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How to Be an Effective Emcee
by Chris King

Once you are known as someone who handles him or herself well in front of a group, you will be asked to lead a meeting and/or introduce the speakers. If you have ever been introduced by an ineffective emcee, you know how important this position is to the success of a program. When you accept the position of emcee, you will want to not only present the others on the program professionally, you will want to orchestrate the occasion in an exemplary fashion. In the following article, I will share some ways that will guarantee your success as an emcee.

Be aware of what your role is. Yes, you will be the host and facilitator for the program. And your job is to warm the audience and prepare them for the speaker(s). Your part is extremely important to the overall flow of the meeting, but you must remember that you are not the “show.” You should not tell a joke, as I have heard many emcees attempt to do, or give a mini-presentation. It is your goal to make the speaker(s) look good. And, this leads us to the next topic of introductions.

Smooth introductions that are succinct work in everyone’s favor. Many professional speakers will bring you and/or send you a written introduction. Take time to read it over (aloud in private is an excellent idea) and check with the speaker on the pronunciation of any of the words that our unfamiliar to you – making notes on the pronunciation. I can’t tell you how often an emcee has incorrectly pronounced the name of my college, even when I have pointed it out beforehand. If the speaker(s) you will be introducing hasn’t handed you an introduction, conduct a mini-interview and write down what you plan to say. Just “winging it” or going on and on about how long you’ve known old Joe and what a good guy he is, will start him out at a disadvantage.

The word “succinct” is incredibly important. At a recent evening presentation by a well known speaker, I saw the energy in the room take a huge dive when the leader of the group that was sponsoring the event droned on and on about the group, about the speaker, and other information that was uninteresting to everyone. By the time this revered speaker got up on the platform people in the audience were practically dozing. Fortunately, being as expert as he is, he soon rescued us from boredom and saved the evening. It was a shame, however, that he had to start out at a disadvantage, and others might not have been able to pull it off.

Smooth transitions are a necessity. A proficient emcee realizes the importance of transitions and handles them with ease. When there are two or more speakers and/or other parts included in the program, the emcee must work to keep the mood on an even keel. For example, if the first speaker ended his or her presentation on a moving and emotional note, the emcee needs to bring the audience back to a neutral frame of mind before the next presenter, otherwise the next speaker will start at a disadvantage. Transitions don’t need to be lengthy. They can consist of a positive comment, a quote (have many ready), a short story that relates, or if the program is long, a chance for everyone to stand up and stretch.

It is the emcee’s job to keep the program moving on time. Even though the speaker(s) have been given a time schedule, not every presenter stays within the limit. It will be your responsibility as the emcee to keep everyone on time. Before you start, tell them that you will give them a signal when they have five, three and one minute left, and stress that the time schedule is important for the success of the program. If they start going way past their time without paying any attention, you might have to gracefully take to the stage – not pleasant, but everyone in the audience will thank you. And, as the emcee, keep your comments as short as possible. I remember one evening when an emcee wanted to tell us one short story before we took our break. He went on for more than half an hour and has been remembered ever since for his rude behavior.

Remember that being asked to be the emcee is an honor. Yours is probably the most important function of the program – keeping every part moving smoothly. Take it seriously, prepare well, and be proud of the part you’ve played, and you will be asked again and again.

A good emcee is hard to find, so be one!

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