As soon as the sound failed in the opening video, I knew the conference would be rock and roll. Fortunately, I had insisted on an earpiece. I told the hastily assigned director to put the video volume up and he subsequently told me in my earpiece when the last-minute replacement for the opening speaker had entered the room. In fact, he arrived too late to start the conference. It was just as well that I had minutes beforehand lined up the second speaker to open it.
And that is how the day went, constantly adapting the programme when speakers didn’t turn up, physically changing the number of chairs on the stage before each session and repeatedly checking the number of available microphones and whether they worked.
In theory, acting as the Master of Ceremonies,(MC) is less work than moderating panel discussions, which take a lot of preparation to do well. An MC’s job is to make sure the event goes smoothly, linking the sessions and speakers and engaging the audience.
But if there has been no technical rehearsal the day before, and the team is a team of experts in their field but not in organising events – a situation I often face – the MC can find themselves in charge of a salvage operation – papering over the editorial and logistical cracks on the day as best they can.
So, here are my top tips for event organisers on what to look for or do when engaging a Master of Ceremonies:
• Bring in the MC a couple of months beforehand. An MC can advise on the event flow editorial narrative and how to make the programme interactive and varied. As I have said before, it is hard to manage the audience attention span when there is one speech or presentation after another, often with no editorial coherence or one-panel discussion after another, which has the same format. (See my blogs on panel moderation here)
• Brief the MC on the overall purpose of the event, each session’s objectives, and the speakers’ rationale and structure so he or she can clearly communicate this to the audience. The MC is there to serve as a thread linking the content throughout the event.
• Make sure the MC is concise and compelling in his/her remarks. Audiences don’t like verbose MCs that take up too much space. The role is to facilitate, not dominate!
• Engage an MC who can weave a narrative through the event, clearly connecting the speakers and themes of different sessions.
• Check that the MC can improvise when faced with technical challenges or unexpected changes to the programme. Broadcast journalists are usually adept at this as they are used to keeping the show on the road.
• Engage someone with great time management skills as audiences appreciate an event that is kept on track and to time.
• Hire an MC who can handle questions from the audience with aplomb. They must be encouraging yet control the situation if the question is unclear, too long or not a question but a long-winded comment.
• Search for an MC with high energy levels, an ability to connect with the audience and a sense of humour. The latter is particularly important when faced with technical gremlins, speakers that go over time or audience members who can’t ask concise questions.
• Organise a technical rehearsal the day before the event, as anything that can go wrong will go wrong (Murphey’s Law).
Once, a jury member at an awards ceremony I was hosting was on the verge of announcing the winner – not realising that his role was to only talk about the selection process and that it was the European Commissioner – sitting in the front row – who would do the honours.
Fortunately, I managed to stop him before he named the winner – and the award (unlike at that infamous Oscars ceremony) was given to the right person at the right time!
If you would like advice on organising an event, do get in touch, as I run in-person and virtual workshops to ensure your event is engaging and insightful.