Maslow’s Hierarchy as it applies to your Wedding Guests

I have heard many brides say “What I want most is for my guests to have fun at my wedding.”  Brides and grooms worry about this, in fact it is at the root of many of the struggles of planning the wedding. 

So, how do you make it happen?  How do you give your guests a great time and ensure that you too will have a great time?  Many wedding magazines and websites have attempted to answer this question.  And they have done a good job outlining how to care for your guests physiological needs.  You know, make sure you have enough food and drink, that the music isn’t too loud, shorten the ceremony so they won’t get too tired, provide clean bathrooms etc.  So basically make sure they have food, drinks, rest, and a restroom.  And yes, you should do all those things … absolutely!  Doing those things guarantees that your guests won’t be physically miserable.  But I imagine you want to go a step further.

You probably want guests that are spontaneously dancing to their favorite songs, having excellent conversation with people they just met, welcoming the unique differences of your fiancé’s family, appreciating your creative flare, and celebrating the beginning of your marriage.  I think you are thinking “Yea that’s gonna take more than food and water!”  And of course you are right.

You read about Maslow’s Hierarchy in psychology class, so excuse this blast from your past, but I promise it will make a difference for your guests.  Maslow’s hierarchy is the theory that describes human motivation, saying that you must satisfy lower level basic needs before meeting higher level needs.  For your wedding, you want a group of guests capable of the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy: Self Actualization.  But to get there you must first provide for the 4 lower level needs. 

Maslow would say that after you take care of those physiological needs, you need to account for your guests safety.  Ok so protect them from snow, rain, theft and the possibility of serious injury… no worries your venue probably has that covered.  Let’s think more about giving them emotional safety … freedom from fear.  Fear of embarrassment, of the unknown, of getting lost, of being judged.  “Whoa! How the heck do I do that?”  It is easier than you think.  Here are some pointers for accounting for your guests’ safety:

  • Provide a ceremony program that tells them what will happen.  Tell them what is happening on the altar.  Tell them when to sit, stand, kneel, etc.  This assures that your guests of different faiths will know what to do and won’t feel embarrassed as they try to follow the crowd at your ceremony. 
  • Provide a detailed invitation that really explains your wedding.  If it’s a 2-3 day affair, provide more information.  Include anything that you think might make a person more comfortable.  If you are having your reception at a barn, tell people to wear appropriate footware.  If you are planning to second line in the 90 degree heat, tell them.  (You may not know that your second cousin had a knee replacement last week and would have brought a wheel chair to be part of the party if he had only known.)  Make sure people know what to wear.  If you are doing something nontraditional, this is more important.   
  • Give out of town guests special treatment.  One month before the wedding, send them a map of your town, with some suggestions for restaurants and your favorite sights.  Give them good directions to the ceremony and reception.  Make suggestions or provide transportation for them.  Also consider sending them a more detailed itinerary if they will be invited to multiple events even if those events are informal. 
  • Have an order to your reception.  People feel more comfortable when there are some staple rituals that they can participate in.  So take some time to think about whether you will have a first dance, time to cut the cake, garter toss, bouquet toss, etc.  Then decide on a way to communicate those things to the guests.  Many people have the band or DJ announce these rituals so everyone can participate.  Another option is to create a chalkboard with approx. times.  Here’s why this is important.  While you and your young friends are partying the night away, your great aunt is fading and thinking about her cozy bed.  She thinks, “oh, I really want to see my sweet girl cut her cake, but I don’t know if I can hold out.”  She leaves, only to be told that you cut the cake 20 minutes later. 
  • Also be considerate of people by ending the reception at the time stated on the invitation.  Again the babysitter may only be able to stay until 10:30 and your slightly older friend with 3 kids is going to be crushed if you she misses you and your hubby pulling off in the boat.  So even if the night has the best of you, end on time and consider an after party somewhere else.  It’s always better for guests to say, “that flew by”, instead of “that dragged on!”

So now your guests have been cared for physiologically and they feel physically and emotionally safe.  Next let’s account for their social needs.  (Oh the human being is so complicated, yet that is what makes us so amazing!)  You want your guests to feel like they belong, that they are loved and part of a group of friends and family at your wedding.   This will open them up to be themselves, let loose, and celebrate your big day.  Consider these pointers:

  • When possible, invite as many people as possible to your pre-wedding events.  If relationships can be established at a shower or engagement party, the wedding will naturally be more comfortable.  Use those events to introduce your friends and family that don’t know each other.  Ask your bridesmaids to help you with this. 
  • Consider creating a seating chart that puts people with similar interests together.  This can become very complicated.  Try not to obsess over it, but do give it some thought.
  • Use people’s names.  Consider using place cards, or a personally addressed favors.   People feel like they belong when they see their name.  (Just think back to elementary school when your teacher would have your name up on the wall on the first day.  Subconsciously we think we belong when we see our name.)  Also if possible sit down with your fiancé and review names of rarely seen friends and relatives.  Saying “Hello Scott and Melissa”, goes a lot further than “hey y’all”.  Again, we humans like our names.
  • Choose music that suits you, and then throw in some songs that reach across ages and cultures.  Consider the most popular “our songs” and play a few.  This will get couples out to the dance floor, feeling nostalgic and in love. 
  • Give out hugs and kisses.  If you’re not a touchy feely person, shake some hands.  I don’t really encourage a receiving line, it does little to make a person feel loved or that they belong when they wait in line for you.  Hopefully the love and belongingness  will be going strong and all of your guests will be out on the dance floor with you.  But if not bounce around from table to table thanking people for coming.  A 5 second hello and thank you can leave a strong ‘feel good’ impression.   

Physiological needs – check.  Safety needs – check.  Love and Belonging needs – check.  Next is esteem needs.  All of us have a need to feel respected, accepted and valued by others.  You can’t give your guests self-esteem as a favor to take home – too bad what a sweet favor.  But you can help people feel like they are valued and that they have made a meaningful contribution to your wedding.  I think you’ll like these pointers, especially #1.

  • Have a money dance.  Your sister made your flowers, your best friend’s husband loaned you a sweet getaway car, your nieces stayed up late putting together your programs.  They all know that you value them and they feel like they have contributed to your wedding.  But your old friend from grammar school that really loves you, had a million things to do and couldn’t help with any of the wedding.  So let her throw you some bones for your honeymoon!!!  It will be nice for you, but it will also make her feel good.
  • Do the traditional line dances that your sooooo sick of.  The slightly older crowd will feel like they’ve still got it and your younger friends will enjoy seeing your parents break it down to Stroke It!
  • Be a stickler for timely thank you notes.  Finish pre-wedding event thank yous before the wedding.  You want your mom’s friend from high school to know you got that beautiful crystal before you are kissing her cheek at the wedding.  This gives guests a feeling of value that they have already contributed to your celebration.  Plus they know that you appreciate it. 

Last on Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization.  This is where creativity, spontaneity, lack of prejudice and acceptance of difference come in.  Maslow said that when people were self-actualizing they “…seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing...”  Which in wedding talk translates to guests who are doing their best at enjoying themselves and making your wedding the best night ever.  You don’t need to provide anything in addition for this need.  If you address the previous 4, your guests should naturally be ready for a wonderful time at your wedding. 

Many people will tell you, just make sure you have fun and that is all that matters.  How often does that usually work for you?  How often do you have a wonderful time even when everyone around you is not?  For me that is pretty rare.  I tend to be happier when I am around happy people.  So do the ground work to create a happy, comfortable vibe at your wedding that everyone can enjoy.

Author: Adrienne Brink, Uncommon Camellia