“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”
-Jerry Seinfeld, comedian
As the event MC, you’ve been hired to be the glue of the meeting, not the star. Remember that the megastar is the organization itself, so the purpose of their gathering is what should be highlighted.
Are they celebrating their success? Launching a new initiative? Are they raising funds for their worthy cause?
Always keep the spotlight on the big star, but never forget the importance of highlighting the program’s presenters as well.
Each speaker – whether they be a motivational speaker or a keynote speaker – is there to support the organization and help further its agenda. So you want to emphasize their contributions.
Remember that by sharing their time and knowledge, many speakers can electrify an audience and inspire them to take action.
You play a crucial role by way of your work with the public speakers who will be presenting during the program. Think of the various components of the program as puzzle pieces.
You are the glue that links them all together. This is especially true when it comes to working with speakers for hire.
As you prepare to work with the event presenters, you want to keep the following three goals at the forefront of your mind.
See Related: Rehearsals – How To Be A Great Emcee
3 Emcee Goals For Working With A Keynote Speaker
1. Help motivational speakers succeed on stage.
Of course, this includes giving them proper introductions. Let me note here that you never want to go for a laugh or draw attention to yourself when making a speaker introduction.
You want to capture the audience’s attention and turn their complete focus toward the person who’s about to present on the platform.
Another way you can help presenters succeed is by connecting with them backstage or prior to the program and reminding them when they will go on, sharing with them the introduction you prepared for them, and reminding them of the bigger picture– the event theme itself.
2. Accentuate their value after they speak.
This can be done in the outro of the speaker. For example: “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give another big round of applause to Mike Reynolds! What a terrific presentation. It really reminds us that this year, we will win together. Thanks again, Mike– bravo!”
Let’s be honest, sometimes a presenter can be a little on the boring side. You can still accentuate their value by finding gems or nuggets that you notice during their presentation that you can reinforce or re-emphasize after they speak.
“Thank you so much, Mike. You shared some really terrific content. I know for me, it was a great reminder that together we can win if we act as a unified team– and your story really spoke to that. Let’s give Mike another round of applause!”
3. Connect their content back to the theme.
Again, it’s important to remember that you should always be making both mental and written notes when a presenter is on stage. It’s tempting to simply go back to the green room and have a coffee or take a seat backstage and play on your phone.
But as the event MC, you want to remain engaged even when you’re not on the stage, so listen for key content points that you can connect back to the theme.
If the theme of the evening is “team building,” listen for content points the presenter makes that relate back to collaboration in the workplace and mention them in your outro of the speaker. You can also mention them later in your recap of the session or the entire conference.
Event speakers are not chosen at random. The organization or company putting on the event has most likely poured a rather significant amount of time, money, and thought into planning and executing it, so the best speakers that have been asked to be there were selected for specific reasons. Try to see this from a planner or organization’s perspective– it will help you support the event as best you can.
These are the main three reasons why a motivational speaker is hired or invited to present:
1. A draw
For some events, getting people to attend and capturing their excitement are the main reasons they brought in a speaker. Oftentimes this will be a famous presenter, a celebrity or popular entertainer, a TV personality, a best-selling author, or a well-known podcaster.
2. An expert
More and more planners are looking to bring in people with specific expertise relating to the purpose of the gathering. This might be a financial expert, a sales guru, or someone who specializes in health and wellness or physical fitness. It could also be a scientist or someone in the medical or psychology field.
3. An inside voice
Many times, an organization will have one of its internal employees, customers, or vendors speak. Your job here is to treat them with the same respect and importance as you would well-known presenters or celebrities.
Working with Different Types of Speakers
1. The celebrity
What to do:
Oftentimes celebrity speakers will bring a road manager or “handler.” Instead of trying to bypass this person, talk to the celebrity through them.
If you sense that the celebrity doesn’t want to speak to anyone before they go on, you must respect that. Learn the name of the handler and be prepared to work with them and through them.
Other times, however, you’ll find that a celebrity is very approachable and super easy to work with. You just have to tune into the dynamic.
What not to do:
Do not let your excitement about meeting the celebrity distract you from your main purpose. You are there to make the event flow smoothly, not to capture a selfie with the celebrity backstage.
Remember, you are a professional. Never lose sight of the bigger picture: the success of the event.
2. The best-selling author
What to do:
If possible, read a copy of this author’s book before you meet them. It will go a long way with them if you are able to carry on an informed conversation with them about what they have written.
Try to remember specific takeaways you gleaned from the book. Encourage the author to keep in mind the overall theme and purpose of the event, and whenever possible, invite them to connect it to their presentation.
