What does an emcee do? This question is one that I am asked by those who don’t quite know what to expect of their event host or emcee. I’m sometimes asked this by event organizers, friends and family members and sometimes it’s a question of whether there is much to do except read things from a piece of paper, or introduce people while wearing nice clothes. When faced with this question, I say– imagine a really nice event. Usually the imagination is of nice food, decorations, a good ambience and of course, good content. And I ask my questioners– do you notice anything missing in your imagination?
They say no. And I say exactly. Things are running smoothly in your imagined scenario of a good event and that is exactly what I think a good emcee does. They don’t organize the whole event but it’s not simply their job to be on stage and announce things. They are the ones who create or maintain the ambience of the event.
So, how do I do that? Let me try and explain a little of my personal process.
1. I make recommendations to the existing event agenda
It’s the mark of a good event to connect people to the content of the event. Some ways to do this are by involving the attendees in the panel discussions or talks by asking them their opinions or asking them if they have any questions for the panelists and speakers. In a less obvious way, it’s also good to remind people when the conference will be restarting when they disperse for coffee breaks. In 90% of events that I’m part of, there is no way to communicate to the attendees outside the lecture hall. So, it’s a hassle.
It can be fun to have a designated bell-ringer whose job it is to ring the bell to tell people that the event would be starting soon. Another alternative is to have a public announcement system that connects the lecture/event hall to the foyer or meeting hall. This can be used to just call people back into the room. Another thing to do is to ping the attendees in your event app, or on their phones– 5 mins before the break ends. These are just a handful of examples of how I help better the event agenda.
2. I help keep people connected to the event via variety
I believe that Hitchcock said that a good movie should start with an earthquake and then the stress should continually increase. I love that quote because it creates such a sense of drama, but don’t agree with him. When I think of movies that I’ve enjoyed, it’s usually been that there has been some sense of normalcy that’s been established and changes or disruptions have come into that to create a sense of tension. A good event is similar. To hold people’s attention, it is necessary to make sure that there is enough space for them to absorb what is happening, synthesize information and participate in what’s going on. This means that there should be variety in the content and also the design of the content. Instead of having one heavy panel discussion after another, it would be better to have a keynote speaker opening up, then a panel discussion, a coffee break, another panel discussion, and finally a short performance of some sort that relaxes and changes the atmosphere of the event. How about a string trio playing a modern music piece in a classical way?
Recently I was the host at an event where the agenda for the conference was not the strongest. There were only two panel discussions and they were built back to back. Each was 1.5 hours long. Can you imagine 3 hours of constant listening to six or seven panelists? It was the first time that not just audience members were scrolling through their phones, but even one of the panelists themselves! It was easy to see that it was too much time to ask for anyone’s continued focused attention.
The changes that I suggest may seem small but can be quite impactful. Simple advice and small ideas can make an event go smoothly. If you don’t believe me, consider the experience that I shared above. If done well, a simple variation to the agenda would have brought flow and focus back into the event.