How To Be An Emcee

Table of Contents

Introduction

Have you ever considered adding Master of Ceremonies (MC) to your speaking offerings? Being an MC can help you learn how to add energy to the proceedings of your speaking events and help you make yourself vital to event organizers.

The role of an MC is to be the “host” of an event, and is responsible for keeping the flow going and ensuring that everything runs smoothly. This includes introducing other speakers and keeping the audience engaged. An MC often works closely with the event organizer to plan and prepare for the event.

In addition to being an experienced public speaker, you need to possess a sense of showmanship, be good at improvisation, and have a good sense of timing. Having some understanding of the audience’s needs and interests is also key to being an MC.

As an event professional, do you need to be an extrovert or an introvert to excel as a Master of Ceremonies? What is the best way to structure your pricing? What are the key roles of an MC?

These are all questions that you might ask yourself if you plan on becoming an MC. This post dives deep into the role of a Master of Ceremonies, along with how to structure pricing, and the basics of becoming an MC. Everything you need to know is detailed here.

Ready to learn how to be an emcee? Read on!

How to be an emcee

The MC is a vital part of keeping a conference or event running smoothly. They announce speakers, guide transitions between segments, and direct attendees to lunch or other activities. Without them, the show would grind to a halt.

As an MC, it is important to have an in-depth knowledge of the event or program that you are hosting. You should have a clear understanding of the purpose of the event and any topics or speakers that will be included. And you should also get familiar with the venue and have a plan of action for how to address any unexpected issues that may arise.

You should also develop strong public speaking and presentation skills, understand the importance of engaging the audience, and be prepared to handle questions from the audience in a professional manner.

An MC case study

Thom Singer, professional speaker and self-styled “Conference Catalyst,” joined The Speaker Lab Podcast to discuss how to be an emcee and the value he provides as an MC to clients, as well as the kind of personality needed for MC roles and how to price MC services.

According to Thom Singer, emceeing can be five times more effort and work to prepare for a conference compared to doing a keynote speech. During the conference, the work to be an MC is much greater since you’re never really finished. Compare this experience to a keynote, which is usually just a speech followed by some mingling before and after, then off to the airport.

Singer got started as an MC through his gigs as a keynote speaker. “Meeting planners were like, wow, I want to have you back next year, but we can’t have the same keynote two years in a row because we have 80% return rate of our audience,” Singer recalled. “And they started saying, could you be the master of ceremonies?”

What Singer did as a speaker was to take his signature keynote talk, and break it up into five to seven minute modules that he could drop at any time during a conference. “I’m a master of ceremonies who comes with my own content and that content gets people excited about being at the event,”  Singer said. “And somebody said, wow, you really changed my event. You were like a catalyst. And I became the conference catalyst.”

Common MC tasks

Still wondering exactly how to be an emcee? The MC role itself can be summed up in a few key tasks: ensure the event is unfolding in the right order, keep people from running over time, and filling time when there is a delay.

Suppose a keynote speaker runs 15 minutes over and the next speaker is nowhere to be found. This could create a lot of dead air while everyone scrambles around backstage trying to find the next speaker. A good MC will be able to recognize the situation, get up on stage and find ways to fill the time.

Perhaps that’s through asking for volunteers from the audience for a few questions. Maybe that’s through audience participation, or a prepared bit from the MC’s keynote.

By effectively filling the time, you keep the energy of the event going. And you will make a positive mark on the audience and event organizer who hired you!

On the other side, getting speakers to end on time is a must when running a conference. A good MC will have to play the role of the ‘bad cop’ at some points to ensure that each speaker sticks to their allocated time. If not, it could impact the remaining content, such as reducing the breaks or happy hour. As an MC, you need to have serious conversations with speakers to ensure they stick to it.

Thom Singer recalled how he would start walking on stage once the speaker went over time by just a couple of minutes to give them the “hook” and get them off stage. “It’s really important to the audience,” to keep things running on time, Singer said. “These choices are made with the audience in mind, not the speaker in mind.”

Educate yourself about the event

Finally, you want to ensure that the event is unfolding in the right order, and to the extent possible, use callbacks to remind the audience of relevant points they just heard. For both of these things, preparation is key.

You always need to be prepared to learn about the conference and the people attending in order to provide the best value. It’s essential for the MC to stay focused and really listen to the speakers so that he can come up with appropriate transitions between them, if the details of the talks are not in his area of expertise.

Finding gigs as an MC

If a conference budget includes speakers but not a master of ceremonies, it can be difficult to overcome objections such as lack of funds or reliance on in-house staff. In those cases, an MC gig may not make sense for you unless you really want an in to a conference for free or the cost of travel.

However, when making your pitch, emphasize that a professional MC can be beneficial for keeping the event running on time. The MC will keep speakers in check, so that if one runs long, they don’t throw off the whole schedule.

Furthermore, having a professional in this role eliminates the awkwardness of a coworker or staff member having to cut off someone speaking. In this sense, the MC plays the role of the “bad guy” so that internal board members, employees, and leadership don’t have to.

If you’re just starting out, find some local events where you can MC for free as a service. Singer said did a lot of like awards banquets in Austin for different organizations that were just three hours long. “Find places where you can do awards, banquets and dinners,” Singer recommended. “Try it out and, see how it goes and if you get really jazzed by it, then do a one day event and then do a day and a half event. And then eventually you can, start charging for it. But get out there and figure out if you like that.”

How much to charge as an MC

How much should you charge as an MC? Given the amount of work, you might expect to be compensated more than you would as a keynote speaker, but that is not the case.

There’s no cookie cutter answer to this question, but according to Singer, a good rule of thumb is that a two day gig as an MC is usually valued at roughly one and a half times the rate of a keynote speaker. For larger conferences with an attendance of 500 people or more, the rate may be slightly higher. Being an MC for three days may earn you a bit more, but it will not be three or five times the rate of a keynote. You should assess each conference or event individually, budget-depending, to determine the best rate for you.

Singer said, “A lot of people have called me and said, ‘Tom, I wanna do this MC stuff.’ And I start telling them the amount of work that’s involved. And then what it pays.” He continued that in spite of the relatively lower pay, it’s still worth it to him. “I’m an extrovert. I get my energy from doing this, and I like putting the pieces together.”

Conclusion

You now have a better understanding of how to be an emcee. You have acquired insight into what the exact role of an MC entails. And you have learned a little more about the fundamentals of pricing and the basics of how to become an MC. Are you looking to learn more about how to be an emcee?

If so, check out this episode of The Speaker Lab Podcast, How to Be an Emcee at Events with Thom Singer. Singer takes us through his journey to success in speaking, detailing how he got his start as an MC and how he’s been able to thrive as both an MC and a keynote speaker. Plus, his enthusiasm for his work and helping others learn from his experiences is truly inspiring. Tune in to our conversation to learn more!  Check out the episode here.

Still want more? Check out our blog post on how to find paid speaking opportunities in any industry. Happy speaking!

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