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“Leave them wanting more, not wanting to leave.” –Mark Duane Brown

I have been emceeing events for decades now. Guess what I have never heard an audience member say in all those years?

Hey, thanks for making the program run long!

A great master of ceremonies is a master of minutes. Guide your presenters—and your audience—through a prompt program. They will thank you. And you will get invited back to host again. And that’s the best feeling ever. They want you back. 

Why is time of the essence? 

Let’s pause for a moment. Reflect on this question. Learn from powerful and popular Ted Talks where the biggest authorities in the world are showcased. These experts are not speaking for 60-minutes. Yet they are captivating. Ted Talk speakers present for just 18-minutes max. Less really is more. 

A super Emcee will make the audience wish the program was still going. 

As the Host, you will delight everybody when you keep the program running on time. And extra points if you end early! You will make a major impact on the success of the meeting when you manage the clock effectively. Proper time management reflects well on the organization you are representing. The audience will thank you too. 

See Related: Build Rapport – How To Be A Great Emcee


As we discussed in our Agenda chapter, every segment of your program needs to be scheduled and in writing. Run the show via your Run of Show document. And the key to that document is knowing the timing of everything that will take place. 

  • When does the program begin?
  • When does each speaker go up?
  • How long will they speak?
  • How long are your transitions?
  • When does the video start/stop? 
  • What time will the program end?

You want to see–and protect—every element of the session, meeting, or special event. A good program doesn’t last “about an hour or so.” A good meeting runs from 7:15 to 8:30 pm. That’s just an example. But you get the idea. It’s all about precise times. 

Make sure the Agenda is not fuzzy: “Juan has 10 to 15 minutes to speak.”
No! The written run sheet needs to read like this:

8:14-8:15 pm: Emcee introduces Juan (1 minute) 

8:15-8:27 pm: Juan speaks (12 minutes) 


First things first. Let’s go back to the beginning…

Let’s talk about how important it is for you to connect with the meeting organizer(s) long before the event date. If they are not aware of it, educate them about the amazing impact you can all have by starting/ending your meeting on time. Enroll them in the strategy of staying on schedule. I use the world “enroll” here because in many ways you are indeed an event educator. 

Most speakers, most businesspeople in fact, do not understand the enormous positive impression you can make on attendees when you honor their time. It’s a sign of organizational excellence. You want the audience to walk out saying to themselves and each other. This is a fine company. They said they would conclude this event at 9:00 pm and they did it. Wow. That’s rare.

We live in the experience economy today. What do people want to experience more than anything? Freedom. When you begin and end a meeting on time you are giving your team the best gift ever. More. Free. Time. It’s a precious commodity. 

Let’s Get it Started

As the event Emcee, everybody is looking to you to kick off the program. Be ready to do that before the official start time. Remember, guest arrival time is the event start time, it is not the program start time. If you want to start the show at 8 pm for example, you need to get things in motion before that time. 

Three Things to Do Before the Meeting Begins

Connect with your AV team 10 minutes before the start time.

Confirm with your audio engineer aka “the sound guy.” Make sure he’s set and ready to help you go LIVE.

Make a pre-start V.O. (Voice Over) announcement

From the back of the room—the opposite side of the stage area. Let the audience know the show is about to begin. Ladies and Gentlemen, please find your seat as our program will begin in five minutes. Do this again if people are still not seated as the start time approaches. Our program will begin in just one minute.

Make sure the first speaker is ready to take the stage.

Note: Encourage presenters to be backstage, or if in the audience, near the steps to the platform. 

At precisely the program start time, get the train rolling! It’s GO time. 

Once the show is going, the train has left the station. Keep the train on the track. Stay on time. I like the acronym CLOCK as a reminder of how to manage the timing of a program.

Create the right expectation. This meeting is going to start/end promptly.

Let the audience know right at the top: We value your time. 

On deck. Who is up next? Make sure the next presenter is near the stage ready to go.

Check the written schedule throughout the program. Are we on time still?

Kindly ask speakers to shorten their talks if it helps you get back on schedule. 

Become a Clock Watcher 

How can you pay attention to the time if you can’t see the clock?!

Notice I don’t say, become a watch gazer or a phone watcher. The audience should not be aware of the clock! Have a countdown timer at the venue positioned where you can see it, but the attendees cannot. My preference—and if you are working with a professional AV team it will be theirs too—is to have the clock at the foot of the stage. Have another one at the back of the room. Usually, this back of the room clock is at the AV “nest” behind the audience. 


  • Look at your watch (or phone) while on stage. George Bush Sr. lost a televised Presidential debate when he was seen continually glancing at his watch. This made him look like he didn’t want to be there. 
  • Use a wall clock like you’d find in your home!
  • Mention the clock or time from the stage. Ever.


  • Use a countdown clock and make sure the AV team knows how to use it.
  • The clock should show the time remaining for each segment of the program. Example: If your opening welcome is supposed to last three minutes, the clock should start at 3:00 and count down to 0:00. This gives you three minutes. 
  • Refer to the written Agenda when you are not on stage. Make sure the program is running on time. 

Bonus: Agenda – How To Be A Great Emcee


I’ll see it again. As the Emcee, your job is to keep the train on the tracks. You are the glue. Speaking of stickiness, make sure presenters are sticking with the schedule.

