Agenda – How To Be A Great Emcee

adam christing emcee crowd at a corporate event

“Everybody seems to have an agenda. Except when it’s time to organize a meeting!” -Earl Stenson

A Master of Ceremonies without an agenda is like a singer without a song. 

Having a solid meeting Agenda in-writing is crucial. And as the event emcee, you must keep the Agenda in focus at all times. So, the first question you want to ask yourself—and the producer of the event—is simple: Why are we gathering here? 

As the emcee your role is to keep everyone—the event team and all attendees-focused on the mission of the meeting. Your job is to keep the program on purpose. 

What Is the Meaning of This?

Is this an awards ceremony? A kick-off meeting? A fundraiser? A sales rally? An after-dinner celebration? A class reunion? What are we trying to accomplish here? The best events begin with the end (of the meeting) in mind. 

What is the big takeaway feeling we want our attendees to experience?

As the Master of Ceremonies, ask yourself: At this event, what are the ceremonies. It’s not a coincidence that events are also called “functions.” One of the meanings of this word is: to have a certain purpose. You will function best as the MC when you know all about the function itself. One of the definitions Merriam Webster gives for a “Function” is: an official or formal ceremony or social gathering. 

Emcee on purpose. 

Maybe you are an “internal” emcee. FYI, this doesn’t mean you host a meeting in your own head. “Internal” means you are an insider. You already work within the company or organization. Or it might mean that you are related to the bride or groom, and you have been asked to MC the wedding reception for the big day. Maybe, like me, you are an “external” emcee. A hired gun brought in to serve the organization as a professional Master of Ceremonies. We will discuss that topic more in depth later.

For now, here is what matters: The Agenda. You need to lock in an understanding of why this event is happening. Ask two questions:  Who is this group of people? Why are they gathering? 

There are hundreds of tupes of events. Each one has a unique purpose. For example… 

  • A marketing group is re-launching their brand. The purpose of the meeting is to unveil the new name of the enterprise and to get the entire team excited about the new direction of the company.
  • Julia Jones is retiring. This is a celebration of her 20 years serving as the President of a wonderful non-profit organization.
  • This is a graduation ceremony. The goal is to honor the graduates of Greenville University. 

As the Master of Ceremonies…

You are The Conductor (And often a Consultant)

As a kid, my grandparents would take me for a ride on the splendid narrow-gauge train from Durango to Silverton, Colorado. The first thing I heard a conductor say was, “All aboard!” If you were to ask me, “What does it mean to be an Emcee?” I might say: I am the conductor of a train. The audience members are passengers. My job is to give them a wonderful ride, keep the train on the tracks, and get us safely to our destination. And this is key: The train must always be headed toward a destination!

Your job is to get everybody to board the same train and keep it moving toward the destination (a successful event). Unfortunately, many times event planners are not clear about their own Agenda for the meeting! It’s not their fault. There are often competing agendas at play, multiple voices from within a company all telling the event organizer, “Make sure we include this and this and this too. Oh, and don’t forget that.” 

This is where your input before the event can be quite valuable. You will add tremendous value by helping the event planner get super clear about what she wants to accomplish. Encourage the program coordinator to create a laser-focused Agenda. Here are some of the questions you want to help her answer: 

Answer These Five Questions about the Agenda

1. Who is this for?

We’ll talk more about the power of understanding your audience later. For now, put a laser-light on who this is for, who will be speaking, and who will be attending? 

2. Why are we here?

Your role is helping the event producer fulfill the mission behind the meeting. Remember these 3 P’s: Connect the program on stage to the people in the room, with the purpose of the meeting.

3. What are the desired outcomes?

Most of the time there is a core event objective + several supporting pieces that further that main goal. Here’s what I mean: Let’s say you are emceeing a fundraiser for Uplay, a fantastic non-profit that helps kids build confidence via playing disc golf. There may be three intended outcomes that help them fulfill their mission:  They want to raise brand awareness, raise money, and raise and train leaders for the cause.

4. When do we want to start/end?

You’d be surprised how many meetings are fuzzy on this point. But as the emcee, you need to help the meeting planner decide on when the train is going to leave the station and when it is going to arrive at the destination. Utilize precise times. We will begin the program at 7:30 pm and the CEO will wrap the program at 9 pm.

5. Where will this take place?

Obviously to have a meeting, you need a meeting place (a ballroom, a theatre, a church, etc.). But the Agenda must also spell out where the speakers will be presenting. Will they be on an elevated stage? In a conference room? On a Zoom call? Again, be specific.

Never Run an Event Without a Runsheet

There’s an old bit of business advice: Get it in writing. This piece of wisdom applies to making good deals AND hosting great meetings, events, fundraisers, receptions, award shows, dinner programs, and more. 

The Agenda must be put in writing. 

As the Emcee, you want to SEE the entire Run of Show (also called a Working Schedule, Runsheet, or Session Schedule). Make it available to everyone involved in the meeting. And for heaven’s sake…

Print it out. 

Some super organized detail lovers will want to put this document in an Excel sheet or share it via Google Docs. Bless their hearts. But don’t do it. Create a simple Word document. Use an easy-to-access format. Note: Many times, the event producer will provide you with this Agenda. And it will be in good shape. But many times, it will come to you as a mess—either too complicated or lacking in key details. Here are some suggestions:

  • Separate the scripting from the sequence. The written Agenda should be a simple document focused on the flow of the program. It is an at-a-glance overview of the entire meeting.
  • Make the entire meeting Agenda fit on one page.
  • Attach each element to a specific timeframe.

