Perfect event hosts – what to look out for?

An event host is considered the most recognised individual from the event. It’s a testament that the first impression only happens once.

For your conference to achieve success, the right people are essential.

Why do people attend conferences? Some wish to learn more about their industry, or meet their role models. Others seek to expand their network. Some, however, are overwhelmingly primed for the meeting afterparty. I ask for a show of hands of those who have been late to the second day of the conference for this reason! 

 

Notice that all the above situations are related to interactions. I believe that their quality depends decisively on the atmosphere we encounter at the event. That’s why it is imperative to be welcomed by the host. It can be heard by both the participants and the incoming speakers waiting backstage. A host, who brags incessantly, or speaks with trembling voice, can infect subsequent speakers with their nerves. For guests, to feel such tension from performers may unintentionally be the cause to experience similar stress.  

In no world should this exist. Instead, imagine entering a packed lecture hall, with people smiling, and each subsequent speaker basking in the positive energy from the previous presenter. Remember - a great atmosphere can be contagious! 

Why should you have a professional emcee at the conference?

I asked Damian Haftkiewicz, an event producer for over 12 years. “To me, the conference host is its conductor. They realise the producer’s intentions while safeguarding participants’ positive impressions. They inform of the programme’s milestones, monitor time, and provide commentary on the events. They should be well-suited to the type of event, understand the industry, and know the speakers.”

Choosing the right conference emcee is crucial because they act as the organiser’s brand representative.

Damian Haftkiewicz

Fot. Bartosz Śrama

Wanting a great conference experience? Make sure to mind the numbers.

Have you ever spent an entire day at university, from morning to evening? That’s the case for people undergoing extracurricular study, who understand ‘lecture overload’. While the first hours can be intriguing, once 5 o’clock appears, a person may have to undergo some cardio to remain present in-body, and in-spirit.

 

That’s why when planning an intricate series of insightful but gripping lectures, be sure to provide audiences with ample breathing space. Visitors may wish to rest their minds, and even seek a nap during the coffee break. Others could opt for ‘lighter’ programme options, such as two-person discussion panel, or a ten-minute violin performance.

 

Do not fear new solutions. Many guests will quickly appreciate their lack of boredom.

Before sending the first invitation.

As a conference host, I have observed many info-heavy events over the years. When meetings would last from 9:00am to 6:00pm – and appear concise on paper – it may not necessarily be remembered in this way. If presentations are extensive, and participants are unfazed by the findings, they’ll soon be on the lookout for a side exit. Take note that rooms are often full at the beginning of a conference, with the first drop in attendance taking place after the lunch break. Following the ‘second coffee’, the remaining audience is scarce. Therefore, when advising event planners, I pay close attention to a well-laid-out plan. Sometimes, organisers may have their hands tied. In this situation, a host should find a solution immediately.

What do I do when the agenda practically screams the names of the speakers? I play along to keep my opposites interested. In my role, I do what’s in my power to keep participants engaged. If they are faced with a sophisticated, fact & number-heavy presentation, I diffuse the situation by seeking out exciting, but unconventional associations. Allow me to share an anecdote. I once asked a firefighter, considered an alpha and omega, about a pin attached to his jacket. It symbolised a golf ball, and I had noticed it a time earlier. Suddenly, the speaker-technician had morphed back into a human, and an enthusiast. This sort of spontaneous interaction humanises the speaker, enticing the audience, and forever separating them from their smartphone screens.

When the speakers and guests of your conference sense the good attitude and cordiality of the speaker, the transfer of knowledge will be a pleasure.

Photos: Agata Dąbrowskawww.agencja24mm.pl

My recipe for a successful conference

Try to identify the qualities that connect potential participants to your event. Who are they, where do they work, what do they experience daily? What are their needs? What presentations would they have heard multiple times, and in which subjects do they wish to improve their skills? Would a prestigious speaker make an impression? Or perhaps audiences would prefer to listen to a less charismatic keynote, albeit rich in context and information.  

Would your audience prefer a conference saturated with knowledge, or would they require more time for backstage talks and discussions? In conducting events, many I have fielded featured 5-10 minute coffee breaks. This should not be allowed to happen! The direct consequence of this is rush hour traffic lining up to use the restrooms. Short breaks, however, while looking great on paper, all end with mass returns of the audience during presentations. That can distract the speaker in addition to embarrassing audience members. I’d also like to leave you with this crucial warning: 30 minutes is not a reasonable time for a lunch break. That said, it would be if an anti-indigestion medicine were to sponsor the event.   

