Maybe you’ve hosted live events before, but a conference is an entirely new challenge.
Don’t fret! Here are my 5 insider tips on how to EMCEE a conference with poise, control, and polish.
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How to EMCEE a Conference #1: Ease the clients’ worries
Chances are, the event coordinator has put months of work into preparing for this multi-day event. Many, many months.
Securing speakers, making travel arrangements, finding caterers – the list goes on. How can you help make their life easier?
A successful MC asks questions
Ask the client thoughtful and useful questions in advance so that your work integrates seamlessly with the event.
The client will appreciate your thoroughness and feel confident in your abilities. Here are a few questions you should ask:
What is the main purpose of the conference?
Ask your client to explain conference’s purpose to you in detail. Why?
This will help you make decisions regarding tone, content, humor, and more.
What might the purpose of a business conference be?
The purpose could be to foster idea sharing amongst top industry professionals influential in current affairs. This would impact the way you structure your emceeing.
Or it might be to spark interest amongst young industry newcomers. This might inform different decisions as far as your hosting.
Maybe the purpose is to review new protocols that everyone must be aware of. Again, this should impact the choices you make as a corporate emcee.
Who is attending the conference?
Learning the purpose of the conference can give you some hints here, but never assume. Always ensure that you have specific information to work with.
A great corporate MC knows who’s in the room
Are attendees mainly high-level industry executives looking for rejuvenation? Are they freshly graduated college students, ready to take on the corporate world?
Are they circus performers from around the world looking to learn new skills? Chefs who specialize in French cuisine (okay, now I’m hungry!)?
How to EMCEE a Conference #2: Move things along
While a good MC knows how to improvise, it is best to keep extemporization to a minimum. You will feel more confident if you’ve structured your days’ responsibilities.
Set a clear plan for each day of the event and stick to it. This will reduce dead air, keep the momentum up, and keep energy high.
Minimize top-of-day housekeeping
Anticipation and energy will run high in the mornings as the event starts. People are juiced up on their coffee and (hopefully) well-rested from the night before.
Don’t weigh that excitement down with a ton of logistical talk. Here’s what I mean:
Hit the key points
Keep your notes ready and cover the absolutely necessary housekeeping points. Safety protocols are, of course, vital to share with the audience.
Then, move right into the planned event schedule.
Make extra logistics available to attendees in pamphlets or on the conference website (preferably both!).
Always run tech beforehand
Most professional venues will provide a run sheet and lead a sound check.
However, if these are not provided to you, request them.
The first time you step onstage should not be when the actual conference begins.
You need practice walking across the stage.
You need to hold the microphone in your hand.
You need to get comfortable making eye contact with the audience.
Tech rehearsals are key to a successful event.
Prepare introductions and transitions
Your client has dedicated meaningful effort to securing the lineup of speakers.
Ensure that each is given the introduction they deserve.
The next speaker should feel as esteemed as the previous speaker.
A good master of ceremonies does their research
Research each speaker thoroughly and highlight their major accomplishments succinctly.
Introduce speakers by connecting them to the purpose of the event – why is this speaker talking to this particular audience?
In the same vein…
Prepare timely ways to transition between speakers.
The audience should always feel confident that you are “steering the ship.”
Put your end-of-day wrap-up to use
Your audience will be running low on energy by the end of the day.
They’ll want some cold drinks. So, put a concise button on the day with a quick wrap-up.
Tell a quick closing story
Express gratitude to the day’s speakers, do a short recap, and confirm how the day will run tomorrow.
Consider sharing a fast, relevant anecdote about the day.
Then, send guests on their way to relax and enjoy their evenings.
Your closing ceremony may be more involved, but extended goodbyes can be indulgent and I generally advise against them.
How to EMCEE a Conference #3: Capture the tone
As the corporate MC, the audience will look to you to set the tone of the event.
Serious, lighthearted, somber, rigorous, playful?
Use the following tips to make intentional choices and guide the attendees in the right direction.
Understand the audience’s preferences
As we discussed in #1, you need to know who the audience members will be.
Part of the reason for this is so you can make decisions regarding the conference’s tone.
