Being a Master of Ceremonies

The Master of Ceremonies is the "conductor" of an event or meeting. The primary responsibility of the Master of Ceremonies is to serve as a genial host. An ideal MC is a person who has poise, presence and who can command the attention of an audience.

The Master of Ceremonies is responsible for ensuring that the program/event runs smoothly, runs on time and that all important people at the event are introduced in a complimentary, professional manner. Being a successful Master of Ceremonies requires, preparation, a friendly manner and ability to adjust to/ad lib as necessary to ensure a successful event

"It is an honor to be asked to be the master of ceremonies at a function. It means that you have a sense of humor, know how to project your voice, and
can handle audiences. It means that you have the gift of being able to "think on your feet" so that you can react quickly in an emergency. (An 'emergency' arises when the lead entertaining act has not arrived, when the main speaker falls ill and has to be taken home, or when the air-conditioning ceases to function and the microphones don't work!)."

Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to Executive Manners, Rawson Associates, New York, 1985, 
P. 320


The Master of Ceremonies Role

Before the Event

  1. A successful Master of Ceremonies is thoroughly prepared. Meet with organizers well in advance of the event to confirm the purpose of the event and the planned agenda in detail.
  2. If possible contact all speakers or others who will have a role in the  program and confirm their responsibilities, time allotted to them and anything they might require at the event. In preparation for introducing key speakers contact them to find out the title/topic of their presentation and some background information on them. Use this information to prepare your introduction of the speaker.
  3. Find out if there will be any special guests in attendance who should be acknowledged at the event.
At the Event

"Preside with sincerity , energy and decisiveness. Take your audience on a pleasant journey and make them feel that all is going well".

    Toastmasters International, When You Are the Toastmaster

  1. Arrive early in order to finish any last minute details. Check with speakers and other meeting participants to make sure all their requirements are in place (if not take steps to address any problems if you can) and in case there are any last minute changes.
  2. Confirm whether expected special guests are indeed in attendance.
  3. Have an agenda and plan to stick to it. If there is not a formal agenda consider preparing a detailed script for yourself outlining everything you have to do, a timetable, including breaks, so that you will know what is supposed to happen when and so you won't forget something important.
  4. Start on time and plan to end on time.
  5. Be prepared.
    While you can plan well, things can run amuck. Be aware that this can happen and have a possible strategy to address problems that might occur. The ideal MC is resourceful, creative, flexible and able to respond to problems "on the fly".

Your objective is to keep the event running on time.  Attendees appreciate an event that runs on time.

We'll bless our toastmaster,
Wherever he may roam,
If he'll only cut the speaker short,
And let us all go home".

Paul Dickson, Toasts,  Crown Publishers, New York, 1991, p. 230

Consider the following tips:

  • Keep a watch in front of you on the lectern or table to enable you to keep track of the time.

  • Or, arrange beforehand for someone in the audience to keep track of the meeting and give you subtle signals if the meeting is moving behind schedule.



Opening Comments
  1. Welcome all present.
    If there are any special guests, officials, politicians or others of note they should be acknowledged in the welcome.
    For example, "Good evening, Your Worship, Mayor Brown, Ladies and Gentlemen..."
    For more details regarding protocol please refer to Perfecting Protocol .
  2. Introduce yourself, even if you think everyone should know who you are.
  3. Remind the audience of why they have come -- the reason for the event and what you hope to achieve or accomplish at the event. Is the goal entertainment, to celebrate someone's accomplishments, or to conduct official business?
  4. Outline the upcoming program briefly.
During the Program

