The best way to engage a crowd, you ask? That’s easy. Make them part of the show!
~Richard Farnsworth, Circus Ringmaster
There are 26 A to Z keys from becoming a great emcee. I want you to learn all of them. And I am happy to share all of my secrets with you.
If I was convinced you would only take one word of advice from me, it would be the single word that is title of this chapter: Engage!
Here’s why: Engaging an audience is THE secret sauce for becoming a marvelous master of ceremonies. Face it. Anyone can volunteer to host a program, right? They might feel nervous, but just about any man or woman can walk up to a podium, welcome an audience, introduce other speakers, and make some announcements.
You want to do and be more than this. A great MC engages the people in the audience. This is what separates an average emcee from a fantastic event host.
You must become an engager.
Turn the Event into an Experience
This chapter will help you become an expert at engaging a crowd.
When you invite participation at a meeting, three wonderful things happen:
- You make the meeting more FUN
- You create a deepened feeling of COMMUNITY
- You keep the energy and interest UP
By involving attendees, you are sending the audience an important message:
You are a vital part of this event. You matter to this organization. There are hundreds of ways you can involve attendees as the emcee. Here are 21 examples.
Pick three or four that fit your personality—or create your own. Have fun with them.
21 Ways to Engage an Audience
#1. Invite audience members on to the stage (or on screen) with you
Your job is not to do everything during the program. Your role is to orchestrate it all. Invite one of the company’s managers up to the platform. “Give Sheryl a big hand. She is going to give out some special gifts to some special employees now.”
Ask a fun audience member to draw the winning name for the big raffle prize. You get the idea. Ask yourself: What can I give attendees to do?
Tip: Before the event starts, or during a break, speak with several attendees and request their help. “This will be fun. And you don’t have to memorize any lines.” Whenever possible, get a person’s buy-in before you bring them up on to the stage.
#2. Have three or four attendees compete in a “Worst Dad Joke” competition
Identify four people in the crowd who would feel comfortable reading a bad pun, i.e., a dad joke, aloud. Make it a competition. “I have a prize for the person who gets the biggest groan or laugh.”
The jokes can be really punny. My uncle is addicted to drinking brake fluid… He says he can stop at any time. This wonderful bit of business can create 2 to 5 min of interactive fun with your attendees.
Here’s what I love about it, and what you constantly what to do as an emcee: Put your audience members in the spotlight. Nobody is expected to be a professional comedian here.
You set it up by saying, “These are corny Dad jokes I am giving to each one of you. Let’s see who can deliver these terrible jokes with the most enthusiasm.” Try this. People love it.
#3. Spotlight an audience member’s special talent
Teams love to celebrate their people. If you discover that an attendee, key leader, customer, or vendor at the event has a special ability. Invite them to share it with the group. Important: this takes some careful pre-screening.
But it’s worth it.
As I write these very words, I am prepping to emcee an event this evening in Atlanta for a data security company. One of the employees has a talent for rapping. He wrote a funny (and clean) mini-rap song about working for the company.
I am going to give him 60-seconds to do the first part of the song on stage. I know they will love it—because it’s about them. (I will tell you at the end of this chapter how this goes over*)
Note: I want to stress again: you need to plan for something like this. Will it be fun for everyone? Will it be appropriate? If you answer no to any of these questions, don’t plug it into the meeting. But if you get all green lights, including the event organizer’s, go for it.
#4. Get people out of their seats with a stretch break/energy booster
The “Heads or Tails” game is a fun one. It serves as a stretch break and a big group activity. You call someone on stage to flip a coin. Audience members put their hand on their head/tail prior to each coin toss to predict heads or tails.
Have everyone in the room stand to start the game. Every time the coin is tossed about half the room will be out of the contest for guessing incorrectly. “It’s heads. If you guessed tails. You are out. Take a seat.”
Build up the drama. “There are just a few people left standing. Make your next prediction: head or tails!” Make sure the final two or three people left standing choose either heads or tails so someone wins.
