in our apartment. One thing to note is we really don’t do things by halves. If we were going to do this, we would go all in and make this the most kickass, memorable and fun Zoom wedding we possibly could.
Our wedding was almost completely virtual (we only had 3 people in the room with us). All of our guests were either on Zoom or watching a FB live stream. Our apartment venue was tailored solely around what our online guests could see. This may not be the case for you. The future of the wedding industry seems to be focused on smaller weddings of 50 or less for the next year, so you may have a small gathering in person but you may still want the rest of your friends and family to participate via livestream. If that is the case, much of the following advice still applies, but you may just be lucky enough to have a beautiful venue instead of having to get married with a couch jammed in your hallway.
Set your expectations and mourn the wedding you were supposed to have
A Zoom wedding is going to be different, there is no doubt about about that and many of the moments you have been looking forward to on your wedding day will not be possible. I had too many meltdowns to mention before coming to terms with the fact that my Dad wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle, my Mum wouldn’t be helping me fasten my dress, there would be no glam squad to make sure I felt beautiful and my friends wouldn’t be there to bustle my dress so we can throw some shapes on the dance floor together. Physical touch is my love language and I would have given anything to be able to hug my loved ones on my wedding day. But, those things didn’t happen and I think it is really important to spend a little time to acknowledge the things that you will miss so that they don’t creep up on you and hit you in the face the day of. For many of us, we have been dreaming of this day for a long time. Months have gone into planning every detail and having it ripped away just feels so unfair. Then the guilt creeps in that you are feeling so depressed over losing your wedding when people are out there loosing their lives. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s okay to be sad about it. It is a huge loss. I’m pretty certain all us COVID brides have felt the same way at some point. Please know that it is okay to mourn the dream wedding that you wish you could have.
When you are ready, let go of the wedding that would have been and focus on the wedding that you can have and the advantages there are when getting married on Zoom. For example, think of all of the guests that can be there that wouldn’t have been able to make it before. My family are in the UK and only a small handful would have been able to make it to our wedding in Mexico. Now, on our wedding day, we would get to see the faces of my cousins, aunts and uncles and childhood friends.
Even pets can attend your wedding now.
Now you are not tied to (virtual) guest count restrictions. You don’t have to worry about your budget as everyone is responsible for their own open bar, which means you can expand your guest list to your hearts content! Trust me, when people find out you are doing this, they will want to be a part of it, so let them, you will get to see so many familiar faces smiling back at you on that screen.
Which leads me to my next point...
Tell your guests and get them excited.
As soon as you decide to change your original wedding plans in any way, let your guests know. Everyone is a little on edge at the moment and itching to know what the future holds. You and your loved ones may not have psychic powers (if you do, please let me know when we can get back to normal) so when you make changes to your wedding plans, let your guests, and your vendors know so they can adjust their plans accordingly. Update your wedding website with your decisions as you make them. This way, you can direct people there instead of you having to answer the same questions over and over.
If you decide to get married on Zoom, let your guests know asap and get them excited! These are tough times! People haven’t left their home in weeks and who knows when their last shower was. Give them an excuse to get off the couch, get dressed up and have some good news to celebrate. Have fun with how you announce the news that you will be holding a virtual wedding - get creative. Sean works for Netflix and I figured everyone will have binged all of the available content by our wedding date. I thought to myself "Let’s give them something new to watch!" So I created this Netflix menu announcement in Canva.
Canva is free! While there is an upgrade option, everything I create is available in the free version, which is also chock full of templates and inspiring designs. The movie covers on my announcement, for example, are from pre-existing template which I edited along the main background using screen grabs of parts of the Netflix main menu. They have so many different creative suggestions, I am sure you will find inspiration.
Or, turn to the pros to make your announcement. I LOVE these from Poppy and Birch. These are perfect for announcing a new date if you are postponing but will also work perfectly for announcing your virtual wedding plans.
We sent our change-of-plans announcement in an email and followed up with another email about a week out from the wedding giving people the Zoom Meeting login info and additional info related to the event.
Fun ideas to include your guests:
Speed speeches - We had a few main speeches as usual, parents, best friends etc but then we opened up the floor to speed speeches as a way to interact with our guests.