Introductions/"Handling" the Speakers
  1. As the Master of Ceremonies you are responsible for introducing every speaker and others who are playing a role in the program at the event. A proper introduction is important to the success of a speaker's presentation so have a good introduction prepared prior to the event for all key speakers. The more important the role played by the individual, the more extensive your introduction should be.
  2. Once you have completed your introduction of a speaker, lead the applause for the speaker and continue applauding until they reach the lectern/podium.  
  3. The MC serves as the informal "timekeeper" for the speaker. If a speaker is exceeding their allotted time, you. can slip them a note asking them to please finish quickly.
  4. When the speaker has finished this/her presentation lead the applause until the speaker is seated.
  5. Before you proceed on to the next portion of the program it is appropriate to thank the speaker for their presentation.  If possible make reference to some aspect of the talk which you found particularly important or moving (this shows that you were listening and also confirms the value of the speaker's presentation).
Bridging

An essential skill of an  MC is the ability to make comments which "bridge" between segments of the meeting.  Prior to the meeting try to prepare some remarks which might be used to bridge between segments or comments or anecdotes which could be used if there is a delay or disruption in the program.  A skilled MC is able to use incidents that occur in the event as bridging tools. Don't worry if you are not sure how to do this.  This skill can be gained with experience and practice if it does not come naturally to you.

If the event is several hours in duration, and there are breaks during it, it could be useful to make a few comments summarizing what has happened so far in the event, and what is yet to come.

If there is a gift or honorarium for the speaker(s) it can be presented at the conclusion of their speech.  If there are several individuals to receive gifts they can all be presented at the conclusion of the event if this seems appropriate and all the speakers will still be available.

Closing the Meeting

"The perfect M.C. makes the audience feel they have profited  from attending the function, and that they have also had a good time".

                    - Letitia Baldrige

Close the event with as much enthusiasm as you opened with.  At the end of the session it is customary to thank the speakers and thank all who attended for their participation.  It is a good idea to include comments which summarize what was experienced or achieved in the event, what you have learned or what you felt were the highlights of the event.

In addition, if any people were of particular help to you in organizing and conducting the event, thank them publicly at this point for their assistance.  If there are only a few people who assisted you can name them individually.  If many people, you can say that you have had a large group of people helping you make the event a success, and you would like to thank all of them for their support.  You could ask them to rise to be acknowledged.

Your closing comments as MC should mirror your opening comments.  You can also consider commenting on whether, in your opinion, the goal of the event has been achieved.  If not, you could comment on what further action can or should be taken.  If the event was intended to inspire action in your audience note this and encourage them to take action.  If assistance for further work is being sought you can direct people as to who to see to indicate their interest.  If you want to inspire your audience to take further action after the meeting use of a inspirational story or quote might be useful.

For example:

"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision on what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out and meet it."
    -Thucydides

"We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly embracing each other"
    - Liciano De Crescenzo

"We can see the past but not influence it, we can influence the future but not see it"
    - Stewart Brand

If the meeting didn't achieve a clear plan of action but there is hope, the following quote might be appropriate to use:

"The moral is t hat having an accurate map (or detailed plan) may be less important than having an imperfect map that overcomes inertia, instills confidence in people, and gets them moving in a general direction".  
    -
Charles A. Schwartz

After the Event

Following an event it is appropriate to send a note of thanks to all who contributed to the success of the event in a major way.  In particular speakers should be thanked for their contribution.  This correspondence should be sent within two weeks of the event.  If you do not carry out this task someone key in the organization that sponsored the event should perform this very important courtesy.

Learning More!

When it comes to being a polished Master of Ceremonies there is no substitute for experience. Take every opportunity that you can to speak at events.  In addition, prepare and practice for ever event.

To learn how to be even better watch people that you think are skillful as speakers and MC's and analyze what they do and how they do it.  Then try to emulate the things you think will work for you.

Resources

Be an Effective Master of Ceremonies , Iowa State University, College of Agriculture,
http://www.ag.iastate.edu/aginfo/mc.html

Lee, Brian, The Wedding M.C., Mastery Publications

Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to Executive Manners, Rawson Associates, New York, 1985

Rawson, Angela.  Master of Ceremonies Knows How to Keep Meeting or Conference on the Right Path, Capital District Business Review, 11/17/97, p. 25+

When You are the Toastmaster.   Toastmasters International


 
 

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Last modified: January 29, 2005