What do you mean, the “tone”?
For example, an audience of savvy business people looking to network probably prefer you avoid small talk.
However, an audience of nervous young graduates may have a high energy vibe and appreciate a more welcoming, almost parental sensibility.
Maintain open communication with the event planner
And of course, if you have any questions regarding the tone, speak with your client.
They will appreciate your thoroughness!
Make intentional choices regarding humor
Humor can be a tricky subject for a master of ceremonies to navigate.
It can be a daunting task to know what an audience wants as far as humor.
The many faces of “funny”
For example, a group of middle-aged suits with tight neckties may be looking for a good chuckle!
Or, a teen event may surprise you with their razor-sharp focus.
“Funny” is subjective
My advice is to trust your instincts, do your research, and consult with your client.
When in doubt, throw some softball humor into your introduction and see how it lands.
It won’t take long for you to sense how open an audience is to laughter.
Also, different things make different people laugh. Don’t be discouraged if the first try doesn’t land so well. This takes practice!
How to EMCEE a Conference #4: Establish the pace
Remember, a multi-day event is a marathon and not a sprint for the master of ceremonies.
Set a sustainable pace that keeps energy high but won’t burn you or your audience out.
I don’t mean to sound like a nagging father, but this is important.
When you are the corporate MC for a multi-day event, you are the person everyone looks to for guidance and structure.
It is vital for the conference’s success and the client’s satisfaction that you stay healthy for the duration.
Drink water, eat foods that make you feel energized, and get plenty of sleep. Do activities that help you stay calm, like walking, meditating, or talking to friends.
The event may double as a party for attendees, but you are there to do your job.
Do not sacrifice quality for quickness
I’m sure there is a lot of material to get through over the course of the event. However, never sacrifice quality.
If you’ve planned your pacing out correctly, you should be able to present everything while maintaining a comfortable tempo.
Find a happy medium
And remember, a comfortable tempo is not just for you. The audience needs to be able to hear and process the words you are saying.
This means that volume and clarity are just as important as pacing.
How to EMCEE a Conference #5: Embrace flexibility
No matter how much you prepare, surprises will always arise at a multi-day event like a conference.
My advice is to create contingency plans and stay loose. You can handle anything that comes your way!
Prepare for cancellations
Most speakers will stay well. Other speakers, however, are going to get sick or have family emergencies arise, and they will cancel.
This can mean a few things:
Perhaps the event coordinator will hire a backup speaker to take their place. In this case, you must go through all of your preparation for this new speaker.
Learn their story, connect their accomplishments to the audience, and prepare a compelling introduction.
Or, the planner may simply leave that time slot empty. This may give you a quick breather in the middle of the long event.
Take advantage of this: rest, eat, exercise, or review your notes for the next speaker.
Schedule surprises are basically guaranteed
Cancellations are always a possibility, but so are additions!
If a renowned award winner lets the event planner know they are available, chances are they will be smushed into the lineup.
Breathe and stay positive
You’ve got this. Do your research and write a simple, effective introduction.
If this means you need to shave minutes off of your transitions, go ahead and do that.
Remember, your flexibility is a testament to how good you are at your job.
You can fit any situation into an entertaining and well-organized message!
Let’s wrap this up!
It can feel intimidating to be asked to act as event emcee at entire multi-day event such as a conference.
They often last multiple days, are extremely well-attended, and can even have high public visibility for the master of ceremonies.
So, approach a conference with the same organization and attention to detail you would any other event. Go step-by-step. Ask questions.
And remember these key points:
How to EMCEE a Conference #1: Ease the clients’ worries.
How to EMCEE a Conference #2: Move things along.
How to EMCEE a Conference #3: Capture the tone.
How to EMCEE a Conference #4: Establish the pace.
How to EMCEE a Conference #5: Embrace flexibility.
With that, you are off to the races! Good luck!
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Adam Christing has been called “The Tom Brady of emcees.” He has hosted more than 1,000 company meetings, special events, gala celebrations, and more. He is the author of several books and founder of CleanComedians.com. For more event tips, follow Adam Christing on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.