Professional Emcee

What is the role of an Emcee?

An emcee is the host and facilitator of the event. The event can be a wedding, a party, a seminar, a conference etc. As long as you are holding the microphone on stage, you are the emcee.

The role of an emcee is to warm up the crowd to prepare them for the program ahead. The emcee sets the tone. You are there to make the main stars of the show look good. You are also there to make sure there are smooth transitions between different segments of the program so that it flows smoothly. Should there be any hiccup, the emcee will have to ensure minimal disruptions to the program.

1. Prepare for an effective event opening

When people are waiting for an event to start, they are usually restless and raring to go. If you come out without an effective opening, it will set the dull tone for the entire event, and trust me, your event will not go down well.

Research has shown that people decide if they like you within seconds of meeting you. So now imagine you are on stage facing hundreds or thousands of people. You have that window of seconds for the first impression to make those people like you. This will set the tone for the entire event.

Think of the Olympic games and the elaborate opening ceremony to kick start the games. Now think of an “elaborate emcee opening ceremony” to kick start your event!

2. Bring on stage positive and energetic vibes

The last thing people want to hear from an emcee is a dull and low energy presentation. Imagine you are at a conference and the emcee comes on with zero energy. The speakers that the emcee introduce will also bring with them low energy, and so will the crowd. With the entire tone of the event at such a low energy setting, your event will not go well.

So as an emcee, always bring with you positive and energetic vibes on stage. You do not have to jump around on stage (unless the occasion calls for it), but you will have to sound bright and enthusiastic for the program ahead.

The more energy you have, the more engaged the audience will be, and if you’re excited, your audience will get excited. But if you’re dull and boring, there’s a good chance your audience will also be bored.

3. The emcee sets the tone for the event

In addition to point (2) above, while the emcee is not the star, the emcee will set the tone for the event. There are times to be serious, and times to have fun. If the emcee is all over the place, there will be no focus. It is thus important to find a good balance to set the tone for the event.

A good emcee will be able to read the crowd and set the correct tone for the entire event.

4. Control the timing of the proceedings

The emcee will have the ultimate control of the event proceedings. While there may be a stage manager to help manage the schedule, but by being on stage, the emcee will have control over what happens.

Always ensure that you are on top of your time management. If one segment overruns, see if you can recover by cutting some time off another segment.  If one segment is too short, you can drag the next segment out. Ultimately, you will have to ensure that the event starts and ends on time.

5. Always introduce the speaker’s bio

While you will already be acquainted with the speaker before introducing him on stage, members of the audience may not know who the speaker is. Often, the success of that segment will depend on the participants knowing the credentials or background of the speaker. This background knowledge will play an important role in establishing credibility and rapport between the speaker and participant.

Remember to make the speaker look good.

6. Remember that you are not the star of the show

When the emcee is on stage delivering a speech, there is a part of the role that requires the emcee to be the center of attraction on stage.

However as emcee it is not your time in the spotlight.  It is important for the emcee to understand that he/she is there to keep things moving and to make sure the speakers on the program (or the award recipients) are celebrated without hogging the limelight.

7. Remember to introduce yourself

You will be surprised, but many emcees do not remember to introduce themselves. If you do not or forget to introduce yourself before the start of the event, this will leave a nagging hole in your audience’s understanding of the event proceedings. They see you, but don’t know who you are or why you have been chosen for this central role in the event. So while you are talking up on stage, they might be wondering why you are up on stage to begin with.

If you are very confident that everyone in your audience already knows you, still, introduce yourself anyway. There may be friends, colleagues, special guests, and spouses in your audience who do not know you. And those who know who you are may not really understand what you do, or how and why you became the emcee for the event.

8. Always be addressing the audience (project your voice)

The worst thing an emcee wants to be doing will be to mumble to him/herself while on stage. Sometimes when one has stage fright or feel nervous on stage, this will tend to happen. If you mumble or talk to yourself  on stage, you will not be able to reach the audience effectively. They might now be able to hear you even if you’re using the microphone.

Always be addressing the audience, like you are talking to each member of the audience individually. Project your voice into the microphone such that you are talking to the entire audience. This will come hand in hand with the next point (9), where you will have to maintain eye contact with your audience while projecting your voice.

9. Maintain eye contact with your audience

Together with the point (8) above: In order to establish credibility with your audience, making contact helps to maintain an audience’s interest and encourages them to believe that you are genuinely interested in talking to them. If your audience is a large group, always look up and sweep your eyes across the audience.

A helpful tip would be to think of the audience as sitting in a “Z” formation. Start with the top left of the audience for a few seconds (while looking up from your script, if any) before looking right for a few seconds, then move down to the bottom left followed by the bottom right, in what is a “Z” around the room.

You can break your “Z” by starting from the middle or the back of the room to vary your eye contact.This will look like you are addressing the entire audience.

Together with projecting your voice and maintaining eye contact, this will give you the “intimacy” and credibility with your audience. On the other hand, a poor emcee will appear to be speaking to an empty room.

10. Bring pace to your delivery

Make sure that the speed of your delivery is easy to follow. If you speak too slowly or too quickly, your audience will have difficulty following what you say.

A tip to add life to your emcee presentation is to change the pace of your delivery. A slightly faster section might convey enthusiasm. A slightly slower one might add emphasis or caution.

11. Share key event information

Before an event starts, the audience will be wondering about the proceedings of the event. If you do not answer these questions, they tend to become distractions that prevent your audience members from giving you their full attention.

