The company conference is fast-approaching.
You’ve been to many – even spoken at some.
But this one’s different, because YOU are Master of Ceremonies.
I’m in Nice in the French Riviera this week.
Working with a client to answer all those questions.
But this is a very specific remit – with specific techniques attached.
My client will be hosting a business conference on the Riviera in early April.
So, to answer his questions on how to MC the event, I have a couple of my own:
What’s the purpose of the conference?
Who’s the audience?
It’s crucial we really understand the purpose of the conference and those attending.
This one aims to build relationships with the client.
Introduce them to the experts in the industry.
Show them what new products will improve their bottom line.
And ultimately drive sales.
It costs the company lots of money to stage.
Understandably, they want a return on investment.
There are 130 attendees, some from as far away as Australia.
More than two thirds will be men, mostly at a senior level.
So now we know who we’re talking to.
I’ve played the role of MC many times before.
A hired hand, there to keep it light and keep it moving.
That’s often why an outside speaker is hired.
But my client heads a team in the company that’s putting the conference together.
They’ve chosen speakers and their topics to get the message across.
His first big job will be to set the tone of the conference.
So, we write an intro to Day One that’s warm and welcoming.
After 30 seconds, he introduces himself and why he’s hosting.
He explains the benefits to delegates of being there.
And hints at the topics to be discussed.
And all this led into our first speaker.
The biographies he’s been sent vary greatly.
Some are long and rambling.
Some too short to say much.
But he has an insight to each topic.
So, we get to work on crafting them.
By again asking questions:
Who’s our next speaker?
What do they do?
What are they talking about?
Why’s that important?
So, it looks like this:
“Our next speaker is Steve Wright – who heads up our innovation team.
For three years, he’s been trialling new electronic ticketing, because the savings are enormous when the business goes entirely paperless.
So, with his view of a future free of paper…please welcome Steve Wright”
And that’s a formula we’ll keep for subsequent speakers.
The biographies provide facts – but we need to use our own words to build them into short stories.
That way, my client will be reading his own words with each intro.
Rather than awkwardly reading words written for him.
It was a habit I developed in more than two decades presenting live news and sport on TV.
Often scripts were written for me – but I always rewrote them into my own style.
I like to walk back on-stage applauding.
Showing appreciation for the talk.
When taking the podium, reprise their key points.
“Wise words from Andrea on increasing profit.
And I particularly liked…”
Followed by two of three points I feel are worth highlighting.
This was done to great effect by the MCs at a Worcestershire conference I attended last weekend.
They picked out memorable quotes and key facts from each speaker.
And it’s something I advise my client to do after each presentation at his event.
He’ll listen to all speeches in rehearsal and pull out the relevant key points.
That gives him less to do on the day.
So he can concentrate more on the delivery of his words.
The most important ones often involve phones.
Here they’ve asked that phones are simply kept on silent.
But that they use the conference app to submit questions.
Most people will respect a request like this.
It just needs to be delivered with a friendly tone.
When it comes to lunch and coffee breaks, I draw on experience.
Mention what’s coming up in the next section.
THEN say it’s time for a break.
Otherwise the stampede starts early, and your words can be drowned out.
Be firm and clear and when people need to be back:
“The afternoon session starts at 1.30 sharp, so please be back in your seats at 1.25 ready for a great afternoon.
Enjoy your lunch”.
Some feel compelled to crack jokes.
I watched a new golf club captain do just that a couple of years ago.
He plodded through a series of limp jokes.
Some bordering on offensive to the audience.
It was cringe-worthy.
If there’s a funny and appropriate line, use it.
Humour can always lighten the mood.
But be aware, there’s always a victim.
And the only safe victim is yourself.
Too much self-deprecating humour and it looks like the MC lacks self-belief.
We decide to go light on humour this time round.
There are three dials on your “amplifier” that will determine your enthusiasm.
Keep the pace slow.
BBC newsreaders speak at three words per second.
That helps you time your links.
The MC needs to transmit calmness throughout, so staying slow helps.
Keep the volume up so every word is heard at the back of the room.
Volume keeps the energy high.
There should be light and shade with different words to create the correct emphasis.
If it helps, physically underline words to give them more “oomph”.
With the right pace, volume and tone over two days, the enthusiasm will stay high.
After five hours meeting to discuss all this, my client has a plan.
He’ll seek more information on some speakers.
Then write all the rest of the links.
He’ll fine-tune his intro to the two-day event.
In rehearsal, he’ll fill in the gaps of key points other speakers made.
If his script is complete before the conference begins, he can concentrate on the delivery of what he’s written.
Because he’s taken out so many moving parts with thorough preparation.
And if he delivers exactly what he set out to, his role will be a great success.
Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can read his full profile here.
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