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Daniela Grafman

Insider Tips on Staging a Virtual Wedding

Here, both planner Daniela Grafman and her bride share expectations and realities of virtual weddings.

As an event planner, I feed off creating environments to bring people together. The need to see people happy and create experiences that they will remember beyond the four hours of an event is ingrained in me. So COVID-19 has really pushed me to my limits of thinking: How do I wake up every day if I cannot do the very thing that brings me joy and fulfilment? 

I find myself incredibly lucky to not just be in the general events industry, but also in the wedding world. Weddings are the ultimate milestone to bring friends and family together and create memories that shape us. Right now, we are grieving the postponements of milestones, but with grief also comes hope. Hope beyond the present moment to accept the dire state we are in, and know we will be in a better state down the road.

I was reminded of this hope by one of our couples. Julie and Ben were set to get married this April in Brooklyn, N.Y., about 200 guests, but have now postponed that wedding to Fall 2020.

To paint a picture, this was a wedding with an incredible amount of thought and time poured into its planning. Julie was meticulous in the venue selection, choosing her vendors, picking the design, thinking through the logistics, managing the spreadsheets--there was a lot of heart and soul in this wedding.

Accepting that the originally planned wedding was not going to happen, another reality set in--one of a prolonged engagement and tons of uncertainty. But despite that, Julie and Ben decided they were still going to get married. With the help of an officiant via Zoom, friends and family watched a different, yet still incredibly special, version of their wedding.

Julie described it perfectly: “Was it everything I had ever dreamed of for my wedding ceremony? No. Was it the perfect culmination of a year and a half of planning? No. But in several ways, it was even better.”

Having gone through the experience firsthand, Julie shared with me her most honest recap of her wedding ceremony (from a logistical and emotional perspective), offering advice that our couples and we, as the professionals giving guidance, can take note of.


The wedding ceremony.

Julie’s Top Eight Tips:

  1. Figure out the logistics. Do you already have your marriage license? Can you get one digitally? Is your officiant able to be there in person or is he/she comfortable doing it virtually? This part may not be the most romantic and exciting, but it is the most essential.
  2. Test the tech … and then test it again. This was hands down the most difficult and frustrating part of the entire thing. We had two different Zoom meetings--one with our rabbi and one with all of our guests). We had the rabbi up on the TV behind us and the computer with all of our guests facing the TV and us. We recorded the Zoom meeting and also had an iPhone on a tripod recording. You really need to think through the details here--whatever “view” you use in Zoom is how the Zoom will record--so since we were on “gallery” view, we got everyone’s reactions the entire ceremony, and the ceremony itself was recorded on the iPhone. Some older adults needed tutorials prior, and we also upgraded our account to ensure the Zoom did not shut off after 40 minutes.
  3. Decide whom you will invite. We did not feel comfortable inviting all 200-plus guests we had originally invited to our wedding to our Zoom wedding. It just took away from the intimacy of the moment, and we wanted to keep the live attendees limited to just close family, wedding party and a few vendors we were close with. We chose to record the ceremony and email it out to the entire guest list the next day.
  4. Communicate! You will need to “invite” your guests to your virtual wedding. You might also feel the need to communicate to some people not invited, just to spare their feelings. Let them know that you are only inviting family, or share with them that you will be sending out a recording the following day. Do whatever makes you feel comfortable and at ease on the big day.
  5. Have someone document the moment. We didn’t do “getting ready” pictures, a first look, etc. We just took some nice pictures together before and after and we had someone take pictures during the ceremony so that my parents did not need to be concerned with that. We found someone through a Facebook group, and it worked out perfectly!
  6. Think about what you will do before and after. Not going to lie: the day was just like any other day. My fiancé and I tried to do a few things to make it special--we wrote and read letters to each other, we went for a walk--but in general, it was pretty unremarkable. I missed my girls, and I felt like the day was inching along. One of my bridesmaids FaceTimed me as I did my makeup. I needed her help! Another one “joined” me as I did my hair. Perhaps you could do a “getting ready” Zoom or plan something with your mom! Similarly, think about what you want to do after the camera turns off! We had a special dinner and I baked a cake! We danced, popped champagne, and went to bed at 10 p.m.
  7. Don’t expect it to feel like you thought it would. Because it doesn’t. I can best describe it as anti-climactic. Although it is truly the ceremony that everyone attends a wedding for, the party afterwards adds festivity, fun and excitement! Without all of that, of course it isn’t going to feel the same! And that is totally OK! I woke up feeling the same as the day before, and the day before that. Take the pressure off yourself for this to be so life-altering.
  8. Try not to worry about the future. I know this is way easier said than done, but no one is holding a crystal ball with all of the answers. Getting married to Ben allowed me to finally breathe. Regardless of what happens with rescheduling the large party we still hope to have, I am married to my best friend. I don’t spend all of my time thinking about what we should do. I don’t worry every day about my wedding. I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders and that is truly remarkable.

Although it wasn’t what I had always imagined it would be, it was so special and so real. We put the wedding together in three days, and it truly reminded me that all of the other stuff is just stuff. We will tell this story to our children and our grandchildren. We felt the love from near and far as family and friends showered us with calls, emails, texts, flowers and treats. Our friends put on makeup for the first time during this quarantine. Men put on tuxes. People felt joy! We were all reminded what a wedding is all about.

We will one day celebrate this special day. We will dance with our friends and hug our family. But until then, we will have this incredible memory to hold on to.


Greeting guests.

From Daniela: Watching their ceremony from my bedroom (itching to be there to help in some way), I realized that celebrations will be smaller for the foreseeable future and I must accept that. But smaller does not mean less meaningful or less impactful or less special. We have a chance to create new benchmarks for milestones, the trailers to the feature films we all eagerly await.

After her start as a special events associate in the nonprofit sector, Grafman has been assisting in the growth of New York-based Vision Event Co. as the chief amazement officer and partner for the last nine years, taking the company from a boutique DJ company to an award-winning event planning firm focused on coordination and production for social and nonprofit events. She is a current board member for the Wedding International Professionals Association, speaks nationally on entrepreneurship and events, and co-founded Women in Events. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University, holds the CSEP designation, and has been named one of the “25 Young Event Pros to Watch” by Special Events Magazine.

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