Fear and Loathing of Public Speaking (as a Wedding Officiant)

This is a story about how I learned to get over my fear of public speaking in conjunction with becoming a wedding officiant.

About four years ago I became friends with a woman who suggested I become a wedding officiant.  She had been an officiant for 22 years and thought I had a knack for it.  At the time I was running three other businesses and I just couldn’t see myself wearing another hat.  But I am a huge risk taker so I agreed to listen to her.  When she finally convinced me, we began putting together Seattle Wedding Officiants.

To break into the field I offered free officiating services for the first five couples.  I needed to get my feet wet and free is always good, right?  I really didn’t think too much about my fear of public speaking.  I had been working out of my home for the past five years and no longer had to attend big meetings where I wanted to crawl under the table if anyone asked me a question.  I was truly one of those white-knuckle express speakers.  The less I had to speak, the better.

So I got my first wedding.  The bride and groom were an amazing couple and they were very enthusiastic about their ceremony.  They not only wanted a traditional ceremony with a greeting, vows, ring exchange, etc., but they also wanted a Hawaiian lei exchange, a unity candle ceremony and a Celtic hand fasting ceremony.  I was already reeling with anxiety about officiating my first ceremony but the prospect of adding these “mini” ceremonies sent me over the top.  I contacted my mentor and expressed my concerns.  She told me, “Elaine, it figures you would get something like this for your first ceremony.  You will probably never get another one like it!”  (Note:  She was right about that.  I have never been requested to do another ceremony like this one!)

I really wasn’t sure how to proceed so I did the only thing I could do:  I began practicing and practicing and practicing.  I read for my brother.  I read for my father.  They thought I was great.  I thought I was a nervous wreck.  Finally, as a last resort I called upon my two most trusted and devoted companions: my two chocolate labs, Oscar and Oliver.  Yes, that’s right…every morning I called them out to the living room by saying: “Let’s go get married.”  They would wag their tales and come out with me and sit down and wait for their treats, which was their cue to settle down.  The interesting thing with them was that the more enthusiastic I got, the more enthusiastic they got.  I spoke, they wagged; I spoke and they got a treat; I spoke and they barked with happiness!  I married them about 45 times to practice for that first wedding.

Two Chocolate Labs

Oscar and Oliver

I went on to do my first wedding brilliantly and have officiated hundreds of weddings since then.  These days when I get an inquiry from a couple and their numbers are up around 200 guests, I say: “Bring it on!”  I now LOVE to speak in front of any size group as a result of taking the plunge four years ago and perfecting my public speaking along the way.

I have to admit, however, that my dogs were a great help to me.  Their adorable faces looking back at me as I read through that first ceremony is something I will never forget.

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