With so much “How To” information at our fingertips, understanding what not to do is just as important.
As meeting and event planners, we double check, review and question everything. Yet, one critical step can be easily overlooked. I don’t mean reviewing the script or stage cues. I mean touching on the 5 essential “please don’ts” that can lead an emcee spoiling a well-planned program.
Please don’t feel you need to entertain.
An emcee’s primary purpose is to move the program along, to manage the tempo, and to keep the program on schedule. There are financial implications to overtime, chiefly among them rental and labor fees, and a poor emcee can end up costing an organization a significant sum. Keep it short, but most important, keep the pace, maintain the energy and stay focused on the program—these tips are particularly important for awards dinners that can last 2 or 3 hours. “Many attendees, such as guests of a board member, may not know anything about the organization. The event is an opportunity to reach these new people, so if it’s slow or boring, you lose the ability to connect to many potential supporters,” says fundraiser and event planner Ginger Lackey. Post-event reviews that rate the program as “too long” or “dragging on” can affect fundraising and future attendance and, ultimately, the bottom line.
Please don’t talk about yourself.
An emcee spends more time at the podium and on stage than anyone in the program, and yet this event is not about him or her. In truth, an event is about the audience, and it is their experience that is important to the host. Some emcees are hired or invited to speak because of a specific personal connection or experience, but even so, don’t tell personal stories unless they are brief and highly relevant to the event’s topic or theme. And, remember, as an emcee, your personality will come through in the way you carry yourself on stage, your mannerisms, and the way you speak.
Please don’t bring your soapbox.
It is a lose-lose scenario when emcees go off script with their own agendas: the speaker comes across to the attendees as irrelevant, and the attendees—who have gathered around a specific theme or purpose—are irritated. A recent event feedback form captures an attendee’s perspective: “The MC is supposed to get people excited about this cause; he didn’t do that.” Whether you’re paid or a pro-bono emcee, you are participating in an event on behalf of the host, and in so doing, you are agreeing to speak to their mission, to further their agenda, and to promote their cause or product.
Please don’t tell jokes.
Jokes too often don’t go over as well as expected. Most “funny stories” are, frankly, not funny. The risks of falling flat are high and the result can dampen a great evening: the atmosphere becomes uncomfortable, guests feel embarrassed, and energy leaves the room. Even professional comedians can be a risky undertaking. Err on the safe side and save jokes for family and friends.
Please don’t wing it.
Prep is critical to an emcee’s ability to set the proper tone for the event, to make introductions, and to smooth transitions between speakers and segments of the program. If you are presented with a good script, stick to it. Good scripts are carefully crafted to move the program forward, to relay particular information, to communicate specific ideas, and to affect the audience in a particular way. At a recent awards dinner, the presenter went off-script during his introduction of the honorees. The post-event survey included this telling comment from an attendee: “Why did the folks this year get their awards?” The script is also the road map for the entire team, providing lighting, sound, and A/V cues. Departing from a good script can disrupt the tempo and dilute the message, and result in an event that seems flat and pointless at best. If you are given a bad script—it happens—collaborate with the writer or organization to make changes that keep the program focused, smooth, and relevant.
Dedicated to event professionals, development teams and emcees everywhere.