Avoiding an awkward conference MC

Whether your event is a corporate dinner, awards presentation or conference, choosing the right speakers can make or break the success of the event. Irrespective of whether you chose to use a professional MC or not, the timetable and script notes for the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ need to be comprehensive, complete and inclusive of any ‘sensitive’ items to avoid awkward situations. While a member of staff acting as an MC might know the subjects to avoid, a professional MC must be comprehensively briefed should the potential to inadvertently embarrass delegates or guests be a possibility, or if the guests might find any of the content culturally insensitive or inappropriate.

Irrespective of the experience or professionalism of your MC, attempt to meet with them at least 2 weeks before the event and reiterate the manner in which you want proceedings to be introduced. Should the MC develop their own scripts or introductions, ask to see their notes or scripts. Even if you provide the scripts, an MC might change the language to suit their own style, so it’s always worth asking to see their own notes ‘to double check details’ before they publicly open your event.

If choosing an MC who may not be an on-stage professional, consider someone who is enthusiastic, energetic, has good enunciation and can dress appropriately. Professionals know the value of good microphone technique, how to overcome a poor PA system, and how to control an unruly crowd. If your MC is recruited from within your organisation, give them the opportunity to visit the venue, test the sound system, and be comfortable hearing their own voice amplified to fill the room. Many people begin to speak quieter once they start hearing their own voice in the PA system, doing the complete opposite of an effective MC. The same goes for the lighting. Being ‘in the spotlight’ can be confronting for people, and having the MC shade their eyes when they walk onto the stage, or indicate that they can’t see the audience because ‘the lights are too bright’ is a distraction and a poor way to start an event. Also, be sure the MC understands the timing of the event. The catering kitchen can become a war zone if sessions finish too early and hospitality staff are clambering to serve tea and coffee, or the food presentation is spoiled because a session finished much later than expected.

Tim Stackpool is a professional MC and speaker trainer, as well as a contributor to Executive PA Magazine. He is also the host of the Pro Speaker Podcast at www.prospeaker.com.au