Episode 2 of Exceeding Expectations features the very talented Josh Withers.
Josh Withers is one of the most creative and innovative wedding celebrants in the world of weddings. Based in Australia but often booked to perform at wedding ceremonies in many other parts of the world.
- In this episode Josh tells us he’s in the best part of Australia
- Find out what is air checking and why it’s heartbreaking
- Has picked up tips from books on love & marriage from many cultures
- Why he doesn’t like wedding rehearsals
- Why he’d send a script to Tom Cruise but not to most couples
- Regularly does weddings in many countries around the world
- Never uses a script
- Streams the ceremony live to family/friends that couldn’t attend
- and hear why he is the automation king
Links to find Josh:
Exceeding Expectations Links:
Tony: Welcome to Exceeding Expectations with me, Tony Winyard. Each episode features an interview with a person that loves their work and tries to far exceed the expectations of their clients resulting in a win-win situation for the person doing the work and for the clients as well. The client is delighted that they received more than they expected, which often leads to them writing fabulous testimonials and passing on more referrals to their friends and business associates. It also results in the work being more enjoyable.
That is the aim of the show to inspire our listeners to come up with ways to over-deliver to your clients. To create things that aren’t typically being done by most in your industry. The episodes will feature people in many different industries that will give you ideas for things you could tweak slightly to use for your business. To give you something very unique in your industry.
Now, obviously not all of the ideas will work for you, but some will and some will require a little creative thinking to get them to fit for your clients. So I hope you enjoy the show. I’m sitting here, interviewing or chatting with a man by the name of Josh Withers based over in Australia. So how are you doing Josh?
Josh: Always good. It’s God’s country. It’s where you guys sent all of the worst people and we made the best of it over here.
Tony: Whereabouts in Aus are you?
Josh: I’m in the best part of Australia. I was born and now live on the Gold Coast, which is, it’s the Florida, it’s the LA, it’s the best part of Australia. It’s the best beaches, the best lifestyle, the best weather. It’s beautiful.
Tony: Well, and going into the, I mean, the whole idea of this podcast, I mean we mentioned when we were chatting via Facebook a few days ago is about Exceeding Expectations and something that I’ve gathered from you by reading some of your blog posts and listening to some of your podcasts, when you were doing your Unpopular podcasts, mean you’re clearly passionate about weddings. How then when you first actually started doing it, when you first started realizing if I can give these couples far more than they’re just expecting from everyone else. When did that first occur and how?
Josh: Look, I’d be lying to everyone if I said that it was just this instant thing because I don’t know whether the best ideas happen… There’s the rare one where it just happens Sunday afternoon at 3:33 PM and oh my gosh. But it’s always this formation of ideas that eventually build up to this budding thought that you just can’t kick and it’s like a sickness in your stomach. so that’s definitely what marriage celebrancy was for me. I walked away from that ceremony thinking, I think this could be better.
I remember thinking that I need to find out… Maybe weddings have to be bad, kind of like pulling teeth. I don’t think there’s a more advanced more beautiful way of pulling teeth. Yes, there’s the general anaesthetic, but that’s a bit overkill. I don’t know whether there’s an elegant, classy, beautiful, fun way of pulling teeth. I think all of the pulling teeth methods are terrible. They’re all varying methods of terrible and so maybe marriage ceremonies are like that and maybe they’re just like pulling teeth.
And, so I went away and I researched and I thought about it and it didn’t have to be. so from there, while it was just, it was a transgression into like a funny how to become a celebrant, doing the course, applying…going down that whole line of saying, yes, can we do this? then eventually being accepted as a celebrant which is a bit… in Australia, it really depends on where you are. But I’m sorry, it depends on where you are in the process of becoming a celebrant. Because back when I did it, it took about two years, but these days it takes about six months. But, then it took just under two years for me to be accepted as a Celebrant. then all of a sudden you’ve got this authority and the journey continues and you start thinking what, like how can I use this?
