Because your event is too important to leave up to chance.
How hard can it be, really?
Your events are an incredible opportunity to connect your audience with your company’s mission. The people in that room are spending their most precious resource, time, with you, and if you don’t respect that simple fact, attendance for next year’s fundraiser, awards banquet, tradeshow, or conference will plummet.
I get to MC a ton of conferences, which means I get to hear the horror stories from organizers and attendees, both.
At a recent conference I spoke with an attendee who had been at the previous year’s conference when they didn’t have an MC, a less-than-ideal venue, and poor directing. He had some real talk to share with me. He said:
“I’m kind of amazed there was this much turn out, to be honest. Last year was such a disaster, I thought people would avoid it this year.”
I’m in a unique position to hear his thoughts. He would never say that to the organizer. This leads me to the first point:
You May Never Know How Much Negative Press You’re Getting
People rarely take time out of their day to tell you how much they don’t like something.
Honesty is expensive! It can cost you friendships, contracts, and good employees. Nobody knows what being honest will truly cost them, so they will instead keep the peace, and say nice things about the event instead of sharing their real thoughts.
You might think your events are getting along just fine, but you usually don’t have a good idea where it can improve if you just rely on feedback from attendees.
“But we do follow-up surveys to get feedback!” you say, and I hear you. The problem is, few attendees know what it takes to put on a successful event! This leads me to the second point:
Attendees might know what they don’t like, but that doesn’t mean they what would make the conference better!
Think of it this way: I could talk to you for hours about what I don’t like, and at the end of the day you’d still have no clue what I do like. That’s why I wanted to put this list of simple things you can do to make sure your next event is a smash hit.
The all-important piece of the puzzle
Believe it or not, here’s one of the most important things you have to get right with your event: you have to have a great MC!
This is the person who is going to set the tone for the whole conference, and he tells the audience how they should feel about the next speaker based on how the MC treats them.
Too many clients believe anybody can MC an event, so they get “Carl from accounting” to do it because he’s funny. Unfortunately, MCing an event requires some pretty difficult skills to pull off effectively, and Carl is not a professional who spends his time honing his audience management skills. He’s good at being funny around the water cooler.
There’s a big difference between being funny there, and standing in front of 1,000 people & managing their attention effectively!
That’s why I want to share what some of those details are, so you can make the best choice in who helps your fundraiser go off without a hitch.
A good MC has material they plan to do between speakers so there’s no dead air.
A great MC will be able to add or cut time depending on the situation without the audience ever knowing something is going on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients come up to me 20 seconds before going on that “the computer isn’t loading PowerPoint! Can you keep things going until we have it running?!”
A great MC will be able to go out there, keep the audience engaged, and be ready to seamlessly transition into the next speaker’s introduction when they get the green light from the coordinator. This is absolutely mission-critical.
Without that ability, you have 1,000 people instantly checking their email, texting their friends, or Googling “what to do when I’m bored.”
Know Who You’re Introducing
You don’t have to know everything about the people you’re introducing, but you should know at least something, like how to pronounce their name properly!
Make it a point to chat with them a little before they’re scheduled to go on stage so you can ask them about any books they’ve written, accomplishments they’ve earned, or some kind of detail that shows their human side (do they have pets, have pride in their city, or have a stupid human trick?).
In the first 20 seconds of talking with them, you can get a feel for how buttoned up or relaxed they are. This will give you a lot of insight on how to talk about them when you’re out on stage. It’s a good idea to match the energy of the speaker you’re introducing, so the audience has a smooth transition from you to who you’re handing the (literal or figurative) mic to.
Show & Tell
My pet peeve is when a speaker or performer walks out on stage and says, “How is everybody tonight?!”
I know why they’re doing it. I do. They feel like it’s a way to make the audience feel included. Like they’re part of the whole experience.
The problem is, it’s lazy. It’s not the speaker’s job to poll the audience about their emotional state. It’s the speaker’s job to impact their emotional state for the better!
As the MC, it’s your job to to tell the audience what’s about to happen so they know what to expect, and then (even better) show them how they’re about to have a great time.
Walk out and say, “You guys are going to have a fantastic time tonight! There are some incredible speakers here who are the best at what they do, and you’re not going to see anything like this anywhere else on the planet. You’re going to be glad you decided to be here today, and by the end of it you’re going to know that’s 100% true!”
Telling the audience leaves no room for crickets. That’s what happens when you walk out and ask the audience a question: they may not answer. That’s dead air. That means they’re leaning back. That means they’re not engaged.
That means you’re failing.
So don’t give them the option to help you fail! They will follow your lead. Show & Tell them why they’re about to have a great time, and then (magically) they will have a great time. Avoid setting the dynamic where the audience is responsible for your success. They’re not professional presenters. They don’t know what it takes to look like a million bucks up there, so don’t put your reputation on the line by asking them “how they’re doing.”
To introduce the speakers. That’s a given. But you also have to be prepared to:
- Tell the audience where the restrooms are.
- How long they have until the bar closes.
- Handle a disaster like a fire. You absolutely must maintain order, and minimize panic. If you panic, they panic.
Can you imagine Carl keeping his cool while on stage and helping save the lives of 1,000 people who need to evacuate the room in an orderly fashion? Or will he crumble under the pressure, and cost people’s lives in the process?
You absolutely must do your prep work to ensure you can handle the situation; whatever the situation might be.
Ok, it’s go-time. You’re done vamping, and it’s time to announce the next person who is about to walk out on stage. Here’s how to introduce someone.
1. Say their name last
Whatever you’re going to say about the person who is about to walk on stage, never say their name until the end. The entire time you’re outlining all the achievements, the audience will be thinking, “Who are they talking about?!” This maintains their interest, and keeps them from tuning out too early if you say their name first and they think, “I’ve never heard of them, guess I can stop paying attention.”
Instead, make their name the last thing you say, so the audience has a natural cue to know when they’re about to make their entrance.
2. Stay put
You just said the speaker’s name, and gesture towards whichever side of the stage they’re going to enter from. This directs the audience’s attention to the most interesting thing on the stage; the speaker. STAY PUT. DO NOT MOVE.
If you say the speaker’s name, and then start walking off the stage, there are 2 moving things to pay attention to. You don’t want that. You want to smoothly direct the audience’s attention to the speaker and offer absolutely zero distraction to that person.
The speaker should walk up to you, shake your hand, and then wait calmly as you walk off stage. A real pro will thank you for your lovely introduction and acknowledge your effort to fill the time it takes for you to exit the stage.
This way there’s a smooth hand-off. The audience is never confused about where they should look, or who they should pay attention to.
3. Have an Outroduction
When their talk is over, the reverse happens. They stay put, you walk out, shake their hand, and thank them for their time as they walk off the stage.
Know what you’re going to say before you walk out there! Managing the situation after their talk is just as important as setting expectations before their talk.
The Golden Rule
The secret to being an incredible MC is remembering this:
You’re the host, not the star.
That means you realize the show isn’t about how great you are. Instead, you want to act like a gracious host who is helping 1,000 new friends have a great time. This is a different skillset that making it all about you.
You’re hosting the party, and making sure your guests are taken care of. Don’t try to outshine the people who are there to speak.
Keep these basic rules in mind when you’re preparing for your next event, and you’ll be lightyears ahead of everybody else who “just wings it.” The better job you do at making your guests look like a million bucks, the better time the audience will have, which means a more successful conference or fundraiser for everyone.
Let me know how it goes for you!