Skip to main content

“Listening is about being present, not just about being quiet.”

–Krista Tippett, Award-Winning Public Radio Host

What is the difference between being a good emcee and a great one? 

Many emcees are hired or invited to host events because they are good talkers, but great emcees are masterful listeners. 

This book will help you be both– but if I had to choose, I’d rather you use your two ears than your mouth. Let’s talk about how you can be a masterful event MC by being a better listener.

See Related: Keep It Moving – How To Be A Great Emcee

When You Should Be Listening as Master of Ceremonies

You should be listening every single second before, during, and even after the meeting or event.

This chapter will focus specifically on what you need to be listening for during the meeting as active listening is a crucial skill you can’t ignore. And I want to make it crystal clear that even when you’re not on stage, you still need to be engaged with the program. This means listening very attentively to what’s happening (and what’s not happening).

Let’s dive in. Here are some things you should be listening out for during the event you’ve been hired to emcee:

Key Moments You Can Reinforce With Your Active Listening Skills

During the program, you want to actively listen for key moments you can reinforce.

There are certain things like the introduction of a celebrity or speaker, big awards, or a special address by the CEO of the company that will likely be key moments during the program.

Most of the time, however, the other magical or memorable things that happen are unplanned.

Active listening skills active listening skills effective listening skills body language poor communication business relationships good listening skills active listener listening ability undivided attentionExample:

The presenter might let themselves become especially transparent or emotional during his or her talk. It could be that an audience member says or does something hysterically funny, and the crowd erupts into spontaneous laughter. It might be a video that captures everyone’s hearts or moves them to tears.

You want to be listening for these impactful moments so that you can reinforce them during the program and especially at the conclusion.

Problems You Can Help Fix

You might be listening to an attendee who says that the room is too cold or too hot, or you may see that the speakers are not well-miked and the audio is not functioning properly, leaving the audience unable to hear what is being said.

Many other problems can occur during the meeting. Speakers can run too long or finish too quickly, or perhaps a video won’t play or the PowerPoint screen freezes unexpectedly.

You want to be completely tuned in to what’s happening at all times because as the event MC, you’re the one who’s most able to make things right and get the program back on track.

It bears repeating: Your number one job as a master of ceremonies is to keep the train on the tracks. 

Attendees You Can Celebrate From Effective Listening Skills


If you were listening during a break, you might have discovered that an attendee is celebrating a birthday or special anniversary– perhaps a work anniversary.

By listening for important details like this, you will be able to facilitate some impromptu fun like singing happy birthday to an audience member or initiating a round of applause for a company associate celebrating their twentieth year on staff.

Importance of listening active listening skills good listener communication process eye contact good team leader ensures listen carefully valuable skill active listening skillEvery person loves to celebrate their own. Most of the companies or organizations that hire you to emcee their event have one goal in common: they want to bring every person in the room together. By actively listening to everything going on around you, you will be able to find opportunities to celebrate attendees in a way that helps bring them together.

Key Phrases or Ideas that Emerge

You may notice that a pattern develops during the program or that certain keywords, phrases, or ideas are mentioned repeatedly by one person or several speakers.

You can accentuate these things (especially if they’re positive) during your transitions, as well as in your final commentary at the end of the session.

This is especially effective when key phrases or ideas connect with the theme of the meeting.

The Energy in the Room

This is particularly important. You always want to be attuned to the energy in the room.


If you look out at the audience after lunchtime and see that a person or two are getting tired and/or restless, you may need to pump up the energy the next time you get to the microphone.

You can have people stand up for a quick stretch break or conduct a brief icebreaker.

Always be listening to the energy in the room because as the master of ceremonies, part of your job is to manage the energy of an event.

Bonus: Jokes – How To Be A Great Emcee

Take Notes During the Meeting

I always keep a 3×5 card and a pen or a pencil in hand (or pocket), even when I’m not taking notes on what a particular speaker is saying.

Personal relationships essential skill good listeners half listening mental health customer satisfaction listening is important facial expressions team's ideas group projects direct eye contactIn addition to taking notes on a speaker’s presentation, I also constantly take notes about what’s happening in the room. Whether it’s certain key phrases that keep being repeated or observations I make about the audience’s reactions, I have found that taking notes helps me connect the dots during the program. This allows me to review some of the highlights of the meeting for the audience.

I am so committed to taking notes that I purchased a special wallet with a little journal and pen inside of it, so even if I don’t have a notepad or index card, I never miss a moment to take notes during an event.

You can also use your phone to do this. Using the Notes application on your iPhone will help you jot down and quickly reference moments of importance throughout the event.


If using your cell phone, make sure it is muted and that you are not constantly seen looking at your phone like you’re texting or playing games during a meeting.


Sometimes at the beginning of an event, I’ll say something like “You might occasionally see me on my phone even though I’ve asked you not to use yours. This is because sometimes I get updates that I want to share with you.” 

The Power of the Playback 

I’ve talked about this before, but I want to say it again: human beings love to hear again what they’ve already heard.

This goes back to the concept of telling them what you’re going to tell them and then telling them what you told them. I call this preview and review. It’s super powerful when you play back to the audience some of the highlights of what they heard during the session.

Active listening is important same page family therapist relationship building time listening non verbal cues reasons why listening effective communication great listeners open communicationExample:

When you get to the end of a session you might say, “We want to thank Sean for his inspiring comments about winning as a team,” or, “We are so grateful for the way Melanie personified this and shared her own personal story of victory,” or, “We want to thank you for a tremendous Q&A session with our keynote speaker, Sheila,” or, “And did you notice something we kept hearing? The word ‘teamwork’. Well, team, it’s now time to take a break.”

Listen to the Speakers (With Body Language Too)

You want to take notes on what the presenters are talking about so you can reinforce highlights of a speaker’s message, especially if it deepens the impact of what the organizer wants the audience to experience.


Sometimes at the conclusion of a session, I’ll remind the audience of a powerful message that they heard earlier during the program. If you’re emceeing a session that might run 90 minutes, it’s often helpful to remind the attendees of what they heard in the first 15 or 20 minutes.

Listening skills active listening reasons why listening feel heard better leader different perspectives new skills feels respected good communicator big deal essential part co workersNote: You never want to go too long here. You’re just encapsulating in a few sentences how great the program has been and reinforcing some of the key points the speakers have made.

Listen to the Listeners

It is so important to not only listen effectively to the speakers but to listen to the listeners as well. That means paying attention to how attendees were impacted and what it was that impacted them. You want to reiterate these key moments or concepts when you get to the end of your program.


“How about another big hand for Joe in the audience who had the nerve to stand up and ask a great question of our CEO? Let’s give him another round of applause!”

By validating members of the audience and reminding the attendees of the experience they just shared, you are sending the important message that this has been a fantastic time and that everyone got to share it together.

I hope you will take the time to learn not only how to be a great MC, but a masterful listener as well.

Keep Reading: Microphones – 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.