Can you all hear me?

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (21/06/2021)
Categories: |  Wedding Ceremony  |  Wedding Planning |
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Hand holding a microphone against a dark
                      backgroundHow successful your wedding ceremony is depends very largely on your guests being able to hear every word. How your wedding ceremony feels is every bit as important as how it looks, and that's a tad more complicated because how the ceremony feels depends very largely on your guests hearing every word.

Guests will tell you that there is nothing more annoying at a wedding than not being able to hear the ceremony. In Australia, the Attorney General recognises this. Celebrants are required to make sure that the ceremony can be heard by everyone. It is part of the Code of Practice we all must abide by and celebrants are told that we should use a PA system to ensure that.

When marrying couples ask on wedding forums what questions they should ask celebrants, it is very common that "Do they have a PA system" is near the top of the list. Which is great. But a PA system does not fix every audibility problem. The capacity of your celebrant, the two of you, and anyone else participating in the ceremony to project their voices, is important too. A microphone magnifies sound, but it can't create it.

And that's where you, the marrying couple, come in. Because the choices you make early in your planning, and the unexpected challenges your chosen venue throws up, can have an immense impact on how well your guests will be able to hear the ceremony.

Ambient noise

The problem with ambient noise (sometimes called background noise) is that it may come and go. It could be intermittent, or it can happen only under certain conditions, or at certain times of the day. On the beach, whether the tide is coming in or going out, and how windy it is determines how noisy it is. The tranquil, idyllic bushland setting you fell in love with can turn into a noisy nightmare if it is under an intermittent flight path or motor-cross events are held in an adjoining area every now and then, and your wedding ceremony just coincides with those times. A beautiful city park can become a noisy, crowded, place if a public event is scheduled at the same time or a random family decides to hold a child's birthday party near your ceremony site. Even your backyard wedding could be sound-bombed by a neighbour mowing his lawn. And then there is always traffic noise. A problem in some places, not so much in others, and definitely linked to the time of the day and the day of the week.

The take-home message of all of this is do your homework. And then make a decision. Personally, if an occasional aircraft or helicopter flies over during a ceremony, I just pause and look up, and continue when it has gone on its way. I always suggest that you talk to your neighbours if you're having a backyard wedding and ask them not to mow or use power-tools during the ceremony.

Site and venue acoustics

Your surroundings play a huge part in how audible your ceremony will be. Sound behaves differently outdoors. Indoors, the acoustics of the space can make a huge difference.

I'm always relaxed when working in a historic chapel or decommissioned church. They were designed to have great acoustics. And, luckily, I have what used to be referred to as "a fine pulpit voice". In other words, I can project my voice and it carries. I'm not so relaxed when working in a modern building, particularly one that has been re-purposed for weddings but didn't start out as a ceremony space. What's on the walls, the angle of the ceiling and what it's made of, the flooring, the amount of glass, and the number of openings (doors, windows) all affect sound. Some surfaces absorb sound, some make the sound bounce around.  Add human bodies to the mix - they can absorb or block the sound - and you have a problem to deal with. With any luck, the venue will have a wired in PA system that has been carefully balanced. But you need to ask questions and not just take for granted that the acoustics will be fine. You also need to take into account that objects brought in to style the ceremony space can affect the acoustics.

Background music

Your wedding ceremony is not a movie!  Unfortunately movies tend to lull us into a false sense of security when it comes to background music. Simple decision. Don't play background music. Why? Because the background music in movies is added afterwards and is carefully balanced so it doesn't drown out important dialogue. When background music is played while people are speaking in a ceremony it is going to seriously compromise the audibility of the ceremony plus it will interfere with the quality of the sound recorded by your videographer. Schedule music only for those parts of the ceremony where no-one is speaking
  • The processional (formal walk in)
  • The signing of the marriage documents
  • The recessional (the formal walk out)

Prelude music (music played prior to the ceremony while guests are arriving) should be soft and contemplative so as to not only set the mood, but also allow arriving guests to hold quiet conversations.

Know the needs of your guests

It would be the rarest of weddings where everyone in attendance has perfect hearing. As marrying couples are getting older, so too are their loved ones such as parents and grandparents. Age-related hearing loss can be a real problem for wedding guests. The loving thing to do is to take this into account when choosing your venue.

You will also need to work with your celebrant and venue as to where the PA amplifier is positioned in relation to where your loved one will be sitting.

But you can do more. Various forms of technology can make a huge difference to those who wear hearing aids. Some venues will have a hearing loop, infrared, or FM system. Ask. And make sure you let guests know ahead of time what is in place.

There are also other devices that can be set up to connect directly with a loved-one's hearing aid. These would require your celebrant to be wired up specifically for that in addition to using the regular microphone. I have no problems with doing that. More than happy.

Speak up!

It is a legal requirement that you, the marrying couple, say the legal words out loud in the presence of your guests. Everyone present is supposed to hear them. And everyone wants to hear your personal promises too. Which means you need to speak up. To project your voices. A good way to ensure you do is to speak as if there is no microphone and you want to make sure that the people at the back can hear every word.

In 17 years of being a celebrant, 15 of them legally marrying couples, I've never once had anyone complain that the vows were too loud!


Small children and babies generally have no sense of occasion. If they want to make a noise out of sheer exuberance, they do. If they are upset or uncomfortable, they express that vocally. Unfortunately, the commonly given advice is that if a child cries during a ceremony they should be taken out immediately. Which means parents of young children are on tenterhooks I've seen advice about seating parents with young children at the back to make it easy for them to exit. That upsets me. You have invited the parents because they, and the child, are important to you. They shouldn't need to leave!  Of course, if the child has a need that requires attending to, that should take precedence, including feeding. There is nothing wrong with feeding a child while the ceremony proceeds. For others, a little bit of bribery can work brilliantly. I'm a great fan of lollipops.

If the baby or toddler happens to be yours, there is no reason, legal or otherwise why you can't continue the ceremony while holding them. It can make for lovely photos.

Thanks for reading!

Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you can
                    have the best ceremony ever
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