This blog is to help people who have been asked to be the Master of Ceremonies for a function.
Possibly, you might have been asked to MC a function because you get on well with people. Or maybe, you are a confident person and have a good sense of humour. Sometimes you get asked because you’re well know or have some public speaking experience or you volunteered for the role. Whatever the reason, it’s quite an honour. If you pull it off successfully, it can set you up as a can-do and go-to person.
It doesn’t really matter if the function is a wedding, a funeral or a company event. Whatever it is, the principles behind MCing an event is fairly similar.
I hope this blog and the tips below will help you do a great job.
What is a Master of Ceremonies?
I also think of an MC as someone who is the genial host, the facilitator and moderator. In fact, the MC wears many hats. However, the one hat you should never wear as an MC is that of the star. One of your main roles is to set up all the other speakers for success and to help them to star and shine.
At our wedding reception, we chose an MC that had emceed by brother and sister-in-law’s wedding reception one year earlier on. What impressed me about this particular MC, was that he left no stone unturned. He was there for us, to the point that he even quietly prompted me when I was about to speak, with, “On behalf of my wife and I…” When it came to guest requests, he insisted that both my wife and me, direct any guests with requests his way. Our MC took care of everything right to the end. I learned that when you’re the MC, you’re the captain of the ship and the buck stops with you. Wow! Quite a responsibility.
Because the buck stops with you, preparation is everything. When everything is organised, all questions answered and requests or requirement taken care off, your chance of success is so much higher. Sure, I’ve seen very confident, likeable people wing it and pull it off. Even when they muck up here or there, no one sweats the small stuff. But without preparation, it’s a gamble and leaves you open to a possible disaster.
If it’s your wedding, would you be prepared to take the risk of something going terribly wrong? I suspect you’d want to be able to relax, enjoy and be confident that everything goes to plan. To be a successful MC, you need to absolutely minimise the odds of something going wrong.
A good MC makes it look easy because of the extensive preparation time they’ve put in. The main pre-planning requirement required when you’re emceeing a wedding reception is to contact and meet with the bride and groom. Request a copy of the Running Sheet that they have designed in conjunction with the event planner. Help them relax and find out what they want. You are there to support them and also to advise them. However, at all times, remember it’s their wedding.
You should contact everyone that will be speaking. This is to get to know them better. Your role is also to support them and help them if they need your help. The information you gain will help you structure your introductions for them and set them up for success.
It also really pays dividends if you arrange to meet the reception’s event planner at the venue a week in advance. Apart from the questions you arrive with, new questions will present themselves. You’ll even get answers to question that you had not even considered. It’s a bit like the, “There are known knowns…”
The other aspect is that you get to know the lay of the land, so to speak. This will be helpful when announcing housekeeping matters. It helps to know where everything is, including the kitchen. I was asked to MC my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding reception a year ago. They informed me that they had organised a photo booth. On the day, I introduced myself to the booth operator early on arriving at the venue. This allowed us to communicate with each other when required. I also introduced myself to the bride’s best friend who was going to assist in directing guests and supporting my sister-in-law when required. The other person I got to know was the kitchen organiser. Things don’t always go to plan or on time. Knowing who’s who and making that connection, really helps.
While you might have the basic running sheet, it’s important for you to also have an in-depth MC Running Sheet, with some scripting of what you’re going to say. This will help you know what’s up next and help you remember what you’re going to say. Also, having a basic running sheet and a Specific Running Sheet for people with roles, will help them know when they’re on and what’s required.
Needless to say, all of the above aspects apply in some way to any function you’re asked to MC.
However, let’s say you’re asked to MC a corporate function, you will still need to get in touch with the person who’s paying you. And you’ll need to do this well ahead of time. Ask for names and contacts of a few of the employees and get permission to contact them to find out more about the organisation. Check out the company’s web page. Find out who the guy everyone knows and likes is. This can come in handy if you need someone to participate up on stage on the day. Definitely, contact all the people who are speaking and get enough information so you can write the introductions for them or have them provide one with permission to edit.
