Monday, February 17, 2014
Being a Master at being a Master of Ceremonies
The BAFTA awards ceremony last night was a glittering affair, with stars receiving their well-deserved accolades, and mostly mumbling a few words of thanks. For me, the star of the night was the host, Stephen Fry, who managed the evening with style, panache and humour. None of that was accidental, but required a great deal of preparation, rehearsal and discussions with the organisers.
The MC of an awards ceremony or a conference is a critical role. It's far more than reading out the introductions. As well as preparation, it requires a calm demeanour, the ability to fill time, respect for everyone in the audience and on stage, and keeping the focus away from themselves, and on those being celebrated. Those of us in the Professional Speaking Association who have specialised in this kind of work for many years know that being the host requires at least as much, if not more work than delivering a great keynote.
Here are my tips for becoming a master MC.
The MC's role begins months before the event takes place. Preparation, as ever, is very important. As soon as the speakers have been selected, make contact, explain your role, and ask them to supply an introduction. Be sure to ask if there are any matters that are concerning them, such as rehearsals and audio-visual requirements. It isn't your job to resolve these issues, but you should act as a go-between to ensure that everything is covered.
2) Outward focus
It's your job to make the speakers or award winners look as good as possible. It's not about stealing the show. You aren't there to tell jokes and stories (unless you have to fill, but more of that in a moment). There will usually be an event organiser who will arrange a timetable for the event. They are a critical contact for you, and you should keep in close communication with them at all times. When the speakers arrive for their rehearsal, you should be there with them to check their introduction, handover, and what to do if the technology fails. You will be expected to literally step in and cover if anything should go wrong.
It's perfectly acceptable (in fact essential) for the MC to take notes on stage. There may be formal announcements, or a precise form of words that a speaker insists on. You don't have to learn their introduction, but you should practice the technique of reading a phrase at a time and looking at the audience when delivering it. You should mention the name of the person you are introducing only at the end.
During the speech, you need to keep an eye on timing, and alert the speaker with a pre-agreed signal if time is running out. If you have to fill in time while a speaker prepares, or during a technical hitch, you need to keep the audience informed and entertained. Your job as a professional is to keep the event on time. If that means shortening a break, that's what you do. Slippage through a day is a common fault, and is disrespectful to both the audience and the later speakers.
Ensure that everyone is thanked before the event closes. That includes the organiser, the venue and all the backstage and front of house staff. Congratulate the speakers or winners again. Then you can relax and have that refreshing beverage you've been looking forward to all day.
Your role is not complete until you have sent a post-event review, suggesting improvements and maybe positioning yourself to host the event next year. After all, they deserve a professional.
Image Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons licence