Here’s a positive example of what you want to see…

(Good) AGENDA for ANNUAL KICK-OFF MEETING:

7:15 to 7:30 pm audience mingles with background music playing (15 min)

7:30 pm MC welcomes the audience (5 min)

7:35 pm MC introduces CEO, Tiffany Gonzales (1 min)

7:36 pm Tiffany shares her vision for the year (12 min)

7:48 pm MC thanks Tiffany and introduces Keynote Speaker (2 min)

7:50 pm Keynote Speaker, Lawrence Jones (30 min)

8:20 pm MC thanks Lawrence and leads attendees in a stretch break (3 min)

8:23 pm MC tosses to Client testimonial video (6 min)

8:30 pm MC introduces VP of Sales, Melanie McFarland (1 min)

8:31 pm Melanie invites Sales Leaders (Mike, Yolanda, and Rich) up (1 min)

8:32 pm Panel Discussion with Sales Leaders (18 min)

8:50 pm MC welcomes Founder, Mike Garcia to the platform (1 min)

8:51 pm Mike Garcia acknowledges top achievers from last year (8 min)

8:59 pm MC thanks all presenters and sponsor and dismisses 

(Bad) AGENDA for ANNUAL KICK-OFF MEETING:

– Kim and Matt to set up the room before attendees arrive!!! (Get there early)

– Music will be playing (Kim will use her Spotify account. Get to AV)

– 7:30 pm Our MC will invite people to get seated

“Good evening everybody. Please find your seat. We want to welcome you to our annual kick off! It’s going to be fun.” (Adam please tell jokes for a few minutes. Note: Please don’t joke about politics as we are a mixed audience. Thank you)

– Tiffany Gonzales will share her opening comments. Yay Tiffany!

(Tiffany, reminder: we will need your slides. Can you please email them to me?? Also, are you going to show that new video of our customers? If so, please get that to the AV asap. Copy me. Thx). 

-Lawrence Jones will speak for 30 minutes. Lawrence is our guest keynote speaker. (Adam, you can get his bio from Julie, Lawrence’s assistant).

We don’t know all that Lawrence will be sharing, but we want him to mention the stretch break. If he forgets, we will have the emcee handle. 

-At about 8:30 pm, let’s have the MC set up the Client testimonial video

(Oh wait, are we showing the video here or after Tiffany’s remarks? Tiff?)

– Welcome our VP of Sales, Melanie McFarland and Melanie speaks.

Note: Melanie may hand out some gifts to VIPs at the end of her time. Matt, can you make sure those are wrapped and near the podium. We need a small table!

– PANEL DISCUSSION with Sales Leaders (We will need 3 microphones)

– Introduction of Mike Garcia for Founder’s Speech.  

Mike, we are so glad you are doing this again. Everybody loves you!

– END:  Adam, make sure guests know that one person at each table can go home with the centerpieces.

– We need to be out of this room by 9:30 pm everybody!!

If you think the above example is a terrible Agenda, you are correct. I told you it was bad. Now, let’s talk about why it doesn’t work and how you can create a better one. 

5 Big Mistakes to Avoid

Weak Agendas… 

  1. Insert private notes into the event sequence 
  2. Show scripting in the Agenda (Please note: Scripts should be put into separate docs). 
  3. Lack specific start/end times!
  4. Fail to note transitions between presenters or videos. 
  5. Are fuzzy about the who/what/whens of the meeting. 

More Pointers related to Agendas:

  • Here’s a success secret from the world of show business: If it isn’t on the page, it isn’t on the stage. As the emcee you must ensure that all the presenters know what they are doing and when they are doing it.  And get this, make sure it’s viewable on a single page.
  • Share the Agenda with the other presenters and the production team. Remember the Agenda is not just for you. It’s a document that guides the entire flow of the program. As the emcee, you are the one who keeps the function flowing. Refer every program participant back to the Agenda. When you are not on stage, refer to it throughout the meeting to keep the train on the tracks. 
  • Make sure the meeting coordinator emails the Runsheet to every presenter prior to the event.  Every presenter wants to know who’s on deck.  “When do I go on and who speaks before I go up there?”
  • Distribute this one-page printed Agenda to every speaker when they arrive at the venue. It’s also helpful to have this schedule posted “backstage” or in the green room.
  • Key: Make sure your AV tech team (sound, lights, slides) also has a printed copy of this Agenda. 

Face the Strange Changes

Many times, I host events that go through numerous versions of the Agenda in the weeks leading up to the event. That’s OK.

In fact, it’s a good sign. It usually means the program is being refined and readjusted. Just make sure that you—and everyone involved in the production—has the most current version of the written Agenda. Tip: Encourage the event organizer to put Agenda V.1. (For Version 1) at the top of the Run of Show document. (And then V.2, V.3, etc.)  Important: Ensure that there is ultimately a final version of the Agenda and that you, and all presenters, have it on hand at the meeting! 

The Bottom Line: The audience looks to the Emcee to lead the meeting. Work from a rock-solid written Agenda as your guide. 

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.