I’ve been an active toastmaster for over thirteen years and an active member of three different clubs. At Toastmasters, a member who’s been a member for a while may be scheduled to be the meeting’s MC, or as we call it, the toastmaster. Below you’ll find tips that might be beneficial to Toastmasters and you as an MC outside of Toastmasters. You’ll be able to select tips that you can use, modify or improvise to suit your situation.
Before the meeting
As the toastmaster, you need to call or contact all speakers presenting speeches, the Table Topics Master (impromptu segment leader) and the General Evaluator as a minimum. You’ll need to do this a few days before the toastmaster’s meeting. This is to confirm their attendance and to access their needs.
If your club uses easy-Speak to schedule member roles, check their role acceptance. Specifically, check that speakers have provided their speech title and introduction for you to read out at the meeting. This will set them up for success. Remember, apart from person to person communication, a phone call is still the best way to get cooperation, clarity, and save time.
Note: on easy-Speak, introductions appear a few days before the meeting date, near the agenda button, top right.
Normally, your role is also to select a theme for the night well ahead of time. I always recommend something topical, a key calendar event or what you’re passionate about, or all three. Many Toastmasters have the mistaken belief that they need to give a speech on the theme; it’s actually quite the reverse. I recommend 2-3 minutes at the start just to set up the theme. Possibly if you have a mid-meeting super break, reintroduce the theme very briefly when the meeting restarts after supper and again at the end of your role.
At the meeting
The Genial Host – As mentioned previously in this post, you as the Toastmaster, are, what they call the “Genial Host”, the facilitator and moderator, not the star. The aim is for you to set up the other speakers for success, to allow them to shine and star. As mentioned above, a big part of this is to have the speakers provide you with introductions ahead of time. Agenda Changes – Get to the meeting early. When you get there, check the up-to-date, current agenda provided. The copy of the agenda you have may already be out of date. Make sure that those members scheduled for various roles are present. If not, ask members without roles to fill in for them. Don’t forget to note these changes on your running sheet or agenda. If you don’t note these changes, you’ll run the risk of forgetting who’s doing what. This is because you’ll already have so many other things to concentrate on. Segues – You will be required to transition or segue smoothly from one speaker to the next or between meeting segments. To do this, come up with relevant segues. I strongly recommend that you don’t sweat this part of the role. After having done some improv, I have learned to trust my brain. I’ve learned that something appropriate or a humorous will always present its self. All that is required is for you to be attentive, listen, relax and trust your brain. Keep Track – The other thing I tell all first time meeting toastmasters, is to tick off the item you have just dealt with on your running sheet. This is so that you don’t accidentally skip over a segment. The best time to do this is when you’re sitting down on the side of the stage, on either of the two seats reserved for you. I’ll explain the purpose of these two seats latter. However, regarding the ticking of the completed segments, sometimes you have to stay at the lectern. This can be because it’ll be you that’s handling the next segment. In this case, whip the pen out of your coat pocket and tick of the last segment as done right there and then. And be cool about it. Doing things confidently shows you’re in charge and relaxes the audience. When you’re sitting down you can also check the next segment and the name of the person running it. If however, you do accidentally skip over a segment, you may be able to introduce the segment out of order. Acknowledge the switch very briefly, and don’t be over apologetic if at all. Apologies only draws attention to the hiccup. It can be as simple as, “I realise I forgot the Round Robin segment, so we will do it now”, and get on with it. Organisation – My other recommendation is to have the evaluators’ names next to the speakers’ names, and the speakers’ names next to the evaluators’ names on your running sheet. The reason for this is that you’ll be using them in conjunction with each other when you introduce them. Speech Objectives – When introducing a speaker presenting a prepared speech, a common oversight occurs. That is, the toastmaster will forget to ask the speaker’s evaluator to inform the audience of four aspects. These are, the manual the speaker is speaking from, the project number, the speech objectives and the time length of the speech. Instead, the toastmaster will introduce the speaker and welcome the speaker up onto the stage without introducing the evaluator. To prevent this from occurring, make a note at the beginning of the introduction that you need to introduce the evaluator first. Supper Providers – And one last thing, don’t forget to thank the supper providers.