Give the winner a big round of applause and perhaps a fun gift too. Try this. It’s a wonderful add-on to any program when you need a 3-5 min energy-booster.
#5. Hand out prizes!
Your audience will light up when you step on to the floor and meet/greet them. It’s fun to give prizes out as you do this. These should not be promotional items like company pens, etc. But they can be small and/or silly gifts.
Think in terms of items you would find at the Dollar Store. “Hello Trevor. We are glad you are here. Enjoy this Yo-Yo as my way of thanking you for standing up and sitting down!”
#6. Create a “Top 10 list” and have one of their leaders read it
The key to doing this is customizing a list around the people and culture you are representing as emcee. You can pull a Top 10 list off the internet, but it’s far more entertaining when you write something for/about them.
Example: “This is a Top 10 List of our V.P. of Sales. These are Brent Brown’s Top 10 Answers to Sales Objections. Start at 10, and work up to the the #1 answer like David Letterman did on his show. Many clips of this are on YouTube to inspire your own ideas for Top 10 Lists.
#7. Encourage audience members to share
We will talk more at length about microphones when we get to the letter “M” chapter. But I will stress this now: You want to use a wireless handheld microphone as the MC. This enables you to walk into the audience and ask questions.
“Melanie, what is one word that capture you’re feeling about this conference so far?” You can engage attendees best when you tell them how to share. “I want to hear in a sentence or less, your all-time favorite thing to eat during the holiday season.”
Note: Don’t let go of that microphone! Stay in control of the proceedings.
#8. Stage a Competition
I once hosted a Fortune 1000 event with hundreds of attendees. The conference was very business-like and quite serious. But what created the most buzz at the gathering was when I invited some of the top leaders on stage to participate in a “Minute to Win It” contest.
People love to see their leaders and peers having fun together and competing against one another. The possibilities are endless: Spelling Bees, Marshmallow eating, tossing paper airplanes the furthest, and more!
#9. Teach the audience a simple magic trick
These days magic is super-popular. Here’s how you can bring some a magical moments to the next program you emcee. Have the event sponsor purchase an inexpensive and easy-to-perform magic trick for each attendee.
You demonstrate the trick on stage and/or screen. Have attendees show each other the trick. Then, have one or two audience members demonstrate the trick on stage to thunderous applause.
Sample magic tricks: Vanishing handkerchiefs, Svengali card decks, multiplying sponge balls. Visit: Penguin Magic or Stevens Magic Emporium online for more ideas and resources.
#10. Lead an ice breaker that creates connection
Example: “We are going to divide the room into 12 sections. One for each month of the year. If you were born in January stand here to my left. June people gather here. Great…now get with everybody in your birthday month.
See if you share a birthday with someone in your group.” I have each birthday group cheer when I call their month out loud and have inexpensive prizes for people who share matching birthdays. I call them “birthday buddies.”
#11. Encourage a key attendee to introduce the leader or guest speaker
This require prep but can be very powerful. Prior to the program, ask one of the attendees (or associates) who has a long-time relationship with the VIP, to make a heartfelt introduction.
Maybe it’s the husband or wife of the leader. Never spring this one someone at the last minute. But if you plan it right it can add a wonderful personal touch to a meeting.
Audiences will feel more emotionally engaged with the person when they walk up to make their presentation. Again, this needs to be planned/rehearsed but might be a surprise to the leader or keynote speaker.
#12. Host a game show
You will find much more on this topic in the “G” chapter. For now, understand this: There are two reasons why a game show is great for you as an emcee: A) It allows you to be host B) You can engage multiple attendees as participants.
#13. Make a Q & A Session interesting
Q & A sessions can be boring. Here’s how you can make them engaging:
- Walk into the audience and field questions from attendees.
- Tip: Have a few good ones “pre-planted” ahead of time.
- Have panelists draw questions from a “mystery bag” so they don’t know what Q’s are coming next.
