“Welcome to our convention! We have a great agenda, but first, I’ve got a few dozen announcements.” And you’re off to the races with a great event hosted by a not-so-great emcee. As a corporate and association comedian who has mastered the art of keeping a conference moving, I can show you how to grab the audience’s attention and keep it for the entire event.
“Take the bullet.” This is ancient comedy club wisdom. The emcee is not hired JUST to be funny, she’s also there to sacrifice herself by going first, or “taking the bullet”. As important as being entertaining, she has to also focus the cold, chatty, drink-ordering crowd, so that the OTHER acts/speakers do well. If you’re not comfortable with jokes, or you’re not hired to do jokes, then don’t do them at first (after you’ve done more emceeing, you can work on joke skills). Instead focus on your first few tasks, which are to welcome your guests, tell them about the great experience they’re in for, and what’s on the agenda. Sure, slip in some housekeeping details, but don’t focus on the bathroom locations first, unless that’s the highlight.
Come Prepared. “Nevaeh” is one of the top one thousand popular names for girls in the U.S. You may have to pronounce it. Practice the speaker’s name out loud several times fast, so it rolls off your tongue, and write it out phonetically. The same goes for titles and intros. I do office humor as “The Work Lady,” but have been introduced as “The Working Girl.” That’s not good. (FYI, spell Nevaeh backwards!)
Tie It Together. Thanking the last speaker is a dismissal, not a wrap-up. Transition by mentioning something you learned, repeating a website, giving a personal fact about the speaker, or taking a silly survey. You should tie the event together, not run speakers through on a conveyor belt. I once polled the audience, after the president gave a long analogy between the Super Bowl and life, by asking “how many people hope, during next year’s game, Bill does like the rest of us and just drinks a beer?” Of course I had permission to joke around with him. Don’t get yourself in trouble!
Plan To Stall. There are a million things that can interrupt your perfectly arranged session, but you still have to keep things moving. Have a plan for power points crashing or the group next door setting up a petting zoo. You can stall like a pro by highlighting a sponsor, taking a few questions, listing five great area restaurants, asking people to shout out one thing they’ve learned, or inviting everyone to go pet the goat next door. “Plan B” shouldn’t include staring at the banquet manager until she fixes the problem.
Change The Energy. In comedy clubs, if the first act dies, the emcee tells a couple jokes to change the mood so the next act has a fighting chance. You, too, need to help the audience switch gears from funny to serious, serious to high energy, and so on. One quick line can do it. I once followed a CEO whose depressing speech focused on how the company was, quote, “toning down the glitz & glamour.” I came back with “great, you’re toning down the glitz & glamour. . .and then I’m introduced! Like I’m the blandest speaker you could find!” It gave the crowd a license to laugh and helped them to move on.
Make Them Want To Listen. People will listen if they like you – just ask Oprah! Be personable by sharing details about your family, hobbies, hometown, or pets. You can even have a recurring theme, such as mentioning your cat frequently. Every time you go back on stage, the crowd will think “I wonder what she’ll say about Rover now?”
Have Fun. It’s YOUR party. If you have fun, they will too. Use top ten lists, funny quizzes, and silly slide shows to keep things moving. And close with something memorable like an anecdote from the conference or a challenge for next year. Then take a bow, you’ve just given the event some “glitz and glamour!”
© Jan McInnis All Rights Reserved.