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“It is when we are in transition that we are most completely alive.”

-William Bridges, Ph.D., Author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes 

My favorite thing about being a master of ceremonies, believe it or not, isn’t telling jokes (although I do love that), or receiving applause (who doesn’t enjoy that), or even meeting famous people, some of my heroes among them. 

While each of those things brings me great joy, my favorite part about being an event MC is learning to become a master of transitions

This is truly what separates a good emcee from a great one, and I’m going to show you the ropes. Let’s get started.

Two words say it all: Think Link 

Your role as the event host is to connect people, ideas, companies, and content, so you should always be looking to make a link between what’s happening onstage and what the audience is experiencing. 

You are a bridge builder.

See Related: Speakers – How To Be A Great Emcee

Here are the three components to focus on when becoming an architect of dynamic transitions:

#1. What just happened (and how does the audience feel about it)?

Did the speaker just end on a powerful crescendo? Was there a boring moment in which the speaker sort of dropped the ball? Did the energy in the room just drop, or is the audience buzzing with excitement over what they just heard? 

You need to experience what the audience experiences, so that you can share it and then shepherd them into the next moment or segment of the program.

#2. What is about to happen (and how do I want the audience to feel about it)? 

You must always keep in mind what the next piece of the program is and how to set the table for what happens next. 

I like to look at my notes on my 3×5 cards just before or following a speaker or other transitional moment so that I’m reminded about what’s going to happen next. This helps me figure out how to best build a bridge to the next moment. 

#3. What do I say or do to build a bridge between these two?

Your main job here is to make a connection between what has just happened and what you want to happen next. An effective way to do this is to acknowledge what just occurred and keep it flowing smoothly. 

“Thank you, Marilyn, for doing such a superb job. Let’s give her a big round of applause! Speaking of doing a great job, it’s now my honor to introduce someone who has been excelling in the job of company safety.” 

See what I did there? I built a bridge from the last speaker to the next one without taking up a lot of time.

As Richard Rama, a character played by Al Pacino in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross said, “You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is.” 

It’s rare to be able to pre-script transitions because you’re not always sure how the previous segment will conclude. What I suggest is this: write out transitions ahead of time, but then be prepared to adjust them as needed or scrap them entirely if it’s necessary in the moment. A great emcee is always in the moment. 

As the host of the event, you have been hired to emcee, you want to do everything you can to ensure that the program flows smoothly. Segues are an important part of this. Effective segues are ones that are both smooth and well-placed.

Bonus: Rehearsals – How To Be A Great Emcee

5 Times When You Need to Make Smooth Segues

#1. Between speakers.

This is critical because sometimes the previous speaker’s energy is drastically different from the next speaker’s energy, so you need to find a way to build a bridge between the two.

Oftentimes the content between speakers is different as well, so it’s important to listen intently and take notes in order to find some common ground that will help you transition smoothly from one speaker to the next.

#2. Before and after a video.

Let’s face it: most videos are not super compelling because the content is often informational rather than transformational. It’s important whenever possible to watch a video prior to the program so you can get a sense of how the audience will feel about it.

I not only do this, but I also watch the video from my seat or backstage so that I can feel in real time what the audience is experiencing. Then I can make a proper connection to what’s happening next. Here’s an example:

“Wow, what a powerful story– and speaking of great stories, we’re excited to introduce you now to the next chapter of what our company will be doing in this initiative.”

#3. Into and out of a break.

Some emcees make the mistake of being very choppy when it comes to getting into or out of a break in a session. Here’s how to do it well: Let them know that a break is coming, but first you want to communicate something to them. For example… 

“I’m about to dismiss you for a break, my friends, but first I want to share something very important. We’ve had an awesome session today– we heard from Mike, we heard from Nancy, and we had a stirring presentation from Julio. Let’s give them each a round of applause! And now here are the directions for your break…”

#4. When something goes wrong.

First of all, it’s important that you know when something goes wrong. This is almost always possible if you’re always paying attention (and you should be). I find that acknowledging what went wrong without deepening it is the way to go.

For example, if someone were to fall or trip on stage it might be on the audience’s mind,  so I might say something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that I spoke with Tim backstage and he’s fine, no worries whatsoever. And speaking of no worries, let’s watch this video about how we can balance productivity at work with peace in our personal lives.”

#5. To close the show.

You want to really give some advance thought to this, but again be ready to make adjustments along the way. You need to build a bridge between what happens at the conclusion of the program and your dismissal. 

One of the best ways to do this is by acknowledging all the presenters during the entire session and leading the audience in applause for the wonderful job they all have done. Then, you want to transition into your thank you and dismissal. 

Never end on a break. End with a bang! The key to doing this is not making your final announcements or your dismissal the last thing you say but bridging into wonderful closing remarks like, “We want to thank so-and-so, and we also want to thank YOU for being such a fantastic audience. Drive safe and enjoy the rest of your evening, congratulations to all our award winners. Good night!” 

Transitions are so important because they can help keep the positive energy going, as well as redirect any missteps and get the program back on track. Now that we have covered the occasions you need to make smooth transitions, let’s talk about some common mistakes that some emcees make with them.

Common Mistakes To Avoid With Transitions

You were firm instead of flexible.

This happens when you’ve written a beautiful transition and you feel like you must share it. Truth is, you don’t have to.

The audience doesn’t know what you’ve written and depending on what happened (or didn’t happen) during the segment, what you’ve written may no longer be as relevant or fitting. 

Remember to be in the moment. Either re-work your transition or rewrite it completely. If you do not have time to rewrite it, just look for ways to build a bridge between what happened before and what needs to happen next. 

You ignored the elephant in the room.

Perhaps there’s a loud crash because a server dropped a plate, or the sound went out and microphones stopped working for a moment. A common mistake an emcee will make here is to simply ignore it. Another mistake: dwelling on it

The key is to mention the elephant in the room if it’s super obvious and becomes a distraction to everyone. By acknowledging it and moving on, you will help the audience do the same.

You turned the segue into a speech.

It’s hard to control your own emotions sometimes, I know. At one event, I literally lost it and burst into tears onstage (more on that in another chapter). The point I want to make here is that your goal in a transition is to get to the next experience, not create a new speech or add time to the program. 

You slowed down the pace of the program.

Always keep the train on the tracks. That means you must keep things moving. Your segue should be long enough to make a smooth transition to the next piece without slowing down the timing of the event. 

You forgot your mood ring!

Here’s what I mean by this. Remember when mood rings were popular (I don’t know, maybe they still are)? They changed with the body temperature of the person wearing them.

The mood of your event can change instantly when a speaker gets choked up (or fired up), when a powerful, emotional video is shown, or when an award winner gives a moving “thank you” in his or her acceptance speech. 

You need to reflect the mood as it’s happening in real-time and then build on it to take the audience into the next mood or part of the program. This means that you must stay tuned in to every moment of the event. It also requires some flexibility on your part, as well as the ability to pivot and adapt to the changing emotional temperature in the room. 

The best way to get great at transitions is by doing lots of them. This is a reminder that the more events you emcee, the better you’ll get.

Practice your transitions long before the event takes place and then trust yourself. Go with your gut and remember the three keys that we talked about at the beginning of this chapter.

In doing so, you will become a master of transitions! 

Keep Reading: Unexpected Situations – 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.