It’s a rare organization that has leaders whose poise and stage presence allow them to step in as host, welcoming attendees, introducing speakers, setting the tone, and pulling it all together. If you’re organization is like most, its events could use some help from a professional emcee.
Jen Salerno, CMP, DES, is one such pro, and for a session at Catersource + The Special Event in March, she brought her experience as an emcee and her background in the convention industry to the stage, sharing five tips for hiring and getting the most out of an event emcee.
Tip 1: Match the skills and personality of your emcee with the needs of your event.
What do you want to accomplish and how can the emcee help? While an awards ceremony may need an emcee who can lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings, a sales kickoff could benefit more from an emcee who’s an entertainer. For an educational symposium, emcees need to be both a host and “content weaver,” says Salerno, able to understand the big picture and perhaps moderate discussions. Virtual-meeting emcees need additional technical skills, especially around online engagement tools, as well the ability to talk into a camera in a way that connects with the audience.
“Your emcee should have a combination of these skills to varying degrees,” Salerno says. “Of course, you want them to be adaptable and flexible. They need to be engaging and energetic. They have a great presentation and facilitation skills. It helps if they're humorous, and they really need to have some improv skills in case things go amiss.”
Salerno suggests some “qualifying questions” as part of the hiring process, such as:
• What does your typical event preparation look like?
• What are some of your favorite ways to engage an audience? (“You’re looking for an answer that’s beyond ‘I do Q&A,’” notes Salerno.)
• How have you managed the unexpected during past events?
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Tip 2: Bring your emcee in early to leverage their experience and expertise.
Make your emcee part of the planning team, Salerno suggests. “If you bring in your emcee before your program is finalized, [he or she] can review the agenda and suggest engagement opportunities. … Keep in mind that a lot of emcees also work as meeting facilitators and are experts in adult learning, so they might have some really good ideas for engaging your audience.”
In the planning phase, an emcee can also prepare speaker introductions and segment transitions, connect with the production team, get a better understanding of your audience’s interests and concerns, and talk with speakers to help them understand the flow of the event. Some emcees are also qualified to provide presentation tips to nonprofessional speakers.
Tip 3: Use your emcee to increase engagement throughout the event cycle.
Before an event, your emcee can partner with the marketing team, especially in terms of supporting promotions for social media or the registration site. Salerno shared an example of a 90-second video she created to help promote an event, where she reviewed information on what attendees should expect and how to register. “It's a great way to get the energy going,” she says.
During the event, engagement is priority number one for the emcee. “It’s their job to set the tone for the whole event, to manage the audience’s energy.” They can help your audience understand what’s been talked about, what’s coming, and what they should be thinking about, Salerno says.
After the event, emcees can help reinforce the conference message, participating in post-event webinars or filming short video segments with key takeaways.
Tip 4: Challenge your emcee to continuously tie the meeting together.
From your speakers and sponsors to the theme and location, a prepared emcee will take the threads of an event and weave them together, says Salerno, “taking it from a meeting of many different parts and bringing it together as one cohesive package.” This starts with an emcee who researches your audience, she says, which allows their comments to be personalized; in turn, this builds a connection and trust with the audience.
“Your emcee should visit the different breakout sessions, gathering information and bringing it back to the main stage. And they should always be summarizing key points and building on the event’s key messages.”
Tip 5: Rely on your emcee to expect—and handle—the unexpected.
Things go wrong at events, period. Emcees can be critical to maintaining continuity when there’s a problem, whether the issue is a change in the schedule, a virtual speaker with technical problems, or a risk-management-related scenario such as protestors outside the meeting. “Your emcee should already have your audience's full attention. So, they're the one who can really help if someone needs to make an announcement when something has gone wrong.”