The first ceremony I did wasn’t ground-breaking. I’d lost my voice and I’d Googled a marriage ceremony because I didn’t know what to do because that’s what everyone does. You just Google marriage ceremony and read the script and I walked in there thinking I’m still not reaching the standard that I desired to reach. It’s that gap that forever encourages me. The gap between where I am and where I should be. I think the second that I lose that gap, I’ll probably resign, I’ll probably retire. I hope it doesn’t happen soon because I really like what I do. But that gap between where I am and where I should be, that that inspires me forever.
Tony: So how did that transformation come about? Because you mentioned when you first started doing it, you weren’t really doing what you really wanted to the levels you wanted to hit. So how, I mean obviously I guess it was a journey and you just started adding things.
Josh: I took something from radio that’s always helped me in radio, but I also hated, and the thing I took from radio that I hated and helped me was a process we called Air-checking. Which is, it’s not that terribly technical, it’s just, an Air-check in radio is when the boss, the program director, whoever it might be, they listen back to the show and they do it with you and they give you feedback and they tell you, they ask you why did you do this and what was your…, where were you going with that? you’ve [inaudible 06:26 ] just to review the show. it’s heartbreaking because I don’t…, like no one wants that.
But from there I would listen to the ceremonies I was doing. I would listen to the actual vibe of the day. I’d watch the video back, because I knew where I wanted to be because where I wanted to be was two people just in their own skin, being comfortable and smiling and just marching head forth into marriage in a ceremony that was just awesome where their whole crowd is just cheering them on. The couple, they’re beaming with smiles and they do something meaningful and extraordinary that doesn’t take forever but it’s also not over and done in three seconds. Because that’s the thing. So many people come to me and they’re like, oh sort of quick ceremony. I’m like cool, cool, cool. Like, I don’t want a long ceremony but let’s not make it a one-minute ceremony. If we’re all going to, wear pretty clothes and turn up for a few seconds, let’s do something. If we’re all going to turn up to the stadium, let’s go watch the game.
Like I said so, and I’m not advocating for long ceremonies. God, there’s people that do hours and 45, 60, 90-minute ceremonies. I don’t know how you sit through that. But just having a moment where we can all cheer and we can all just say this is good. So that’s where I wanted to be. then I watched the ceremonies and they weren’t that. So l just go away and I’d think, how do I do that? I started reading books, not about marriage ceremonies because no one’s written a good, actually I lie, I have a good friend of mine Hans has written a book recently on marriage ceremonies and it’s actually a really good resource. But even that’s not the Bible, if I may, as to how to do a ceremony, it’s just Hans, showing some good ideas and good practices that he’s either re-communicated or thought of himself. It’s a good book, but it’s still not like here is how you ceremony.
So I didn’t go to those kinds of books to learn how to be a better celebrant, although many of you should go to Hans’ book. I went to other books, books on life, books on love and marriage and try to find words or phrases or ideas or ceremonies from other cultures that might slightly influence me. Not that I would go to other cultures and just rip it out like, oh, cool, a Jewish thing, great. Bring it at me. I would, look at say, a Jewish wedding ceremony and say, well, why did they do that? What significance does that have? So not so I would just rob from that culture, but I would just look at how are other humans celebrating people loving each other.
I still do that. I always get excited when…, there are quite a few Jewish couples in Australia who come to me for a civil ceremony and they still love their Jewish culture, but they’re not all in on the, the traditional Jewish ceremony. I love having that conversation because we really get to talk about what means, what and why we’re doing this. So I love that.
Tony: So when you meet your couples, and again, I get the impression that you do a lot of things that they’re not expecting.
Josh: Yeah I do.
Tony: Do you tell him everything? Do you tell them everything that you’re going to do or you just simply say some of the things that are going to happen and then just say go on? What happens then?