What not to do:
Do not treat this person any differently than you would treat a celebrity. In many cases, best-selling authors in our culture have become celebrities, especially if they have cracked The New York Times Top 10 Best Seller list. Even though they may not be an A-list celebrity, you still need to be respectful of their time and their accomplishments.
3. The internal organization representative
What to do:
Oftentimes this person is not a professional speaker, and as Seinfeld mentioned, they may feel terribly nervous about making a presentation in front of a live audience. You can help put them at ease by guiding them through the rehearsal process and letting them know you’re excited that they’ll be sharing the stage with you.
These inspirational speakers may need a little more encouragement from you, so remind them that you’re on their team and you’re rooting for them. Help them focus on the excitement rather than their nerves!
What not to do:
Don’t treat this person as lesser than a celebrity or best-selling author. They very well may end up being the most memorable part of the program, because they have something very important to share with the group.
They also have a deeper connection to the cause or purpose, because they are part of the company putting on the event.
Bonus: Q & A – How To Be A Great Emcee
How to Work with Entertainers
Think of entertainers as presenters with more needs.
By this, I don’t mean psychological needs – although that is sometimes the case. Speaking from my own personal experience, I have learned that their extra needs often have to do with things like staging, lighting, special props, and other guests on stage who share the time with them. You want to get an understanding of these needs before you make the introduction.
Remember that they will have extra staging requirements
(And those requirements will likely involve setting extra time aside in order to meet them).
I’m going to repeat myself there, but sometimes they bring dancers, backup singers, backup musicians, et cetera – so think through the transition before they will be introduced and factor that into the schedule. It’s important to make sure they are ready to go when you call their name to bring them onstage.
Encourage them to connect with the organization and theme.
Sometimes management will create a buffer, protecting the lead singer or star entertainer from connecting with an organization. This is a mistake. You can help backstage by filling them in briefly about the purpose of the gathering, how it’s been going, and some key phrases they might insert in between songs, jokes, magic tricks, or what have you.
You might say “Matt, we are so glad you’re here. We have been celebrating our national sales award winners, and so if you could say ‘Let’s win big this year,’ it will really bring the house down.”
Don’t try to upstage them.
Many emcees are humorous (I hope you’re one of them). It’s tempting to turn your introduction into a time of entertainment but be careful about this.
You want to focus on introducing the guest entertainer with as much enthusiasm as possible. Remember that you are the glue of the event, not the star.
Help them facilitate an encore.
This can be tricky, as you also have to keep an eye on the time parameters for the event. Let me give you a specific example here.
Let’s say you’re working with a country music star who will be a part of the opening night kick-off. If they’ve been slotted for 45 minutes, work with their handler to remind them that if they plan on doing an encore, they should plan to end at 40 minutes.
You would come out, bring them back onstage, and say something like, “Let’s welcome Trace Adkins back to the platform!” He would then conclude with one more song. This can feel very electrifying for the audience but still allow you to keep the train on the tracks.
More Secrets for Working with Speakers
1. Understand their goal for being there.
Oftentimes the speaker has a different agenda than the actual agenda. This is simply human nature.
They may be there for the money, the drinks, or the positive publicity – you just never know. It might be helpful to chat with them before they take the stage to find out a little more about their goals.
Help them remember to always keep the most important things most important, which are the goals of the sponsoring client and the agenda of the meeting. If you discover that a speaker has a political or financial agenda, do your best to steer them away from that arena.
If they do go off course during the program, use your outro and transition to make things right.
2. Help them sell products, but only when appropriate.
There will be some events you emcee where it makes sense and is acceptable to plug the merch of a guest speaker or entertainer. But other times it will be quite a distraction and, quite frankly, in poor taste.
Discuss this ahead of time with the planner so that you can work accordingly.
3. Affirm them after the program.
Don’t be confused – corporate speakers and entertainers are human beings just like you and me. It’s always great to let them know they did a superb job or put on an incredible performance.
I went out of my way one time to congratulate a very famous singer after she left the stage, and she was so thrilled because she hears applause from hundreds of people, but it’s always nice when a fellow professional affirms your work.
4. Ask to have your picture taken with them (in a classy way).
Don’t be a fanboy or fangirl, but you may find at times it’s very appropriate for you to ask to have your photo taken with them either backstage or onstage once the program ends. Remember to always be professional; don’t risk disrupting the program or distracting the attendees.
Your goal as the master of ceremonies is to make the audience feel good and make the keynote speakers look good. Remember to shine your light on the guest speakers and help them win. When they do a great job, it means you’ve done your work properly as well!
Keep Reading: Transitions – 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 get posted to this blog category each week.