We asked our guests to use the “Raise Hand” feature in Zoom if they wanted to say a few words. Our DJ (more on that later) would then find the right guest, unmute them, and spotlight their video. This worked perfectly although I have since heard that a few relatives weren’t sure how to do it and missed the opportunity to say something. Possibly sending direct messages to the DJ could be a simpler solution but regardless, it was really nice to have a toast and acknowledge many of the guests, individually.
Digital Guest book - We included a link on our website to wed.tv, an online guestbook where guests can login at any point, leave a message and upload pictures. This is a fantastic free app that can be utilized for any kind of wedding, virtual or otherwise. Make sure your DJ encourages your guests to take pics and post them throughout the night.
Photo Booth - Everybody loves a photo booth at a wedding and so we bought some digital photo booth props from Etsy (ours are Mexico themed in honor of our original wedding plans but there are plenty to choose from). I sent out a link to all of our guests so they could download and print the props, which they used in some of the pictures uploaded to our digital guest book. I love that people got their pets involved too.
Dance Party- Just like at any other wedding, we ended the night with a dance party, and it was INCREDIBLE! I have to tell you, this was the biggest surprise about our virtual wedding. I honestly thought it would be awkward and people wouldn’t dance in their living rooms. Oh, how wrong I was. The DJ threw down some floor filler tunes while the MC chose different guests to spotlight. It had a sports arena jumbo-tron-like effect on the guests. As soon as people saw they were being spotlighted they would up their game and throw some serious shapes performing to the camera.
If you are having a small wedding with additional guests on Zoom, I would recommend having a projector or large screen by the dancefloor so the online guests feel included too. Have the Zoom host spotlight guests that are dancing so they get extra attention from you, trust me, you will see your guests turn it up to try and get selected for the spotlight.
It honestly felt like I was on the same dance floor as my friends and family around the world. It was a highlight for sure.
Live Painter- One really fun element that we included that our guests were excited about was having a live painter Paint By Brittany Benson painting our ceremony. She had a camera filming her work and so while we were off screen signing the paper work and grabbing cocktails, our guests could watch her progress. It helped take the pressure off us as she entertained and wowed our guests.
The Tech Stuff
We owe the full success of our wedding to Second Song DJ’s Rob and Ralph. If you take away just one piece of advice from this whole post it would be HIRE A PRO!!! I was so nervous about something happening to the tech during the ceremony that would pull Sean and I out of the moment. Hiring pros meant we didn’t have to worry about anything except trying to make it through our vows without crying like absolute babies.
Here were some of our biggest tech takeaways:
There are many other video conferencing software options out there that have the same capabilities as Zoom. The reason I recommend Zoom is because, during these strange days of self isolation, this video streaming platform seems to be the platform most people are using to stay in touch. Even your least tech savvy family members are Zooming, and so hopefully, most people will already have at least some experience using the platform and won’t have to spend the 20 minutes before your ceremony frantically trying to figure out how to connect.
Upgrade to pro - It is $14.99 a month to upgrade and you can cancel your pro membership after your wedding making it just a one time payment to upgrade. The main benefit is that there no time limit with a pro account whereas the basic account will disconnect after 45mins. The last thing you want is to be disconnected halfway through your ceremony. Another great feature of Zoom Pro is the ability for the host to spotlight a video. This allows the host to select one of the video feeds to spotlight for all guests. This is perfect for the ceremony and during toasts and as I mentioned above, for getting people excited to be featured dancers on the dance floor. The host can also control muting and un-muting all guests which is so important to make sure there are no disruptions especially during the ceremony. We wanted our guests (and us) to relax and have fun and not have to worry about adjusting any settings at all. With the Second-Song DJs in control, everything was seamless and smooth and we had no tech issues to worry about.
Zoom Pro also records the meeting so you will have a copy of the whole event to treasure.
In addition to the Zoom call we also streamed to Facebook Live. We tried to keep our Zoom participants to under 100 (but as there was an average of 2 or more viewers per participant window, this meant we actually had closer to 200 people watching on Zoom) We wanted to limit the Zoom participants as we aimed to have as much participation as possible with our guests and the more we had the harder it would be for our DJ to find our parents, or the guest who wants to make a speech, etc. We invited our original wedding invite list to Zoom and additional guests were invited to watch on Facebook.
