“Consider what a romantic expedition you are on; take notes.”
-Anne Boyd, distinguished Australian composer
The proper use of notecards and prompters is essential to your effectiveness as a master of ceremonies. There are times when it’s more appropriate to use a word-for-word script when you are hosting an event, but most of the time, you will be using a sequence or bullet-pointed agenda that shows the ROS (run of show).
It’s important to know what to use for different events. The following are examples of when to use a script.
See Related: Microphones – How To Be A Great Emcee
When to use a script
#1. Award shows
Why is it critical to use a script when hosting an awards show? At least part of your notes should have names written out and listed by proper pronunciation. You don’t want to “wing it” when you’re announcing salesperson of the year, best performance per region, et cetera.
When you are the officiant of a wedding or even a reception, it’s hugely important that you have the names of the bride and groom, other key family members, and the bridal party completely written out. You should have the vows in writing as well, as this is a decorous occasion.
#3. Formal functions like a graduation
Again, names are key. You want the names of the graduates written out with the proper pronunciations. It might also be helpful to spell out names phonetically in your script to make sure you don’t forget how to say them. A little bit of prep work goes a long way in making sure the event you are hosting goes smoothly.
Note: You can still go off script between different segments of the event, but you want to make sure you stay on track when acknowledging award winners, husbands and wives, graduates, and so forth.
Now, let’s talk about using a sequence or agenda.
Using a sequence or agenda
My preference is to use a sequenced approach with my notes whenever possible. This is because I want to stay continually linked to the audience and not bound by words on paper or on a screen.
Here are some examples:
#1. During events where you can be more extemporaneous
You can use a sequence during events where you can improvise a bit more. Obviously, if you’re hosting a comedy show you have the freedom to ad-lib and interject your own personality in between the acts you are introducing.
This is also often the case when you are emceeing a corporate function in a less formal setting. For example, you can run a board meeting by making appropriate introductions, handling a welcome, and building your transitions with key bullet-pointed words connected to your sequence rather than a formal script.
#2. After dinner programs
I like to see what’s happening, when, and with whom on my notecards. For after-dinner programs, I prefer to do this using a point-by-point breakdown that allows me to follow the flow of the evening, rather than in a superscripted manner.
#3. Concerts and talent shows
You’ll want to spend time crafting introductions for musicians, comedians, magicians, variety acts, and speakers, but your commentary in between these performers can be a bit more spontaneous.
Note: Remember that the best spontaneity is pre-planned!
3×5 cards are your friends.
Isn’t it great to know that as a master of ceremonies, you don’t need to invest in a bunch of super expensive equipment? You just have to run to your local grocery store, Staples, or another office supply store. Pick up a pack of 3×5 index cards, and you have most of what you need to be a dynamic event host.
I live and die by 3×5 cards and would like to share some thoughts about when to best them. Here are some examples of situations in which these cards will really come in handy:
#1. When you are note taking during sessions
As we discussed in the previous chapter, listening is so crucial for an event MC. I use 3×5 cards to make notes during sessions as I’m listening to the presenters. I will write down any key phrases or ideas so that I can remember them and reiterate them later for the audience.
#2. When you are making introductions (as needed)
Of course, it’s best if you can memorize speaker introductions (more on that in a moment). But if you can’t, your 3×5 cards will do the trick.
If you need these introductions written out word for word, make sure all the text fits neatly on the card so you can read it clearly. You can also have three to five key bullet points on your card that you can refer to when you make your introductions.
#3. When you want to create a dramatic effect
What do I mean by dramatic effect? Let me give you an example. When I gave a commencement address to the graduating class of Greenville University, I pulled out a 3×5 card to dramatically read a quotation by Winston Churchill…
“We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glow worm.”
Rather than feeling as though I was using my note card as a crutch, I displayed it to the audience as a special and valuable item because it had words of great importance written on it.
When the context is appropriate, feel free to play around with your 3×5 cards to add a fun, dramatic effect to your presentation. This can help set a playful, lighthearted tone for the program that your audience will enjoy.
#4. When you want to review key names/catchphrases/inside jokes/acronyms
Sometimes during a session, you’ll be sitting in the audience for 10 to 45 minutes or more, listening to other presenters. This is a good time to review key names, catchphrases, inside jokes, or acronyms about the organization that hired you to be their event MC.
I try to capture all these notes on one 3 x 5 and review this card continuously during the event. This allows me to quickly reference highlights of the program that I can reemphasize for the attendees.
Bullet points help make you feel bulletproof.
You don’t want to walk onto the stage with a giant script book in your hands. The audience wants to connect with you, not a notebook. This is why bullet points on a 3×5 card are so effective.