Josh: I would actually put it to you like this. I would actually, so I’ll lead in with that, answering with this question with this statement. I don’t like wedding rehearsals because wedding rehearsals are kind of saying we need to rehearse this and what do you rehearse in life? In life, we rehearse driving to the hospital if we’re scared about…, we’re going to have a baby. How do we get to the hospital? What’s the quickest way to get to the hospital? Some people need to rehearse that if they don’t know the roads and if they don’t go to the hospital often. For us, I wouldn’t rehearse that cause I know how to get to the hospital really well. Cause I know how to do it. If we were putting on a play, if I was at school and we were putting on this year’s production of Aladdin or something like that, yes, we would rehearse that because it requires rehearsing because there’s a right way of doing it and there’s a wrong way of doing it.
So things we rehearse in life, either have ultimate importance we can’t stuff it up or they have high production values that we can stuff up. I don’t think a wedding fits either of those forms. So when it comes to what happens in a ceremony, I’m not going to rehearse that. I’m not going to rehearse it with the couple on the day before and I’m definitely not going to tell them what’s going to happen. I want them just to turn up and they can just experience it because it’s not a play that we’re putting on for their family, they’re getting married. This is real life.
So I know that our most marriage celebrants would hear this and just die in shock because they’ve all been taught to send your scripts off to the couples and get them to check them. But there’s a reason the movie producers don’t send me scripts for movies because Josh Withers doesn’t know how to read a script from movies world. I can’t read a script and form that movie in my head. Oh sorry, I’m not a famous actor, which was probably a contributing factor. But if you’re a Hollywood, and if you’re a director and you’re making a big movie, you think Tom Cruise would be a great guy for that. You would definitely send your script to Tom Cruise because Tom Cruise can read a movie script.
Although it’s just words on paper, as he’s reading those words, he’s reading it differently to you and I, unless you’re a great actor as well. Because you and I are just reading words and we might read the words ‘scene opens a tropical island’ and you might be thinking of somewhere in the Caribbean, I might be thinking of Sunday islands and the director might be thinking of Hawaii. But Tom cruise reads it and he knows what’s going on and he can just visualize it and he can just imagine the movie happening because he’s good at reading scripts.
Our couples, they’re not good at reading scripts and they are not good at producing ceremonies. They don’t know what a good ceremony looks like. They’ve never produced a ceremony in their life. They’ve got no idea what to do. So I’m not going to send them a script. They don’t know how to command the attention of an audience. They don’t know how to piece two words together, and I’m generalizing of course so I apologize if any couple can, but they’ve hired me to do a job and they’re paying me a good fee to do that job. I’m not going to ask them to do my job for me.
So all of the things that a celebrant or an officiant might be looking for their couple to do when they check their script, you do it. If you’re looking for them to verify that they got together in April 1999 ask him did you get together in April, 1999? Yes. Great. if you want to check the story on how they met, awesome. But don’t get them to proofread your script.
Tony: So, therefore, it sounds like there’s a lot of things that happen during your ceremonies that the couples weren’t expecting and that becomes special moments.
Josh: Yes, absolutely. I guess I don’t view it like that. I view it as their expectations is that they would be celebrated and they would have fun and that they would be lifted up and encouraged. They do expect that because I promised it to them. But as for the words that happen, the individual words that are spoken, the individual words that form the sentences that are spoken. Yes, they hold great importance because they literally form our world. But no one leaves the ceremony and say, hey, do you remember the fourth line he said after the ring ceremony? Was it something about this? No one’s saying that because they don’t remember the individual words. They remember the vibe, they remember the feel, they remember the excitement and the happiness and just the feeling of joy and your words form that.
So don’t think I’m underplaying the value of individual words but they are not the important thing. No one looks at a house and just praises the screws that are holding the walls together. They’re saying what a great house. But no one’s praising the guy that made the architraves and the guy that chop down the tree that made the wood and the got to cut the wood, no one’s praising the individual pieces of the house. They’re saying, great house mate, you bought a great house, Tony. Congrats on buying an awesome house.
So that’s the same with a ceremony. It’s those individual words don’t hold as much importance as the whole ceremony. So yeah, it may be unexpected to them, but they’re also expecting the unexpected to use an awesome cliché. They walk into the ceremony knowing that today, Josh is running the ceremony and we’re going to have fun and I just unleashed it upon them. That’s really good.
