How to MC an Event at Short Notice

Has your boss suddenly asked you to MC a high-level event?  It happened to a friend of mine last week.  As I was preparing to host a corporate dinner, I got a call from this friend.  She’d been ‘ordered’ to handle the launch of a new product and her total experience in such matters was nil.  She was worried and she needed help.  “No problem”, I reassured her, “once you can speak and you are organized, you can do it!”  I asked her to get a copy of the programme and read it out to me, which she did.  For every element, I told her specific things she needed to know or do.  A day after her baptism of fire, my friend called to inform me that her boss was full of praise for the way she handled the launch.

With my friend’s permission, I’ve summarized the telephone consultation I had with her.  It should come in handy if you find yourself with little experience but under huge pressure to MC an important corporate event.

1.    Arrival of Guests

This is probably the most important part of the event.  You should arrive at the venue in good time.  This means 30 to 60 minutes before the stated time for the arrival of guests.  This gives you an opportunity to go through your checklist of what will be done and allows you to familiarize yourself with the space you’ll be using as Master of Ceremonies.  Get the event organizer to assign you one person with whom you will communicate about the running of the programme.  This way there won’t be too many cooks trying to spoil the broth.  Know where the washrooms and exits are.  Find out which of the key personalities have confirmed their attendance.  Position yourself at the entrance to welcome guests and introduce yourself.  Any good host would do so and as the MC, you are in charge of providing warm hospitality.  As you’ve probably noticed, your work begins long before you say your first words into the microphone.

2.    Opening Prayer

You should confirm the name of this person as you go through your checklist.  In case the person to pray is late or fails to turn up, do you have a replacement?  You show a lack of professionalism if you announce for someone to come up to the microphone when that person is not at the venue.

3.    Reason for Gathering

This is where you start talking.  You have many options if you want to begin on an interesting note.  A proverb, a famous quotation or a reference to a current news headline are just some of the ways to grab the attention of your audience.  Just make sure what you say is relevant to the event.  Go ahead to introduce yourself and tell the guests why they have gathered to listen to you.  Be brief.  You’re not the main event.  Be entertaining and funny but don’t be under pressure to crack jokes – leave the comedy to Funny Face and his professional colleagues who do it for a living.

4.    Introduction of Key Personalities

If you do your homework before the event begins, you’ll have a list of personalities who are present (see point 1).  Try to acknowledge as many of them as possible.  If you have any chiefs in the audience, make sure you get their titles right.  If you don’t know how to pronounce an unfamiliar name, go up to the person in question and ask, “Excuse me madam, what is the correct pronunciation of your name?”  They’ll be grateful you enquired – nobody enjoys a public butchering of their name.  To effectively introduce someone, the formula is ‘Audience – person’s title – person’s organization – person’s name’.  Simply say with enthusiasm, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re pleased to have with us the MD of ABC Bank, Mrs. Osei.”  Then you smile at the person who has been introduced.  You’ve just made them feel special and they will feel grateful to you.

5.    Welcome Address

The welcome address is normally given by an executive of the organization which is holding the event.  Make sure you have the person’s name and title.  As always confirm that the one to give the speech is indeed present (see point 1).

6.    Musical Performance

Most events incorporate a musical performance of some sort to break the monotony of speeches.  Your pre-event preparation should furnish you with the names of the performers, awards they’ve won, current projects and future plans.  Weave this information into your introduction so that instead of just announcing, “Up next, we have XYZ Group”, you can say, “From Abuja to Adabraka, these musicians have been entertaining audiences for 10 years with the authentic sounds of West Africa.  Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together as we welcome the award-winning Nubia 54 Band!”  In two sentences, you’ve educated your audience, promoted the credentials of the performers and enhanced your own reputation as a professional.  The musical performance, no matter how brief, is an important part of the event.  Treat it as such.

7.    Introduction of Special Guest

The special guest will most likely be a top business executive, a senior political figure or a highly respected personality in society.  If the event organizer gives you a written introduction for the guest speaker, read it word for word and with meaning.  If you don’t get a written profile, grab a moment during your pre-event preparation to ask the VIP, “How would you like me to introduce you?”  Make sure you write down the answer and then use it.  Remember to end your introduction by mentioning the person’s name while looking at him.  Wait till he gets to the podium.  Adjust the microphone to his height, make sure there’s a glass of water readily available and then leave him to make his speech.

8.    Remarks by Special Guest

When the special guest finishes giving his remarks, the easy thing would be to just say, “Thank you for that speech.”  A better option is for you to be attentive while the speaker is at the podium.  When he takes his seat, you can then refer to a highlight in his address and thank him specifically for it.  Speakers like to know what they are being thanked for.

9.    Unveiling

This is the highlight of the event.  You need to sound enthusiastic and excited.  Usually you would invite the special guest and other members of the high table to do the unveiling.  If a tape is to be cut, make sure the ushers have a pair of scissors at the ready.  Remember that the MC manages the flow of an event.  If the climax is delayed because nobody knows where the scissors are, you the MC will be held accountable.  And rightly so too.

10.    Vote of Thanks

Invite the person responsible to deliver the vote of thanks.

11.    Closing Prayer

Handle this part of the programme like the opening prayer (see point 2 above).

12.    Cocktail

Your work is almost done.  Now can you get a drink to reward yourself?  Not quite.  Remember, you’re still the host.  Stand at the exit and thank those guests who are leaving early for honouring your invitation.  Do this and you’ll leave a favourable impression as someone who is courteous and welcoming.  Wouldn’t you like to be remembered this way?

As you have probably realized, speaking is only a small part of a Master of Ceremonies’ work.  Research, checking information, organizing and coordinating form a major part of your duties.  When you do them well, the result is an event that is entertaining and successful.  The next time you get a last minute invitation to MC an event, don’t be overawed by the challenge.  You can do it!


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