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by Jeremy Jacobs - a London-based conference & event host
Imagine an event where a well know personality is due to speak, but which is ruined right at the start by an uninspired introduction by one of the organising team. The tone is set. The lady concerned makes the common mistake of not discovering anything about the speaker who is about to take the stage. Instead, she dons a pair of glasses; doesn’t say who she is and simply reads out a rambling biography – which is, of course, far too long. Biographies are written for print and are not intended to be read out word-for-word in front of an expectant audience. So her delivery is stilted to say the least. The result is a downbeat opening and a loss of attention and energy in the room. You can already see people surreptitiously looking at their mobile phones.
Then there’s the egotistical sales director who thought it was a good idea to poke fun at certain under-achievers in his sales-force at the annual sales kick-off meeting. As you know, a sales conference is designed to get a company’s sales people and support teams engaged and excited about a new product or service – it’s to motivate them. Immediately alienating a significant part of the audience is hardly the way to foster good relations and improve performance.
These are just a couple of examples of poor conference handling by an MC or host who is parachuted in from ‘within’. This normally is designed to minimise costs or sometimes to enable some grandstanding.
More often than not, it’s Norman from Customer Services who is asked, or who volunteers for the role of corporate host or MC. Norman is a smart guy. He’s witty, entertaining and makes people laugh… so he’ll be a great at performing on stage! Oh really? This brings me on to the reasons why event managers and planners must choose a professional who can create a buzz and keep the audience engaged.
These are the most important:
When the house lights go down and the Voice of God introduces Norman the host, he might perform, but there’s a good chance he’ll act like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. Quivering with fear and perspiring heavily, he may well stutter through those immortal words “Can you hear me at the back?” When you hear this, it’s a sure sign you’re dealing with an amateur and members of the audience will take advantage by not settling down, or even heckling.
It’s awful to see a colleague struggling to make an impression in front of his or her peers. Moreover, the whole event will be overshadowed by these early moments.
As we know, Norman can talk the hind legs off a donkey. With his wry smile and infectious laughter the audience soon warms to him. Then he’s faced with a problem. The first speaker has failed to turn up – so what does he do? Ask the audience to talk amongst themselves for a few minutes, tell a few jokes – or go for the old emergency routine: “Introduce yourself to the person on your left”.
When difficulties arise (and I can assure you they do at most conferences and events) a seasoned conference MC or host will have a Plan “B” in place. This could mean the host would talk as a substitute speaker. The more events he or she has handled, the more experience they will have for dealing with awkward moments. What is a disaster to the part-time event manager is routine to a professional MC.
Audiences can turn nasty especially when they know the ‘in-house’ MC. Having someone from outside whose life’s work is managing all types of scenarios is the right investment in your valuable and expensive event.
All too often, the host/MC is an after-thought when planning a conference. Event organisers spend a huge amount of time deciding where an event should take place, its purpose, whether it should be experiential, how many speakers etc, etc. All this is key but at the end of the day, people are going to remember how they were uplifted (or not) at the conference or event and whether the takeaways are of practical use.
With live events, the only thing you can be sure of is that you really can’t be sure of anything! After all the homework is finished to ensure the event goes as smoothly as possible, life happens. The dinner starts late, the speaker finishes early, the awards presenter skips a section, the video doesn’t work, the microphone cuts in and out for no apparent reason. It worked superbly at the sound check – why not now?
The only way to gain full control of your event is by choosing a Master of Ceremonies with the experience, material, and poise to deal effectively with any situation that may arise. Wouldn’t you want to leave that responsibility in the hands of a professional? A professional Corporate MC will keep your event running smoothly.
Had the lady referred to at the beginning of this article, hired a professional host the biography would have been shorter, punchier and led the way to a better speaker introduction.
At the sales kick-off meeting, had an MC poked fun at the under-performing sales people, they may have taken it as a bit of fun and may have motivated to do much better in the forthcoming year. The under-achievers won’t be working with the MC in the future but with the sales director. Don’t damage the internal relationship.
Using outside professionals gives you flexibility and a far better result. You want people to be talking about your event positively afterwards and to remember the key takeaways not what went wrong.
Too often, I see ‘Fawlty Towers’ being repeated on stage.