- To create more participation, you can have audience members randomly select these questions. Make some of them serious of course, but include fun ones too. “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?”
- Frame the Q & A as a talk show where you, the host, interview the org’s experts like they are guests on The Tonight Show.
#14. Conduct a “Reverse Raffle”
This is a blast. A reverse raffle is a game where you do NOT want your name or number called, because when it is, you are eliminated. At a fundraiser, people can buy their place back into the raffle (Usually there is a visible board for attendees to see their number being added/removed) The last number or name remaining on the board wins!
#15. Lead a Trivia Quiz
Of course, you can Google trivia contests that are ready-to-go about various topics like music, history, geography, etc. But its far more engaging for an audience when you lead them in a personalized trivia contest about their history, their leaders, and their product or services. Example: “Our company’s very first customer was ________________?”
#16. Invite attendees to create short videos or share pics
This can be powerful and engaging. You can do this in several ways:
- Have attendees submit 30-second commercials they create about their company and submit them before the event. You play the best ones at the meeting and the top 3 are chosen by an onstage panel as the winners.
- Ask attendees to submit pics at the end of a session showing them in action from earlier in the day–at the tradeshow booth, at dinner with colleagues, in break-out sessions, etc. The next session you show a highlight montage of these pics with music playing. Choose an upbeat song like “Eye of the Tiger” to make it feel even more impactful.
#17. Play BINGO!
BINGO is not just for old ladies at church. You can create a fun experience for all your attendees with this classic game. It encourages lots of participation too when you have people drawing “N-4” out of a hat, standing when they yell “BINGO!” etc.
Tip: Instead of using the word BINGO, use a special 5-letter word connected to the organization or event theme. Examples: SALES, TEAMS, FARMS, GROUP, etc. Have custom cards printed. FUN.
#18. Find “Celebrities” in the room
Audiences love this. Before the program begins, spot some celebrity look-a-likes in the room. To kick off the meeting, or at the beginning of a session, you say: “Let’s welcome Jeff Bezos, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington to our event!” Have each one stand to their feet one at a time.
Note: Be careful about choosing political or controversial “celebrities.” And never choose a name that would embarrass anyone. Choose flattering celebs and super-famous names that everyone knows. It’s ok if they are not “dead-ringers.” Your goal is get people involved…and laughing together.
#19. Perform an improv game with attendees
You don’t have to be a professional actor or comedian to have some giant fun with Improv. An easy game like “Add a Part” will create lots of engagement and tons of enjoyment.
Check out the Yes and Improv Comedy Card Game for lots of ideas. It’s family and corporate-friendly and even includes QR codes for video help. Available via Amazon.com
#20. Honor a birthday (or work anniversary)
When you highlight a birthday or anniversary in the room several wonderful things happen: You put the spotlight on an attendee. You also invite participation. “Let’s sing happy birthday to James together.”
It doesn’t matter if you are a good singer, lead the audience in an acapella rendition of “Happy Birthday to you…” Extra points if you present the birthday boy or girl with a cupcake and lit candle. Make it memorable!
#21. End with a giveaway item that involves everyone in attendance
People love mementos. Example: “Each of you is being given a special bronze reminder coin with our theme: Believe. I invite you to hold it in your right hand now. Let’s all stand and say: We Believe. Keep this coin in your pocket or purse. This will remind you that at _______________ we always believe in you.”
Tip: Avoid giving attendees promotional items with company branded logos. These should be nice gifts…not advertisements.
Participation Creates Powerful Meetings
The important thing is not which way you choose to engage your audiences. The crucial thing is that you involve people in as many ways as possible. As the Master of Ceremonies, you are the link between the organization and the people in attendance. Look for ways to continually engage them in the event.
*Oh, I was right. The special rap song I mention here in Atlanta tonight? It was a big hit this audience. Everyone cheered this employee on and gave him a big round of applause for performing.
How will you engage your audience?
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.