You are the Master of Ceremonies. Remember the two key words: Master. Ceremonies. Master = control. What about “ceremonies”? According to Merriam-Webster, Ceremonies is “A series of actions performed in accordance with tradition or a set of rules”. Here’s one of the main rules for a good meeting: Stay. On. Schedule. As the meeting flows, make sure each presenter–including you! — is sticking with their allotted time.

You will leave a sweet taste in attendee’s mouths when the meeting ends with them feeling not exhausted but refreshed! Unless you are attending a Bruce Springsteen concert, less is almost always more. Audiences have a short attention span. So whenever possible, keep your emcee transitions and speaking segments at or under the time planned for each part of the meeting. You’ll become a hero to the meeting planner. 

Avoid These Mistakes: 

Taking more than your allotted time.

You tell a joke. The audience loves it. So, you tell another joke. You are on a roll. It feels great. But if it makes the program run long, you are not doing your job right at the Master of Ceremonies. 

Allowing a speaker to go way past their designated time.

Yes, I know this can be tricky. We might be talking about the CEO over-talking. (More about how to handle speakers who run long below).

Turning a stretch/energy break into a bathroom break.

Trust me on this.  If you encourage people to leave their seats, you will have lost control of the audience and the timing of your event.


First a note worth repeating: Running a tight ship does NOT mean mentioning the Clock or rushing the program. Meetings tend to run long. Human beings are social creatures and once we start talking it’s hard for us to stop.  The Clock is your friend. But it should not be seen or felt by the attendees. No, no, no. You want attendees to feel momentum. 

Do all that you can to make sure your program runs promptly. But let’s face it, there will certainly be times when the meetings you are hosting run over time. It’s inevitable. I was the Emcee at awards show in Las Vegas a few years ago. It ran for four hours instead of two! It felt like every person in the city was given an award. What did I do? I kept things moving and killed much of the time I had planned to use for own jokes. I also gave the audience several short stretch breaks—while at their seats.  I wanted to keep the energy up, keep them in the room, and keep the program moving. 

Here are three things you can do if your program is going over…

Shorten some of your segments.

If you were planning on sharing a short story before the next speaker, cut it down or out. Don’t ever skip giving a proper introduction for a speaker. But you don’t need to read a long bio! More on that later.

Ask the next presenter to shorten the length of their presentation.

Have a private word with the next speaker. Invite them to help you put the meeting back on schedule, “Hey Sheila, John ran 8 minutes over. Can you please cut your 35-minute talk down by 5 minutes?” Of course, make this request with the blessing of the meeting producer!

Make yourself visible to the speaker who is running overtime.

Don’t let the audience notice this. But make sure this speaker sees you. Point to your watch if you need to. You’ll notice that the presenter will often get the message. He/she will usually start wrapping up. But not always… 

One time I was hosting a business meeting in Orlando. The guest speaker (a famous name who shall not be mentioned here) was going way over on his time. You will run in to this if/when you host events with “big names.” Some of these celebrities, authors, athletes mistakenly think that the meeting revolves around them. It doesn’t. The event is showcasing them, but the event producer has a bigger purpose for the program. As the Master of Ceremonies, you must keep the big picture in mind.

Back to my story about the famous man who wouldn’t stop speaking…

The meeting coordinator was getting worried. She whispered in my ear. “He’s making us late! We need to send them to our breakout session.”

Here’s what I did…

I got closer and closer to the stage. So he could see me. 

Does this work? Usually, it does. Not this time. He continued to speak like I was invisible. So, while keeping my focus on him and smiling, I walked right on to the platform. He noticed me at the side of the stage. But he kept rambling on… 

So, I moved even closer to the podium where he was presenting. Finally, while still smiling, I put my arm around him in a side hug. He then wrapped up! Guess what? At the break he said, “Thanks for doing that. Nice touch!” And the meeting planner? She told me I had saved the day. But I was just doing my job—keeping the train on the tracks. 


Ending the meeting on time makes…

  1. The organization look like it runs with excellence.
  2. The purpose/theme of the program more memorable. 
  3. The meeting planner look great.
  4. The host look professional. 
  5. The audience feel good.
  6. The attendees look forward to the next event! 


Don’t forget. Just because the program is over it doesn’t mean the event is over. If people are in attendance (reconnecting, having drinks, enjoying dessert, chatting, etc.) you are still “on.” This doesn’t mean you have to continue speaking on stage. It means you are still the event Emcee. So, engage in conversation. Spend time with audience members. Thank the meeting planner. Show your appreciation to the speakers and thank the event sponsor(s). 

And please remember to thank the AV team, especially the audio tech. Without him/her you wouldn’t sound good. You can ensure that everybody connected with the event has a great time by honoring the timing of the meeting

The Bottom Line: The audience should not become aware of time constraints. But as the Emcee, you must be on top of the time. Learn to rock the Clock!

Keep Reading: Deep Dive – How To Be A Great Emcee

This is an excerpt from Adam Christing‘s forthcoming book, “How To Be A Great Emcee: The A to Z Guide to Hosting Events” by America’s #1 Master of Ceremonies. Follow along as new chapters gets posted to this blog category each week.