Audience Management: Secrets to Being an Effective Master of Ceremonies

There’s an art and science to hosting a memorable event. A “Masters of Ceremonies” (or, as it is better known in its abbreviated forms, “MC” or “emcee”) is someone who can masterfully engage, inform and entertain a crowd.

In effect, an MC sets the tone for an event and, if done successfully, helps create a memorable occasion.

Being asked to emcee an event, be it a wedding, a panel, or to give a keynote speech, can be a scary experience, particularly if you’re not an experienced presenter. There are many examples of ineffective MCs who have been detrimental to the success of an event.

To ensure you’re in a position to orchestrate a successful event in exemplary fashion, follow the tips below. These secrets from a professional MC will guarantee that the moment you step up to the mic, you’ll serve as a brilliant and inspiring MC.

1. Never open with a joke

When most people accept their first role as an emcee, their first thought to creating a memorable event is to open with a joke. This is predicated on the premise that by opening with a snappy one-liner, you initiate enough laughter to pique people’s curiosity.

Unfortunately, unless you really know your audience, most opening jokes will simply fall flat.

Reasons vary as to why many opening jokes fail to engage, with the main one being a lack of context (making it go right over people’s heads) to help it initiate the desired effect. Plus, in your nervous state, an opening joke will feel forced, further greeting your joke with blank stares.

Rather than attempting to charm the audience with a snappy one-liner, connect a personal story or your favorite anecdote. This will help you to relax and engage the audience. Once your mind is free of anxiety, let the jokes occur spontaneously.

Moments ripe for humorous one-liners will naturally present themselves as proceedings continue. Use these spontaneous moments to create a retort that will allow the audience to respond with uproarious laughter.

2. Don’t forget to tell them who you are

While this may seem obvious, many emcees have carelessly forgotten to identify themselves.

Whether that’s due to nerves or anxiety, forgetting to introduce yourself to your audience leaves an indescribable hole which will overshadow any other detail of your presentation.

Even if you have confidence that your audience knows you (perhaps you’re doing a presentation at work), a brief summary that mentions why you were considered for the role of emcee will reassure your audience that you have the experience to lead the proceedings.

When introducing yourself, cover these main points:

Your name

Your official title and role (best man/maid of honor, a key member of the organization sponsoring an event, etc.)

Why you were chosen as the emcee

Mentioning these details to your audience expresses how honored you are to play the role of emcee and gives them the confidence to trust your experience.

3. Do your homework

Failure to plan is planning to fail.

If you don’t do plenty of research and practice before the big event, when you step up to the mic to present the proceedings, you may suddenly become overwhelmed by nerves, or worse, the inability to speak. To keep this from happening, practice beforehand.

Even if a teleprompter or ear-prompter is present for the event you’re hosting, unexpected technical errors can happen. You don’t have to memorize your script verbatim, but take the time and focus to memorize its key points so you can trust in your ability to recall important lines during your performance.

And then, when you’re confident in your abilities to present and host an event, practice some more. Walk through your delivery in front of the mirror, to your colleagues, friends, family, and anyone who will listen. This will allow you to get honest feedback on your presentation and delivery, ensuring you’ll succeed on the big day.

Whenever possible, don’t attempt to “wing” anything. This includes introductions and opening or closing remarks. Trying to ad-lib or make off-the-cuff commentary can prove disastrous. Best to prepare beforehand to present your script in a confident and engaging manner.

4. Do stay on time

Timing matters when serving as an emcee.

This is especially true when hosting any sort of event where multiple proceedings are occurring such as networking events, seminars, or a wedding. One of your roles as the event’s emcee is to control the timing of the proceedings.

This is why preparation and practice are so crucial. Time each aspect of your presentation and the sections you’re responsible for. Always be on top of your time management. Planning and organizing your timing precision will help to effectively manage the schedule for the chosen event.

By repetitively practicing your script, you can gauge and anticipate what sections will require more time and which can be condensed. Plus, if something goes over time or if the event begins later than scheduled, you’ll be able to quickly adapt to these new changes without feeling rushed.

If you can, do an on-site rehearsal. Go the night before and practice your remarks or presentation on-stage. Rehearsing on-site before the event’s proceedings ensures that everything is optimally set up for the live event.

During your on-site rehearsal, ask to do a light and sound check to confirm that everything will run smoothly.

5. Always pay attention to the audience

While you may not be the star of the show, remember that part of your role as emcee is to manage the proceedings through each and any transition. The key to successfully hosting an event is watching the audience and gauging their engagement levels.

Sometimes, a presenter may not engage the audience, or they simply may not be interested in what’s being presented on stage. This may leave the room rather flat and create an awkward environment for everyone. As the emcee, you can remedy this situation by using social cues to engage your audience.

Telling people to clap (saying “a round of applause please…” for example) or taking the initiative to clap yourself can be infectious, even to unreceptive audiences. By gauging the audience’s energy level throughout the proceedings, you can react in a fashion that keeps them engaged.

Be prepared for the unexpected

Being a good emcee is tough. Whether you’re a seasoned emcee or a novice still trying to find your legs, mistakes will happen. And that’s okay. The key to being a successful emcee and to good audience management is to be in control at all times.

Take your cues from your audience and be prepared for the unexpected.