I have to admit it always tickles me to hear the sales pitch of DJs who proclaim about how it's their "sparkling personality" or "mic skills" that make an evening special for their guests. Sorry, I beg to differ.
Perhaps I'm a bit of a simpleton (an under-statement) but I believe a great event is designed and executed. It does not just "happen magically", at least on a consistent basis. Sure, there are a million little tid-bits of tricks and stunts we pull to control, influence and steer but at the end of the evening, the event pace is what makes it all come together.
Start with a Timeline of Events
The first goal we have is to build a good timeline of events. Grand Entrance, Dinner, First Dance, etc. Now I know that some DJs are strict "by the schedule" guys/gals but with our crews, we use the timeline as a "game plan" and that game plan revolves around (in the case of Weddings) the Bride, and to a lesser part, the Groom. Before each event change, we check in with the Bride/Groom and see if they're ready. If not, do a time shift. If they are, notify the other vendors (to give them time to get in place), and do it. For our timeline builder, we use a custom-designed, web-based system to get timeline events from the client. Everything is online, centralized, and in the case of an emergency, anyone else in the organization can step in and execute the program, exactly as our client requested it. Once the timeline is built (with a phone consult the last week to go over details), we get into the meat of how to put it all together.
Break it into Segments
I remember from my musician days at The Grand Ole Opry where several artists told me, "Rick, always give them something different". We use that concept today in how we time and run our events. It seems to work. The most basic rule is "No segment longer than 20-30 minutes maximum" (possible exception of dinner). We humans are funny creatures with short attention spans that must be constantly prodded and re-directed. Run anything too long, it's boring. Run it too short, it's piece-meal. This is also an argument to not just stack things together (First dance, parent dances, cake) to "get them out of the way". No, put each element into its own time frame and use that to re-focus and re-center your room's attention at every turn.
Patience is a Virtue
The other element of a well-run event is patience. You have to realize, the event's energy has an ebb and flow, much like waves crashing on the shoreline at the beach. I've seen so many Brides worry themselves silly because their floor wasn't slammed in the first 15 minutes. Slow down, be patient. This is the time where we're testing the waters and gauging reactions from your guests. You'll see a lot of musical change-ups (remember our "Rule of Rotating Fours") and a good DJ is sitting there, silently, behind the console, and carefully observing, planning for when and how he's going to "drop the hammer" and kick it into overdrive. Remember, you want to start strong, and finish strong.
While some DJs like to claim "I'm the party starter", most parties are going to start on their own and if the guy on the mic tries to push it prematurely, it usually annoys the guests more than entertains them.
The DJ-by-Proxy Bride
Another thing that often can trip up a successful evening falls squarely at the feet of Mr. Steve Jobs and a little device called an iPod. Let's face it, we've all got a million songs and it makes everyone think they're a DJ who can easily write out a slamming mix that will have the house jumping. I have to admit that I cringe anytime I get that dreaded 60-song playlist (yes, we'll do it, if that's what you want) where the client has picked out every single song, and in the order they want them played. Big, BIG mistake. The smartest advice I can give is to give your DJ about 10-15 of your personal favorites. A good DJ can take that list and can tell within a few seconds where you are (musically-speaking) and will know how to angle the evening to make it work for you. Let the professional you've hired do what you've paid them to do. They have a method and a plan, you just enjoy the evening because I assure you it will go by quickly.
I hope you find something helpful above. Setting the tone and controlling the pace, not too fast and not too slow, works and it works consistently (alcohol or not). I wish you well in planning your very special day.