Updated: Jul 22
We have all attended a conference or convention or two. Some leave you exhilarated, while others leave you texting friends during speeches. Ever wonder why? What keeps you riveted vs. repelled?
Recently I was the emcee for the 2021 The Photo Managers Conference which was both live and virtual. Challenging, indeed, but we did it. As I flew home, the successful event had me asking: What makes a great conference—and more specifically—what makes for an engaging and effective emcee? Here are some critical factors:
Conference organization: Did the conference flow well, or were there lulls the audience had to endure? Detailed event planning is vital and including the emcee in the planning process helps ensure success.
Effective emcees are charged with the event’s flow, audience engagement, and quick thinking when the unforeseen happens—you know—those event makers-or-breakers. Emcees can neutralize lulls, glitches, and the occasional boring speaker. A good emcee ensures a lively flow and pace, and an engaged audience. Here are 10 top attributes of effective emcees:
1. An engaging personality—A great emcee likes people and draws in the audience. That may include greeting attendees before the event and during breaks and thanking them after. People who feel their presence matters will be more involved. They are also more likely to return the next time. Your emcee should enjoy people.
2. A pleasant, resonant voice—Anything less puts your conference at risk, because people tune out voices which are not pleasant.
3. Fluent speaking and good diction—Not only clearly conveys your message, but it also conveys credibility and professionalism. That, in turn, creates a more attentive audience. Fluency comes in here as well. Look for a speaker with few “fillers” like aahs, ums, etc. They diminish credibility, and you want a credible emcee.
4. Good appearance—Your emcee need not be a model, but they should look well put-together with professional clothing—or clothing that matches the seminar’s theme. (No three-piece suits at a beach-side session, etc.) And do not underestimate the value of good posture. Quick tip: good emcees ask about the stage scrim behind them. Plan on a contrasting color, so it does not disappear in the background. Also, women: you may like stilettos, but make sure you know the terrain you will walk. A pair of flats enroute is always a good idea. Also, clanging jewelry detracts from what you are saying.
5. Tech plans—The tech people will make or break your performance. Get to know them before the event. Make sure you are comfortable with your mic and—if both in-person and virtual—make sure you understand what you need to do to reach both audiences effectively. Make time to practice during the tech check.
6. A good script writer—If your emcee plans to “wing it,” plan to find another emcee. His or her script is your roadmap to success. It includes both script, timing, and even stage positions. From the emcee’s introduction to breaks to speakers and wrap-up, a good emcee includes it all in his/her script. That ensures your event moves smoothly. It ensures your emcee is timing Q&A sessions and knows when to call for the last question. It ensures you help speakers stay within their time frame.
7. A tuned-In emcee—Plan your event with an emcee who is committed to your event’s success. If they are tuned in, they will listen closely to each speech so they can summarize the speeches and segue to the next speaker or agenda item. Your emcee MUST pay attention to everything happening on stage and in the room, so they can respond quickly and effectively to “surprises”.
8. A flexible emcee—As they say, stuff happens at events, from bad sound or lighting to a late speaker or—heaven help us—a heckler in the audience. Whatever the situation, the emcee is the person who will handle it. If your emcee is not a quick thinker and mover, that “little problem” becomes big in no time.
9. An entertainer/emcee—While not a full-blown comedienne, necessarily, your emcee should possess a great sense of humor capable of making light and fun of event foibles that are bound to happen. They keep the audience smiling rather than grimacing—when appropriate. Conversely, in the event of an accident or serious situation, their calm, deliberate manner can walk the audience through challenging situations without panic.
10. A thankful emcee—Finally, make sure your emcee thanks every last person involved in the event’s production. Paid or not, your staff and crews have worked hard to ensure your event’s success. You bet they appreciate an emcee’s effort to thank them. (Plus, they will remember you when they are asked if they know an emcee for a completely different event.)
Think of it like this: A great emcee is a form of event insurance. Emcees essentially run the show and can guide any event through dicey situations with aplomb and a smile. They help ensure your event succeeds. You do not want to be without a great emcee. They also help build your audience for the next event. Plus, if you, as the organizer, do not have to emcee, you have time to meet and greet attendees and learn from them—fun and invaluable information for your company and future events.
So, while so many planners fret about the keynote speaker, remember that an effective emcee sets the stage for all speakers, helping them do their best possible job.
And, if you or someone you know is planning an event, I would welcome the opportunity to emcee it.