Tony: Because you don’t write a script as such do you.
Josh: Well I do and I don’t. I don’t know, I don’t write a word for word script, that I would memorize and read back, no. As I meet with couples, I ask them questions that I think are pertinent to their ceremony and as I’m writing those notes, I think of other things to ask them that I think would be important to them. From there I do take a lot of notes and there’s a lot of words. But as for a script no, I don’t write a script at all. I have lots and lots of notes and I’m reading them the whole way through. Every time we meet we meet many times. I’ll meet most couples two to four times before the ceremony sometimes more. Sometimes Skype calls, lots of emails, lots of texts and maybe like if it’s like, because most of my weddings are destination weddings and elopements. So sometimes I’ll even catch up with them the day before if we are overseas or something, whether it be the day before and catch up again. Then on the day I’m reading and reading and reading and then as we go into the ceremony, I’m so prepped it’s not funny. So although I don’t have a script, I’m probably more prepped than the average celebrant.
Tony: So in all those meetings you have with your couples, what is it, what information are you trying to get from them?
Josh: I want to know…so there are a number of things on my mind. A- I want to know their story. Just their general story…how did they go from not knowing that each other existed to knowing that each other existed? How did we go from them knowing that each other existed to being together and how do we go from being together to saying we should be together forever? So just the cliché, no sorry, cliché is not the word I meant to say there. What are the moments that led to those decisions being made? What kind of dates, places, circumstances were those decisions made in? Then I also want to know what’s important to them because not all humans are the same. Some people really value their faith and some people don’t. Some people really value our ritual, some people don’t. Everyone values different things. So I want to find out what’s important to them, what’s available to them.
Then finally, and this is probably the most important thing, and I don’t really know this until honestly seconds before the ceremony, but I’m definitely building to it across the whole journey. I want to know that they trust me. Have they told me everything? Do they trust me to deliver the ceremony? If they ever ask a question that would make it seem like they don’t trust me, that’s okay. I’m grateful that they asked the question because now I can answer it. I’d rather them ask the question than not, but that’s a bit of a flag to me to say, hey, we need to spend a bit more time nodding these things out.
Tony: So generally what indications would you receive that they do trust you?
Josh: If they trust me, then, you know, there’s not, I was going to try and list things off, but then like there’s no definite characteristics that would make it a yes or no. But sometimes if they were asking questions about things we’ve already talked about, I would start thinking, oh, we’ve already talked about this. Maybe they don’t trust me. Maybe there are like, I thought we’ve already covered this, so I wonder why they’re asking me. Sometimes it’s just because they forgot and you know, we’re human, but it’s honestly just a gut thing.
Tony: so when you are listening to their various journeys and how they, what’s important to them and so on. In your mind, do you start planning, I could maybe include this in this person’s ceremony and then another couple it will be something completely different. So are all your ceremonies very much tailored to what it is they tell you during those meetings.
Josh: So it’s a very conversational meeting. Like, I don’t have a list of questions that I ask them. I don’t have a survey that I’m taking them through, but yes I’m asking questions about what… Just say for example, if they brought up, oh, I’m Jewish. I know I’ve brought up Jewish, but I’ve I brought Jewish a few times, but the Jews are so amazing about their ceremony. The ceremonial elements and the rituals they do and why they do them. So I’m currently a bit of a fascination with them and their why. Why the Hebrew people did certain things. I think that’s fascinating just on a goal of life scale. So part obviously as a celebrant, a lot of their wedding and just ceremonial elements of life, I just find it very fascinating.
So if someone says that, oh I’m Jewish, I’m from a Jewish background I’m like, oh cool, let’s start digging down that lets up pulling on that thread. What’s important to you there? I’ll just keep on asking questions and I’m very inquisitive almost interviewing them, trying to find out who they are because so many people sit in front of me and say, oh we’re really boring and I think I bet you you’re not. I bet you’re really interesting. I bet you like just the fact that you are living, breathing human in front of me, I bet you’ve got a great story. So I seem to dig that out of them.