There is an option built into Zoom Pro to stream directly to Facebook or Youtube so it was very simple to connect the two. One thing to note is the host of the Zoom, for example the DJ company you use, will also need to be logged in to the Facebook page where the stream will exist. The easiest way to handle that seemed to be to create a group in Facebook for the occasion and make the Zoom host an admin. You also have the option of having this group public or private so you can decide who exactly gets to watch.
Cameras and microphones
Let me tell you a little something about my husband Sean, he is tech obsessed. We can’t even turn on the lights in our home without having to use an app. His job title is Tech Ops Specialist and finding tech solutions is his thing. So planning a virtual wedding was right up his alley, he was way more involved with the planning for this wedding than he was for our Mexico wedding. So, we are using our fancy camera on a tripod connected to the computer that's then connected to our TV so we had a nice high quality video stream and fancy mics to pick up clear audio (all tech listed below). All of this extra tech was great (thanks honey) and the picture quality is great on the Zoom recording, which is fantastic for us to watch back, but the quality of your wifi and your guests wifi will effect the picture quality as much, if not more than the camera you use. Make sure you have strong wifi. If you hire a pro (have I mentioned that you should?) talk to them about equipment rental and see if they can take care of that for you too. I know Second Song are including equipment and projectors etc in their packages.
A few things to consider no matter what equipment you use:
LIGHTING- What time of day is your event going to be held? We have people all over the world joining us and so with the time difference early afternoon made the most sense for us. If you are choosing to get married later in the day, be aware of the light. If the natural light has gone, make sure you have enough light sources to fill the room and try to balance the light so there are no harsh shadows or dark spots. We used Hue lights dotted around to add ambiance and a beauty ring (mostly because my friend was using one on our previous Zoom calls and looked gorgeous so I wanted one. I think the reality is that it was too far away from us to make much difference).
ANGLES - Where are you going to be standing and where is your camera going to be? For best placement of your device, I recommend a tripod, bookshelf or something else that is secure and can support your equipment at your natural eye level. You don’t want your guests to feel like they are looking up your nose or down from a birds eye view.
NUMBER OF DEVICES- If you have more than one device connected to the Zoom in the same area, only one can be connected to the audio, otherwise the mics will pick up sound from one another and cause feedback regardless of muting. We tested this out and being muted is not enough, one has to be completely disconnected from audio to prevent that awful screeching echoing noise.
Make sure your device is plugged in to charge and make sure you have STRONG WIFI!!
Set the space
We got married in our 2 bedroom apartment in Culver City with the couches stacked up and shoved to one side just off camera. It is hardly the tropical beach wedding I had envisioned but just because we have no fiery sunsets or pretty gardens or impressive ballrooms, does not mean we shouldn’t have a nice space to get married!
The guest's view The bride & groom's view
Choose an area of the room that will be the focus point. Or if you have chosen a back yard ceremony, decide where you will stand to say “I do” and where the camera will be. Take a look at the camera on whatever device you are using to see what is in frame. I would start a Zoom call but then don’t invite anyone else just so I can see how our space will look on the big day.
What is in the frame? Is anything distracting? Anything you want to remove or add? We moved our sofa out of the shot so we had more space and less of an "apartment” vibe. This left us with a plain white wall to work with. I considered renting an arch of some sort to create a ceremony focal point but felt like it would take up too much precious space and we don’t have much to work with. Instead, I turned to Pinterest and came across these pieces of inspiration.
I ordered kids hula hoops from Amazon and spray-painted them rose gold. I have artificial vines and flowers that I use to decorate my trailer bar (but you can also get them on Amazon) and the little lights were part of a Secret Santa gift but can be found here.
Here are more DIY backdrop ideas.
We also set up a second area to do the cake cutting. I wanted to create a little homage to our Mexico wedding (and we got married on Cinco De Mayo so it seemed appropriate). Again, I used things I mostly had on hand with a few extra pieces from Amazon.
