Mastering the Master of Ceremonies
Despite the prevailing opinions of many in the corporate world, the MC is pretty much the most important person at your function. They are the major reason your function succeeds or fails. They should be the first decision you make rather than the last. They should be the first consideration of your budget rather than the last. They should be a professional – not some dipstick from within your organisation that you think could ‘handle it’. The MC is the only person who doesn’t get a break, has to listen to everything and handle any eventuality. What's more, they have to do all of that in the most public way possible and without the option of a second take. The truly good MC’s in Australia and New Zealand can be counted on two hands. That is how hard the job is and that is how rare the good ones are.
That being said, if you do have to MC an event here are some tips. Your job as the MC is a very simple one – to make everyone else look good. Which, of course, means that your job is far from simple because not everyone makes an effort to look good on their own. The number of times I have had to desperately try and make sense of someone’s inane rambling for an audience, massage a run sheet that was never realistic or even deliver someone’s keynote for them beggars belief. But as an MC that is what you have to do… make everyone else look good, no matter what.
As the MC you are the ultimate authority in terms of what happens on that stage. It is your stage and everyone who speaks is a guest on it. That means there are two things you need to do for your ‘guests’:
- Make them feel welcome and looked after
- Tell them the rules
Most people try to do the former and almost everyone ignores the latter. If your speakers don’t know the rules i.e. timing, purpose, role, etc. it is very difficult to make them look good. So take the time, in a friendly way, to make sure they know and understand what is required from them on your stage. They will thank you for it.
Introducing people is remarkably simple. Simply explain what the subject matter is, why that subject is important to the audience and why the speaker is entitled to speak about it. Keep it brief, to the point and don’t make the mistake of stealing the speakers thunder with a lengthy opinion piece of your own. If you are introducing a dignitary then generally all you need is their name and title. Remember the last words out of your mouth when introducing anyone is their first and last name i.e. “ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome the Managing Director of Widgets Inc., Bob Smith”.
Thanking people is not so simple. It requires you to pay close attention to what they are actually saying and to find an emotional connection that you can reflect on. In other words, you need to talk about what the speaker meant to an audience or meant to you. Do not provide a laundry list of key points they made or try to summarize the takeaways. Be emotional, be personal and thank them in a way that actually means something.
Good continuity requires relevance. Whatever comes out of your mouth has to reflect in some way what has gone before and what is to come after. You don’t start crapping on about the weather and you don’t start telling jokes unless there is a good reason to do so. The whole point of continuity is that it has to go somewhere. There has to be a logical thread to what you are saying and a point that is being made. Granted, that logical thread can be tenuous at times but it still has to be there.
Ultimately, the MC sets the tone and the energy levels for the entire audience. It is a journey on which you are the guide. Audience’s look to MC’s to help them, lift them, calm them and any number of other adjectives but more than anything else an audience looks to the MC as their ‘voice’. You speak on their behalf and say the things that they might be thinking or wish they could have said. It is a great responsibility and one that is not to be taken lightly.