Professionalism – A little bit of lectern etiquette will help you, as the MC or the toastmaster of the meeting, connect with the audience and make you look professional and smooth. Lectern as a Crutch – Often speakers use a lectern or podium to support their notes. Can I suggest, that that is all it supports. That is, not you. Leave your hands free for gestures. You won’t fall over and the lectern can take care of itself. Clinging to the lecture screams nervousness and makes the audience nervous and have less confidence in you. Permission to Shine – I also recommend that you place the lectern to the side and angled towards you. This prevents the lectern forming a barrier between you and the audience. It prevents you blocking your body language and losing that connection you’re aiming for. You’ll still be able to read and refer to your notes. Even if your notes are on a podium, find opportunities to get out from behind the podium to connect with the audience. This is where being miked up with a microphone comes in handy, as opposed to you being tied to the podium microphone. Yes, it can also make you feel more vulnerable, however, you’ll get used to it and you’ll begin to love the increased connection you’ll make. Smooth Handovers – I referred earlier to two toastmaster’s seats, one at either side of the stage. The purpose of this is so that you can move to the seat opposite to the direction the next speaker is coming from. This prevents you from having to cross over in front of, or behind the incoming speaker. Crossing over looks awkward. If you find yourself in a situation where you do need to cross over, cross over behind the speaker as you leave. This is because you’ve already handed over the lectern to the incoming speaker. The Mountain & Mohamed – Also, when you’re about to hand over, stay at the lectern until the handover is completed. That is, don’t move towards the incoming speaker to greet them. Let the incoming speaker come to you when you’ve introduced them. Someone needs to be at the lectern at all times. Applause – Remember to lead the applause; from the moment the incoming speaker leaves their seat, to the moment you shake their hand. Then pick up your notes and leave. Similarly, when the speaker has almost finished speaking, get up in readiness to congratulate the speaker with a handshake and lead the applause. For this you need to stay alert for signs of a conclusion, just in case they decide to do a runner. Sometimes you’ll have to tuck your notes under your armpit or fake the applause. This is a good tip for when you are also sporting a hand-held microphone. However, don’t forget to leave them some time to bask in the limelight, as you stand next to them. Then shake their hand and take control of the lectern, again leading the applause as they leave. Often toastmasters forget to lead the applause, as they have a lot on their mind. However, you’ll get better with practice. Lonely Lectern – It’s important that the lectern is attended at all times. That is, someone needs to be in charge, otherwise, the audience will be wondering what the hell is going on. It’s always a better look.
Final tips for toastmasters
Preparation is the key to success. As they say, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” And the other expression I like is by the 2001 World Champ, Darren La Croix, “Toastmasters is the best place to screw up”. I think the reason he says this, is because we come to Toastmasters to learn, experiment and make mistakes. This is so we don’t screw up outside of Toastmasters, when it counts.
Speak to connect. Presenting is all about connecting with your audience. That is, all the information in my other posts are relevant when MCing. Below is a summary of the main points that I think are important and relevant for the MC role.
- Your job is to rally the troops, or to put that another way, to set a positive and dynamic mood, especially at the very start.
- Be passionate about your role and what you’re saying.
- Use a microphone when available, even if you feel you feel you’re able to project your voice well enough.
- Speak slowly, unless you’re speaking fast on purpose. However, don’t forget to pause.
- To illustrate a point use a story. But make it brief.
- Don’t be afraid to move. Unless you’re totally tied to your script.
- Ad-lib at times, it makes for a less canned presentation. It shows you are in the moment and there for them.
- Have your speaker introductions ready.
- On nerves, I like what George Jessel had to say and I paraphrase, “Your brain starts working the minute you’re born, and stops working the minute you have to speak in public.” The other quote I like is by Mark Twain, “There are two types of speakers in the world. The nervous and Liars.” I recommend you make nerves your friend and welcome them.
Your role as a MC is to be the genial host that sets a positive, upbeat and dynamic mood for the event. Aim to set up all speakers for success and help them to star and shine. If you present confidently and enjoy the role, the audience will relax and enjoy the event. Preparation is the key to smooth running, making it look easy. Speak to Connect, and make that difference.