I like to have the entire run of show (ROS), aka the agenda, crystallized down to a single note card that I can glance at throughout the entire event. This helps me keep track of who just spoke, how much time I have to handle a transition, who’s speaking next, and so on.
When you know the flow, you’ll feel more in control of the show.
What to Memorize (if you can):
Your impact as a master of ceremonies will be heightened when you speak from the heart and the head, not just from written notes. Here are some things you’ll want to memorize if possible:
#1. Your opening welcome
This is important, as it is the very first impression you make on the attendees. Your opening welcome needs to be all about connecting personally and genuinely with your audience.
If you have prepared comments, it’s best to memorize them. If you are “winging it,” you’ll still want to have two or three key thoughts, stories, jokes, et cetera that you want to convey.
#2. Key introductions
Whenever possible, do your best to memorize the introduction of a keynote speaker, the CEO of a company, or any other honoree you might be welcoming to the stage.
Important point: As we discussed in the introduction chapter, you don’t want to present an overly long bio. You just want to hit the audience with the highlights.
#3. Stories and jokes
Nobody likes it when you read a story or joke to them unless you are five years old, and Grandma or Grandpa is reading your bedtime story.
We’ll talk more about jokes and storytelling in another chapter, but at this point, I just want to say that it’s best to have two or three jokes up your sleeve and ready to go.
Practice your jokes and deliver them with gusto. It might be helpful to try them out before the event to make sure they get a good laugh.
#4. Your wrap-up
If you had guests in your home and you were saying goodbye to them, you wouldn’t read a pre-prepared script. You would say something like, “Thank you so much for coming to our party, we loved having you here,” or, “We hope to see you again soon, have a nice night and please drive safe, thanks again.”
In the same way, your wrap-up should feel warm and heartfelt. Though you had to memorize it, you want to present it in a way that feels conversational and spontaneous.
How to Keep Notes in Your Head
I recommend that you learn how to use mnemonics. These are simple techniques that help your brain remember names, numbers, faces, and more. It’s a powerful area of study that will benefit you greatly as an event MC.
For example, you can use an acronym that’s easy to remember and allows you to follow a sequence in your mind without referring to your notes.
I’ve had the privilege of introducing my friend Bob Goff at a number of conferences, and rather than reading from his impressive bio, I have memorized an outline based on the acronym BOB:
B: He is a best-selling author with over 2 million copies of his books in print.
O: He’s had an overwhelming impact on people around the world.
B: He is involved in several beautiful charities, including Love Does.
Another example: Let’s say I am reminding the audience of the three main points of our sales campaign. WIN might be the acronym, so I’ll keep in my mind that WE can do this together, we need to INVEST the time and energy to make it happen, and NOW is the moment for us to take action.
Coming up with simple acronyms that allow you to follow the main points in your head is a terrific strategy for remembering your notes.
How to Use a Prompter Like a Pro
Teleprompters can be very intimidating to many speakers, but don’t worry– they are your friends.
As you’ve seen on television, many politicians and business leaders have perfected the art of speaking from a prompter in a way that feels natural, conversational, and impactful. You can, too! Using the acronym TALK, let’s go over some helpful tips for using a teleprompter.
TALK with the prompter operator before the program. Most of the time when you are emceeing an event that necessitates a prompter, there will be a teleprompter operator on site.
Get with this expert beforehand and have them show you exactly what you will be seeing, how you’ll be seeing it, and where you’ll see it.
Here’s an important tip: Most prompter operators are very flexible and will change up the scripting, so it reads the way you want to say it.
ALLOW yourself time to get comfortable with the prompter. You can do this backstage, but the best option is to practice it onstage so you can see exactly how to use it before the program begins.
Note: If this is a virtual event, the same idea applies. You want to work with the equipment in the same setting where you will be delivering your presentation.
LOOK at the camera/audience. The prompter is there to give you the words to say. You need to be clear about where your line of sight should be so that you’re connecting with the live audience if there are people in the room, or a virtual audience if you are speaking through a camera.
The point of a prompter is not to deliver words as though you’re reading them. You want to speak the words in as natural a voice as possible. Grab the words from the prompter, take your time, and deliver them to the audience as though you’re speaking to a friend.
Oftentimes this means slowing down and using the natural rhythms of your speaking voice to convey what you want to communicate.
KNOW when to pause for effect. It’s tempting when you see the sequence of scripting on the prompter to rush right through it, but don’t do that. Take your time and pause for effect, really letting your words sink in for the attendees.
Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing. A well-chosen pause or moment of silence can create quite an impact. You can work with the teleprompter operator to build these pauses into the script.
When used strategically, notes and prompters can be very effective tools that you can use as a master of ceremonies. My last piece of advice here is to be very clear that these are simply tools. Use them as an extension of your personality, but do not replace your personality in the end.
Keep Reading: Off the Cuff – 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.