Hosting Advice

Lead Facilitator “MC” Guide for Online Ceremonies

a person speaking into a microphone
Photo credit: Landon Shaw (Pixabay.com)
  • The MC need not be religious clergy; anyone willing to take on the task of leading the ceremony can do so. This can be a friend, family member, coworker, etc.
  • The MC role can certainly be shared by multiple people. Just be sure to determine in advance when one person will pass off to the next. Mark this on your script, which you should print out, so that you are clear where you are handing off and picking up from others.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time in the days prior to the ceremony to review the script, familiarize yourself with the technology, and practice any rituals and/or poems. It is strongly suggested that the lead facilitator/MC does NOT organize the technology, so that they can focus on serving as a lead facilitator/MC for the ceremony.  If you’re interested, you can read our guide to technology later.
  • It is important that the MC speaks slowly and clearly. In fact, speak much more slowly than you normally would if you were having a regular conversation. Allow for longer pauses of silence that may feel awkward, but will allow participants to more fully capture the experience of the ceremony. It takes time to integrate an experience. Allow spaciousness in the ceremony for this to happen. This is a ceremony, with intentional purpose to allow people to draw in to their experience of grieving their loved one. You could think of it like you are leading a guided meditation. Allow the words to wash over you as they wash over others. For example, this video provides a good example of appropriate vocal pacing; it’s a reading of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
  • The MC may also read poetry, where indicated in the script, and will demonstrate the visual aspects of rituals as they are performed in the script. Be sure to go slowly with ritual aspects and make sure they are visible in the camera if video is being used so that participants can easily follow along. If you are using the phone, perhaps you could narrate aspects of the rituals, such as “Now I am lighting my candle” or “Now I place this rock into the jar.” This can be especially helpful for folks with visual challenges.
  • Keep track of open sharing time. Be sure to make a note of the time when you begin the open sharing portion. It is suggested to go no longer than about 10 minutes, although certainly use your judgment. You can gently nod your head as a visual cue to the person sharing if you need to indicate that they should wrap up. If necessary, you can also wave and then gently say “Thank you so much for sharing.. I’d like to now move us on.”
  • Know your audience.  It may be appropriate to offer guidance about dress, location, pets, etc. for the attendees.  With respect to dress, we tend to think of video calls as being fairly casual. But, casual dress may be seen as disrespectful by some attendees.  Consider who will be joining you for your ceremony and maybe recommend that everyone dress up a little to help separate their own sense of self between the typical portions of their day from and the time spent in ceremony.
  • Especially as a video call invites others into a corner of an attendee’s home, some may feel vulnerable about the way their background looks.  Some software can produce a virtual background, and if attendees want one, counsel them to use one that isn’t distracting. Attending from the bridge of the USS Enterprise might be good for a laugh, but it may not be appropriate unless the deceased was a Trekkie.  Consider mentioning that your attendees can simply turn off their video if they find it distracting to be seen for any reason. They can always turn it back on if they want to share their space with others later.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: It is perfectly okay for you to experience and express any emotions that arise. Crying, even sobbing, is a normal expression of grief. Please allow yourself to be human as you take on this role. You are not meant to be a super-human. Please know that it is okay to take breaks for water and/or to focus on your breath. People will likely welcome the opportunity seeing your example for them to do the same. People do not expect you to be steely and void of emotions. They expect you to be yourself. Other emotional expressions are also normal — laughing, voice shaking, etc. There is no one “right” way to grieve or facilitate a ceremony. Most importantly, please take care of yourself. Do not force yourself to keep going if you feel overwhelmed. If you need to hand over the facilitation to someone else or completely stop the ceremony at any time, please know this is okay. People will understand. You will have given them a gift no matter what.