Ritual planning is nothing more than preparation, an act of imagination. The reality is what happens when the ritual is actually performed. When the time comes and the ritual begins, the plan is secondary. The most important thing now is the frame of mind of the person or persons leading the ritual.
In some ways, leading ritual is similar to acting on stage. Not in the sense of being a performer trying to entertain an audience, or trying to project a fictional character who is not yourself, but rather in the sense of putting aside the stress and jitters and entering the flow of the present moment.
The primary role of the ritual leaders is not to follow the plan or make sure that nothing goes wrong. Rather it is to manage the energy of the ritual and the participants. The leaders must not project tension, desire to control, or irritability. They must project love, flexibility, confidence, and genuiness.
If you lead ritual with feelings of warmth and respect for the participants, the ritual will become a collaborative project, and glitches and departures from the plan will not bring down the group feeling and the positive focus. This is especially easy to do for a group that has worked together for some time, with different people assuming leadership roles; everyone understands how to support the energy and love of the circle.
In public rituals or with looser groups, there is more of a challenge. Leaders must be sensitive to the presence of participants who are confused or intimidated, whose energy is flagging, or who are caught up in private thoughts. If the ritual is well planned to begin with, addressing these problems should not require major changes to the ritual plan. More likely, they can be taken care of by a shift in your own attitude or focus, which may manifest as a bit of spontaneous humor, an increase or decrease in the level of drama you are projecting, or just reshaping the energy flow slightly by will.
It’s been said that leading ritual and teaching kindergarten require basically the same set of skills and attitudes. There’s a lot of truth in that. As people learn the ways of adult life, their basic nature doesn’t change, they just learn to match external behavioral expectations. We may still get bored and cranky like we did at 4 years old, but we’ve learned to stand and wait patiently instead of throwing fingerpaint at the teacher. But in a ritual context, it is not enough that participants behave well. They must also be well.
If the personal energies of the participants are flowing as they should, then the collective energy becomes available for achieving the ritual purpose. In a magical context, the energy is strong and palpable and is directed like a luminous fluid into the work. For less intense rituals, the energies are more diffuse and less kinetic, but still very real. And the desired result is the same: the collective will of the group becomes focused on the ritual purpose and moves to achieving with clarity and force.