Tony: What weddings stand out to you, where you did something that they, that was probably very different to what they would have received from another celebrant? Can you think of any great stories that you’ve done?
Josh: See I don’t know because I am this way in my…, the way I’m with you on this podcast is the same way I am in my meetings, which is not that different to how I am in my ceremonies. So I’d imagine that most people would be very comfortable in that, because I would be devastated if I was like this in the meetings and then on the day I put on this big voice ‘hello everyone’. everyone just freaks out, cause like who is this guy? So I would hope that it’s very, very comfortable and yet the words are different.
But then also if you read my blog and if you read my Facebook and my Instagram, you shouldn’t be that surprised. So probably the only real surprise is how I’ll pick up on a few threads of your story and I’ll build them into your ceremony. honestly, as much as they have so much value for celebrating the marriage, a big part of it is to encourage the audience and let them know this isn’t your regular ceremony. Yes, I do know the couple. Yes. I know why they’re into each other. It’s always like flags to say, hey, listen up. This isn’t another one of those ceremonies.
So a good example of that is the couple had no idea this was this would happen and they’d never mentioned that except for the first time we met. We met on Skype and I took note that they said this and I didn’t bring it back up again because I didn’t want to give them an indication that I might use it. But the second they mentioned, I thought, what an amazing way to begin the ceremony. As I kept on planning the ceremony, I thought, yep, it still works. Yep, it still works. On the day I’m thinking about it about it. Yep. It still works.
So, she’s a Filipino girl and he’s a Sydney boy and big families on both sides and friend groups and the like, so a lot of people there and a big beautiful outback Australian kind of venues, a farm. It’s so quiet, peaceful and beautiful and everyone sits the music plays and walked down the aisle and it’s an epic song. It’s an INXS song, if you’re familiar with the band and ‘Never tear us apart’ in this epic kind of song to walk down the aisle to and I asked everyone to give them a round of applause and I tell everyone takes a seat.
They’re looking each other holding hands, the silence falls and it’s obviously time for me to start talking. And, yes, that’s my… I’m familiar with the cue and I break the silence with the first line. If he was my teacher, I’d go to school every day. Everyone laughs, it’s everyone breaks into laughter and straight away everyone knows what kind of ceremony is.
Now to provide everyone with some context that probably doesn’t make any sense to anyone that wasn’t there or hasn’t met the couple. The way the couple met was, the groom is a school teacher of a primary school class and there’s a school photo posted on Facebook, by one of the moms saying, look at my little boy and the school teacher’s tagged in the photo. The mum of the boy’s friends with the now bride or now wife. So she sees this photo of the little boy like oh cool, that’s my friend’s son. Sees the teacher and goes in the comment box. If he was my teacher, I’d go to school every day. That’s how they found out that each other existed. That’s how they started the relationship. So that was definitely unexpected.
Tony: Is there any wedding, I know you’ve done a lot of weddings, do any of them really stand out? I know it’s like asking you to pick your favorite baby, but?
Josh: Yes. It’s a good question that I get asked, but I actually have a very linear mind-set in it all because as great and as intelligent as I might be, I’m not that great and I’m not that intelligent and I’m not the smartest kid on the block, so I’ve only ever really got the last ceremony in my head and the next ceremony. luckily for me, I only go to really good ceremonies. So the last ceremony I had was, it was Andrew and Katrina on Saturday and it was a really beautiful day on the beach. It was overcast, which was nice because it wasn’t too sunny. We were all barefoot and it was just a great ceremony. We had a lot of fun.
Then the next ceremony I’ve got, it’s Jamie and Alex this Thursday in the Byron Bay Hinterland and, so yeah, I probably don’t have the best answer for you because I’m just, I’m very linear. Very I suppose, I don’t have a wide focus on that because if I start getting all up in it too much, honestly I’ll probably lose. I’ll probably lose focus and I’ll stumble. So, if I stop and really think about it, actually what I have to do is open up my Dropbox and go through the photos that I’ve got saved. If I do that then I’ll probably be very likely to be able to find a ceremony.
