It’s tempting to ask Fred, the funny guy on your marketing team, to fill the role of MC at your annual gathering. Don’t do it! Fred may be funny in the break room. But working with an amateur master of ceremonies can turn your special event into a real disaster.
I have been in the events industry for more than 25 years. The following list of “No No’s” is based on stories from meeting and event planners that used a non-pro to host their meetings. Some of these stories are funny to the planners now, in hindsight. But these experiences were not fun when they were happening. Don’t let these things happen to you. Note: I have changed the names of the event producers to protect their innocence.
These painful programs all had one common denominator. The meeting or event planner decided to go with an amateur master of ceremonies, instead of an experienced, professional corporate event MC. The acronym AMATEUR will help you discover why it’s a giant mistake to entrust your meeting—and your attendees—to an amateur emcee.
It’s a sin to be boring. Jennifer Johnson once invited a married couple to co-emcee her gala fundraiser. The couple decided to read their original poetry to the audience during the program! At first the attendees thought this was a joke and began to laugh. But it was not a joke . . . and it was not funny. Job #1 for the MC: connect with your audience and make them feel good about your program and agenda. Make sure you work with a master of ceremonies who can engage and entertain your audience.
Patty De Silva decided to save her organization money and asked a “volunteer” named Sally to emcee her program. She got what she paid for. Sally was so nervous and stiff she was unable to interact with Patty’s group. Instead of acknowledging some birthdays and anniversaries that were in the room, Sally read from a pre-printed script and missed the chance to make the event fun. A professional emcee is “tuned in” to the crowd and looks for ways to create magical moments with your attendees.
Shawna Reed was in charge of the annual awards program at her university. She invited her former high school drama teacher to host the proceedings. Sounded like a good move–except for one thing: Turns out, her old drama teacher is the king of puns. His groaner style humor had Shawna’s group dreading his ongoing jokes during the evening. It could have been even worse had his humor been crude and not just lame. Make sure your host has a great sense of humor. A terrific MC is nearly always a master of humor and fun.
When Sheila Brown asked good old “Larry” to serve as the emcee at her group’s annual dinner, she thought, He’s a warm and witty guy. What could go wrong? Turns out: plenty. Though Larry is a fine human being (and one of Sheila’s board members) he gave her guest speakers some terrible introductions. Larry poked fun at her presenters as he announced them. Though he meant no harm, he hurt the credibility of Sheila’s keynote speaker and other important presenters. This put the speakers on the defensive right as they walked up to the platform. An experienced master of ceremonies knows how to put your guest speakers in the best light possible with classy introductions.
Gene Rodriguez, a wonderful man and a terrific event coordinator, made the mistake of emceeing his own event. This happens more often than you might think. The problem? Hosting your own event is like trying to pilot an airplane full of passengers while simultaneously working as the lead flight attendant. Your attention is divided. Gene ultimately felt embarrassed because, instead of delighting his audience, his head was focused on the food, the sound, and what was happening in the back of the room. At one point, one of his associates interrupted the flow of the program to shout out a question to Gene about the seating arrangements! Having a polished MC at your event will free your mind to focus on all the other details.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to upset your VIPs. Natalia Blevins discovered this the hard way. To save money at her event she plugged an amateur emcee into her program. She told him, “It doesn’t pay, but we will feed you.” Her CEO became upset when the MC bungled the pronunciation of his name just as he took the stage to give his speech. Her amateur host also upset members of her planning committee by continually talking about how he was getting paid via the “free food.” Don’t risk offending your big shots by getting a “free” emcee. It may cost you.
Not all amateur emcees are weak. Some are funny and charming. But Eileen Pruett found out that there are other important qualities in a great emcee. Eileen asked her comedian friend Molly to host her big fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. Molly was fun! But she didn’t know when to quit. Her looooong stories and non-stop “riffing” with the audience ended up causing Eileen’s event to run nearly an hour late. The main speaker had to cut her time short. This hurt the “ask” part of the program. Ouch. A superb emcee knows that her/his job is to keep the train on the tracks and run a timely program.
You put a lot of time and attention into your special event, annual dinner, fundraiser, or sales/awards meeting. Be careful about wrecking your results by asking an amateur MC to host your big night. Don’t take the risk of handing the steering wheel of your meeting to an amateur emcee. Work with an experienced and entertaining emcee. Your audience will have more fun at your event. And you will look good for making your meeting a smashing success.