“To emcee, or not to emcee, that is the question.”
Begging the Bard’s indulgence, that is a question often asked by organizers of both in-person and virtual events. It’s also asked by people who are interested in becoming emcees.
Whether you’re hosting a two thousand attendee real estate seminar live or a virtual conference of life insurance executives with five thousand people attending remotely, a skilled emcee is necessary. Why? An emcee ensures that an event flows seamlessly with all of its threads – content, speakers, audience, and suppliers – woven together into a cohesive whole.
When we hear the word “emcee,” we might envision an avatar like a late-night talk show personality, a game show host, a conference moderator, or even a rap music performer. An emcee, an acronym for Master of Ceremonies, can fill many roles – host, entertainer, moderator, introducer, and more.
For many of our NSA members and their clients, an emcee typically takes the form of a Conference Moderator or Event Facilitator. In this role, an emcee will introduce presenters, sessions, and moments during the event. They provide context and clarity, keeping the participants, whether they are virtual or live, informed.
The event’s flow and energy are in the hands of the emcee. They are responsible for ensuring that the event’s objectives are met and that the audience is engaged and entertained from beginning to end. This role has become even more critical with hybrid and virtual events.
An emcee’s role often extends well beyond hosting the event itself. The right emcee can contribute to the meeting’s design and help to prepare speakers and formulate agendas. If a skilled emcee is employed from event inception to execution, their experience and expertise can enhance every aspect of the participants’ experience.
Some event organizers ask (mostly inexperienced ones), why can’t I just handle the emcee duties myself? After all, I know more about the conference’s subject matter than anyone else, I am the expert, and I created the agenda.
The problem with that logic is, while the organizer is an expert in the event’s subject matter, they likely do not have the skills required to be an effective emcee.
To a casual observer, running an event looks effortless and easy – you tell a few jokes, make small talk and introduce the next presenter. That’s a false assumption. Shepherding an event takes talent and is a honed craft. It takes years of experience to become a great emcee.
An emcee’s role goes beyond making intros and announcements and handling transitions. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. An emcee has to think on their feet and be responsive. This is especially true for virtual events, which all have the inevitable technological hiccups.
Depending upon the event, there are other things to consider as well. Will your audience need interaction to break up content-heavy sessions? Is there a sensitive vote that needs to be massaged with tact and a deft hand? How much pre-event planning and coordination is required by an emcee?
The bottom line – almost always an amateur emcee is not the best answer. You need a pro.
Here’s a quick checklist to use when you’re hiring an emcee –
- Write a request for proposal. Provide a brief description of your audience and agenda. Add any additional information that will impact the emcee’s responsibilities.
- Assemble a list of potential candidates. Your best place to start – contact the National Speakers Association for ideas.
- Check credentials and verify references. Get a list of similar events they have worked for as an emcee. If possible, watch a recorded event where they were the emcee.
- Ask questions and trust your intuition. Ask candidates about how they would handle certain situations that may arise in your event. What does your “gut” say about this person? If your intuition and your analysis are aligned, the odds of picking a successful candidate go up.
There are several different types of emcees. The skillset you need depends on the type of emcee you are hiring. Here’s a rundown of the seven types of emcees you may have the need to hire or may want to pursue as a career path:
Master of Ceremonies. They introduce the main segments of the gala or awards program and navigate through the schedule. They let their personality shine and highlight the expertise and eloquence of the guests.
Entertainer Emcee. These people are first and foremost performers. Their specialty is entertaining the audience between repetitive formats. They are flexible enough to fill in five-minute gaps or launch into a half-hour routine.
Humorist Emcee. These folks not only tell jokes, but they provide humorous commentary on the meeting, organization, or even the industry. They are adept at recapping sessions and bringing out themes at the event.
Conference Emcees and Moderators. These emcees go beyond the traditional role and act as coordinators and moderators of various event components, such as panel discussions and Q&A sessions. They often synthesize content presented by professional speakers and represent it to the audience.
Conference Content Weaver. They act as a conduit between the audience and the speakers, connecting the dots and discussing the audience’s overarching issues. They open and close sessions, but they also ask provocative questions and frame the context of the conference’s learning opportunities.
Event Facilitators. Their focus is on creating a structure that supports the audience experience. In collaborative events, they work to achieve their client’s goals and are most often employed at corporate retreats, Board meetings, and annual conferences.
Virtual Emcee. As we all know, virtual events became the norm in 2020 are still prevalent in 2021 (and likely beyond). The Virtual Emcee has even more responsibilities than the in-person emcee. On the top of that list is making everyone participating remotely feel like they are together in the same room. They need to be adept at using audience response systems, have camera skills, production talent, and know their way around a virtual environment.
Would you like to dig deeper? Click the button below to download Why Hire An Emcee? an NSA White Paper that explores in-depth all of the topics discussed in this article. This is highly recommended reading for both those who hire emcees and those who aspire to become (or be a better) one.Download White Paper