In your first few minutes on stage, put them at ease and set their expectations by giving them the full agenda for your event. There may already be a printed event schedule on the table in front of them, so just be sure to remind them that they are able to refer to the schedule if they have any questions about the timing of certain segments.

12. Breathe steadily and deeply

Always remember to breath steadily and deeply. If you are anxious about being on stage your breathing will become fast and shallow. This will affect the quality of your voice and your ability to speak clearly for extended periods of time.

If you are nervous, try to take a few deep breaths before you make your way onto the stage. Make a conscious effort to slow your breathing down and taking in more air with each breath. During your delivery, use pauses after questions or at the end of sections to allow comfortable breathing patterns.

Always remember to breath steadily.

13. Avoid cold drinks or spicy food before/during your time on stage

Ice cold drinks will constrict your throat and affect the quality of your voice. If you need to quench your thirst, drink a warm (not hot) cup of water to relax your throat and ease your speaking voice. If not room temperature water will do the trick.

Also remember to avoid spicy food as it can cause phlegm and will affect your stage delivery. Increased mucous in your throat can cause you to repeatedly clear your throat and sometimes even block your voice all together.

Other foods that cause phlegm include dairy products, caffeine and alcohol, so be careful with your vocal cords if you tend to get phlegm after consuming these items. 

14. Practise Practise Practise

The more familiar you are with your emcee script the more you will be able to inspire your audience’s trust and confidence. Practise reading through your script to yourself and if possible, stand up in a room and deliver your presentation to the walls. Familiarise yourself with your script so you are in control all the time should any eventuality happen.

Get used to hearing your own voice filling a room. Familiarise yourself with the hard to pronounce words and phrases in your script. Play around with different speaking volumes and see how well you can hear your own voice.

This preparation will go a long way your role as an emcee on stage.

15. Smile, even if you don’t mean it

Your nonverbal body language is as important as what you say on stage while emceeing.  If you smile at your audience, they are likely to smile back. And a smile engenders good feelings and a true connection — even if the smile is forced.

When you are forcing a smile, you are still genuinely trying to make a positive connection, so most people will read the nonverbal cue as positive.

But if you can, smile genuinely like you mean it. This will give a happy and positive vibe to the audience and they will reciprocate and be more receptive to you.

16. Dress the part

Different events will have different dress codes, and the emcee will have to look the part. 

If the audience will have on suits and dresses, wear your best suit or dress, and make sure your clothing is clean, well tailored and well ironed.

If the audience will have on casual wear, wear your best smart casual wear, again making sure your clothing is clean and well ironed.

17. Be prepared if you (or anyone else) make a mistake

No matter how professional an emcee is, the fact is everyone makes mistakes. Even my many years of professional experience on stage do not shield me from making mistakes.

And mistakes actually make people appear more human and come across as more relatable. But, when we become uncomfortable with slip-ups and gaffes, then our audience becomes more uncomfortable as well.

So the goal here is to recover nicely should there be a blunder on stage. Always be prepared with a back up plan like a joke or a nugget of information that you can keep on hand to use should there be a gaffe on stage.

The key to being a good emcee is to always be in control at all times no matter what happens.

18. Apologize should a major mistake happen

The worst mistake in the history of emceeing was made by Steve Harvey, when he announced the wrong country as the winner of Miss Universe 2015.

After that bad mistake, he came on and man up for his mistake and apologized. He started off with four words: “I have to apologize.” In his case, this was a severe major mistake that needed an apology to put things into context.

If you (and you will) make a minor mistake like mispronouncing a few words, just carry on with the program or the emcee script. The best way forward often is to keep your cool and get on the with the programme. There’s no need to freeze or apologise profusely. The audience are mainly there for the programme!

If you made a mistake on stage, console in the fact that the worst mistake that an emcee can make (in history!) has already been made by Steve Harvey, so fret not! 

Keep calm and emcee on!

19. Arrive early to do a sound check and ensure everything is in order

I’m usually one of the first to arrive at an event venue so that I can get myself into the right frame of mind, look around and be familiar with my surroundings.

It is important to arrive early so that logistical (if you require chairs or tables on stage) and technical  (e.g microphone sound check) matters can be be done.

Always do a sound check before the event starts so that you can tweak your voice EQ (to ensure you sound good), ensure the sound system is working good as well as to hear the acoustics of the room. 

Also, meet the client/stage manager/event manager/venue manager to run through the program and discuss your concerns regarding anything that you think needs attention. An event is a team effort and everyone needs to be on the same page.

Arriving early will also give you the emcee time to settle down and observe the crowd to help you adapt your style for emceeing later.

20. Transitions between different segments of the program (Dead Air)

A good and effective emcee will always ensure a seamless transition between different segments of the program. For example, after a speaker finishes his speech, an emcee will immediately come on to thank the speaker and introduce the next segment of the program. In some cases, a light hearted banter might even be appropriate between the emcee and the speaker at the end of his speech.

It is paramount that there is no “dead air” on stage during the program. Dead air is bad air on stage. 

As an emcee, it is important to always be on alert to ensure that there is no dead air. For example, if a video was supposed to play and for some reason the video didn’t play, the emcee will have to step in to recover the dead air.

Remember, dead air is a big NO NO!

21. Prepare the closing for the event

Just as there has to be a good opening, there has to be a closing to wrap up the event. A skeleton for a good closing is as follows:

a. Thank the audience

b. Recap the proceedings for the day

c. Re-emphasize key points

d. Remind the audience of any announcements (e.g where to redeem parking coupons, or where to get the presentation slides of the speakers)

e. Wish them well 

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