We live in an age where the average youth can become an ‘industry expert’ with ’12 years’ experience’, ‘1000 implementations’, and ‘2,000 satisfied customers.’ Some individuals may even claim that their expertise is proportional to their number of coffees consumed. Therefore, before buying, be sure to watch the speaker on YouTube. How do they appear? Are they credible? Are they compelling? If you wish to view objective opinions, steer away from the official channels, and simply ask the event attendees for their reviews. 

Many conferences I have hosted had turned into memorable spectacles due to the performance of a well-known speaker. I always treat everyone equally and have the same expectation from others. Let’s stop glorifying speakers as ‘keepers’ of all knowledge. Sharing a selfie photo with them is acceptable. But a step further would be to extract compelling and valuable insight. I, therefore, believe that the age of unilateral communication should come to an end. Give guests of your conference the chance to ask questions of the speaker, regarding follow up information, or details that could not be covered due to time restrictions. A good idea would be to add 5-minute Q&A sessions to engage the audience’s questions. They can raise questions via an application, or traditionally, by a raising of the hand. In both cases, a competent host will be able to determine who should make their queries.

Ideally, during one of the longer breaks, not directly after the performance, as this could empty the room before the next agenda point. Remember to arrange a comfortable space where you can talk to the person you want to engage, even at the bar tables.  

Everyone will appreciate it – but not in equal measure. The most demanding participants are often opinion leaders. During the lunch break, or in the conference foyer they can possibly comment on any shortcomings of the Organizer, and their opinion will become dominant in a way known to sociologists. To avoid this, keep an eye on the time. Everyone has their own plans – including a speaker who may not be happy to suddenly delay their speech to a later date.  

If you seek to take conservative measures, it should not be on technical equipment. A common mistake I see in seminars and hotel conferences is a reliance on hotel equipment. The sound systems offered by many properties offer poor sound quality or configuration. In some cases, simultaneously operating two microphones causes highly-unpleasant feedback. On other occasions, the speaker would have to ‘seek’ spaces free of microphone interference by circling the stage, as a vulture might do. 

It may be a matter of personality, but some hosts are interested in making an overly-rehearsed ‘stump speech’. This not only shows ineffective presentation but can risk the value and passion of your event. With such an attitude, it happens that: 

  • The speaker is uninterested in the company for which they are performing. They deliver their presentation in a classic, unchanged manner, despite it not resonating with the organisation. It also occurs that a special guest confuses the name of a company, or even openly admits that they had never heard of it. 

  • The speaker discussed a topic that someone presented on the same day. Once, during a conference in Gdynia, Poland, both Jacek Walkiewicz and later Łukasz Jakóbiak encouraged people to imagine a juicy lemon – so intensely that the audience were left salivating. They both showed how powerful our thoughts are. Compelling as it was, both had carried out the same exercise! This awkwardness would have been avoided if each of the speakers had sent the organiser a set of their slides. Or if the “later” presenter would watch the presentations before them. 

  • The speaker advertises their products. I don’t accept compromises in this regard. A well-executed conference is one where there is no room for sales presentations. Unfortunately, organisers often must take into account the opinion of the sales department. At other times, they also tend to lack assertiveness. It can happen that the speaker surprises with their presentation content – because the slides contain ‘incredible offers for discounted training, exp. date: ‘end of today’s conference.’ These kinds of materials appear at the last minute, when nobody had a chance to intervene and make edits to the content. I’ll leave you to conclude the consequences of that. 

Hire a brilliant event host.

Maciek led the conference sensationally. Calm and professional, he did an outstanding job on what was a very difficult subject. And with questions to speakers, often atypical and downright surprising, he opened them up, showing them a distinct / human / non-business veneer. Hands-down spectacular.

For example, it turned out that one of the speakers was having a concert tomorrow of which they were the composer, and the representative of Orlen had more than 500 books on the subject of self-development and is a fan of Brian Tracy.

Thanks, Maciek, and I hope to see you at the next conference.

Sebastian Gruszka

I also recommend @Maciek Kautz. Looking back fondly on the first edition of #ilovemkt – when towards the end, an unannounced glitch required Maciek’s expertise to buy the organisers some valuable time – his fire of spontaneity saved the day, reinforced that we have a highly-experienced emcee gracing the stage.

Kacper Kwiatkowski

Excellent organisation and discussed subjects – but above all – those who made it happen! @Maciek Kautz, the de-facto architect of the event’s entire character. He’s by far more than your regular event host. Congratulations!

Bartek Paczkowski

Thank you for your help! Keeping it on topic – but keeping it cool. Professional - but without the business. It’s exactly how it should be. Greetings and see you soon!

Marcin

If you already have a ready agenda,

and are seeking a host that can seamlessly combine these elements - complete the form.