Tips and tricks we learned along the way
Have a Zoom host AND CO-HOST. That way if the host has any technical issue, the co-host can take over.
Hire the pro’s. I know I sound like a broken record, but our day would have been so much more stressful if we didn't have pro's running the show. DJs, planners and venues are adding these services to their packages. Let them handle the tech so you don't have to worry about it. You have enough to worry about on your big day. Rob and Ralph from Second-Song controlled everything for us remotely, we didn’t even have to be in the same room.
Have a ‘boots on the ground’ contact / planner to stay in touch with the Zoom host. We had someone in the room who was texting constantly with the Zoom host to let them know about timing, special requests from the bride and groom, adjustments that needed to be made, including asking for..."One more song, pleeeease!" At one point, early in the ceremony, my parents lost internet connection. My husband, the officiant and I had no idea anything was wrong but our in-room ‘tech support’ was texting with the host as he was trying to get them back online without pausing the ceremony. Luckily they were back on in a couple of minutes and didn’t miss any of the juicy stuff and we had no idea anything had even happened thanks to her being able to handle it without us knowing, just as a planner would at a normal wedding.
Don’t forget other vendors that can still play an important part of your day- The event industry is hurting under current circumstances and many couple’s don’t realize that so many vendors are still offering products and services for your big day, even if your big day is more micro in size now, support these small businesses that need your help. You can still have a cake to cut, flowers for your bouquet, a planner to help everything run smoothly, a bartender to keep the drinks flowing etc. (See our full vendor list at the bottom of the article).
Ask people to log in to Zoom early and set the tone - We opened up the Zoom 30 minutes before our ceremony start time. Our DJ's Rob and Ralph had music playing so immediately the tone was set that this was going to be a party and not another awkward Zoom meeting. Any tech issues were resolved and all guests were online and situated long before we started the ceremony.
Test, test, test - I truly believe everything ran smoothly because we A) we had pros running the Zoom and B), we tested our equipment multiple times. We even had a rehearsal the day before just like a normal wedding ceremony. This rehearsal was crucial for timeline adjustments, tech adjustments, lighting changes etc. Had we jumped straight in, feet first, I am certain we would have encountered more hiccups than we could have imagined.
My biggest piece of advice: Do what is right for you and your fiance. A lot of people will have opinions. A lot of people will try and push you to do things a certain way, but ultimately, this is about you and your fiance. The way we did things is not for everyone but it was right for us. If your wedding is effected, I feel for you, I really do. Please know that your wedding might be different to the one you have been dreaming of but that doesn’t mean it will be any less special. The end result will still be the same. You will be married to the love of your life and after all, isn’t that the most important thing?
If you want to see the information we communicated to our guests before the wedding, everything is on our wedding website: www.seangotjengaged.com and the video that live streamed to Facebook is still available to watch if you want to see for yourself how it went down:Click here
Flowers: My beautiful bouquet and Sean’s boutonniere were from Jaynie Sanchez at Nature Rules. She couldn’t get fresh flowers as the flower mart is closed so she made them with dried flowers and we get to keep them forever! @naturerules.co
Dress: My beautiful dress is from Dreamers and Lovers. I was worried I wasn't going to get it in time but they pulled through and I felt like an absolute princess, can I wear my wedding dress every day? @dreamersandlovers_
The final painting by Brittany Branson
Tech List (thanks Sean)
Cameras: Sony A7iii // Logitech C920 Widescreen Web Cam
Lens: Sony SEL2470GM E-Mount Camera Lens
Tripod: Manfrotto Travel Tripod // Nebula Capsule Series Stand
Mic/Speaker: Blue Yeti USB Mic // Sonos Playbar Bundle
Hardware: Zephryus 15.6 ROG
Software: Zoom Pro, (Wed.tv) Wedding Guest Book Software
Lighting: Various Hue Light Setups
Accessories: Elgato Camlink 4k, Fiesta PhotoBooth Attire: Courtesy of Etsy
Additional Recording Equipment:
Camera: Ipad Pro 3rd Generation // iPhone 11 Pro Max
Audio: Tascam DR-40
Software: Director Pad Multicam Studio
Additional Hardware: DJI Mavic Air1