Tony: You mentioned when you were first doing it, you used to listen back and even watched video backup to ceremonies you did. You did you still do that?
Josh: Just as early as today I watched the video and I clipped a little snippet of it and posted it on Facebook and yes, I’ve still got to do that because I still need to do better. I think I’m doing a really good job, but I could do a better job.
Tony: You’re very big on the whole tech thing. So do you do anything tech wise for weddings that a couple might not be expecting?
Josh: Yes, I certainly do bring in a real nerdy advantage, technical advantage to my ceremonies. I do two things that I think are important. The sound and also our recorded video. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to move videographers back more, I still want them to still have a good job. But I do video thing that most videographers can’t do and most, well, most wedding professionals can’t do. I’ve got a little, it’s a little camera. It’s very small. It’s about the size or smaller than a can of coke. It’s called a Mevo camera and I have that on a monopod in an inconspicuous way in the ceremony and that can record and or Facebook live the ceremony. So if there are people that can’t make it, we can stream the ceremony and get audio straight out of my PA system wirelessly.
So it’s high quality, like the best audio you can have. A really good picture. It can broadcast in 4K if we have the connections, and we’ve never have the connection for 4K , but if we do we can do 4K now it can record in 4K. So the ceremony, I just posted a little video on my Facebook page today, it’s 4K. It’s beautiful. So I’ve got the video there so like an hour or two after the ceremony, I can give the couple a video of the ceremony. I literally did this for a couple of the other day where the parents are heading back to see grandma the next day. She’s in hospital and I just transferred the video of the ceremony onto their iPhone and they could take the iPhone into the hospital the next day and show the ceremony to grandma. So I do the video side of it. This is included in my fee.
The other thing I do is I’ll bring what I bring to every single ceremony. The world’s best portable PA system, which is a Sennheiser, LSP 500, which is a beautiful sounding battery, operated completely wireless PA system. I’ve got two wireless mics, one for me and one for a singer or a band. Also as a back-up if needed. It’s also got a little wireless transmitter that I can plug into an iPod or a guitar. So guitarists love me. If there’s ever a solo musician playing one of my weddings, I put a mic in front of him, I plugged the battery pack into his guitar and he’s completely wireless, loud, clear, beautiful. So, those are two really easy technical things I bring to ceremonies that I think are important and they’re included in what I do. For me, it’s not that hard cause it’s easy to set that up.
Tony: Well, I think we’ve just about come to the end Josh, but before we finish, is there anything that I haven’t asked that you do in ways of over delivering?
Josh: I do one thing that I think is really simple, and possibly a little bit linked to my anxiety, but I just try so hard to be wherever I’m going early. I’ll usually have lunch or whatever it might be near the venue so I can be there early. I’ll let people know that I’m there early. I’ll even sometimes go and set the PA system up two hours before the ceremony and then go away and have lunch and come back afterward. Something like that. Just because letting people know that you’re reliable and you’re there is a simple, easy way of building trust with vendors, with the venues, wedding planners, whatever it might be in, just the couple as well because celebrants are renowned for turning up for 15, 20 minutes before the ceremony and everyone’s freaking out.
Oh, I didn’t know if you’re going to come. If anyone ever says that to me, it freaks me out. So I want everyone to know that I’m just there so I’m always early, or if I’m flying for a wedding, I’ll take the earliest flight that day or I’ll fly in the day before. If I’m flying a budget airline internationally or fly one day earlier so that if worse comes to worse, I can take a later flight that day or the next flight the next morning or something like that. The worst thing I could do is not turn up to someone’s wedding. So I won’t let that happen.
Tony: Josh, it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you and I hope to speak with you again one day.
Josh: Thanks so much, Tony had an awesome day.
Tony: Thanks Josh.