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To be a great emcee you need to employ all of the presentation skills you’ve learned over the years: projection of your voice, poise, and body language that suits the content of your script and mood of the event. But you also need to remember that you’re not the star of the show. Your job is to serve as host, set the mood, highlight the other speakers or performers, and keep the program rolling along.
Here are just a few quick tips to help you prepare for your next emcee role:
- Find out as much as you can about the event and what the client wants: Whether you’re emceeing a wedding reception, an awards ceremony, a press conference or a corporate event, you need to understand the expectations of the person who requested your services. What atmosphere do they hope you’ll help foster? What is the purpose of the event? Who will be in attendance? Will the client be giving you a detailed script or simply an order of service/event overview? Gather as much information as you can before you start your preparation.
- If it’s a scripted event, try to get the script as far ahead of time as possible. Go through it and make clarifications with the client. Find out how to pronounce unfamiliar names or terms, and write them out phonetically on your script. Read it aloud, and adjust the wording (if permitted) in subtle ways so that it sounds natural to you.
- Share something about yourself. Depending on the expectations of the client, add in a short personal story or comments that are relevant to the event content. It may help break the ice and endear the audience to you (e.g. “I remember when I first saw road cycling…watching the Tour de France on television with my mom and admiring the athletes’ endurance and strength. Well, we are fortunate to have a former Tour de France athlete with us today…join me in welcoming John Smith!”).
- If time allows, find a way to acknowledge the previous speaker or performance. Summarize one or two key points from their presentation or share your admiration for a special move they’ve made. Take notes while you’re listening or watching, so it’s easy to summarize or comment.
- Try to find creative ways to link the speeches or performances. You can do this by pointing out common themes in the content they’ve shared, or, if you’re able, develop clever segues that smoothly move from one portion of the agenda to the next.
- Watch the clock. If things are running late, cut unnecessary chatter in between agenda items. Sometimes the proceedings move much more quickly than expected. Be sure to arrive with a backup plan (that you’ve cleared with the client) to fill in the time (e.g. a quick interview with someone, a short break in the program, a musical interlude, etc).
This is by no means a comprehensive list of emcee tips, but a basic start. Just like any other skill, emceeing takes practice. If you make a misstep, cut yourself some slack. Every event has its bumps and surprises. With experience and time, you’ll find yourself better able to enjoy the event itself. After all, emcees often have the best seat in the house.
Have you been described as a fast-talker? As you speak, do you feel your face flush, your shoulders rise, your anxiety build?
Sometimes what we call ‘fast-talking’ is simply the result of a person not stopping and breathing frequently enough. Think of speech in grammatical terms. Breathing is the necessary punctuation. In speech, well-placed pauses for breaths are the exclamation marks, commas, periods, and question marks that help organize thought, communicate specific meaning, and indicate tone or emphasis. A written story without punctuation might confuse and irritate a reader. That’s exactly what un-punctuated, breathless speaking can do to a listener!
Here are some tips to insert breathing (as punctuation) in your speech:
- Consciously pause to take a breath before answering a question (this will give you a moment to consider your response and indicate thoughtfulness).
- Stop to breathe between ideas.
- Before a speech/presentation, stand tall and practice inhaling and exhaling deeply to get into a good rhythm prior to launching into your introduction. Singers understand that breathing is essential to strong vocal projection and performance. They practice breathing techniques to optimize tone, volume and power. They also emphasize good posture. Practicing confident posture and breathing should be a natural part of public speaking rehearsal and warm up. Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk to learn more about how body language affects our confidence and performance, as well as others’ perception of us: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en.
- Do a quick breathing check at your next meeting. Right after you say something, verify whether your shoulders are raised or tight. If they are, that could be an indication that you are not breathing enough, or too shallowly. Drop your shoulders, sit up, and try to push your breaths down into your belly (versus chest breathing).
- Watch your audience. Are they staring at you with furrowed brows, appearing confused or anxious? If so, pause, breathe and continue with a slower pace. In more intimate meetings, you could ask them a question and leave space for their response.
It may take time and practice to consistently breathe more deeply and calmly when you speak, but it’s an investment that will pay off. There is a connection between clear thinking and breathing (your brain needs oxygen!), so learning to breathe properly while you speak should positively affect more than just the way you sound, it should help promote sound on-the-spot thinking. That alone is worth the effort.
Recently, a client asked for advice on how to prepare to speak at the funeral of a close friend. His question got me reflecting on all the times I’ve attended ‘celebrations of life,’ funerals, and memorial services, and how apparently difficult it is to speak publicly on those occasions. Based on my observations, here are the few tips I offered the client:
- Start your preparation by deciding what it is that you want to get across about the life of your friend. Write down some general adjectives or qualities you would use to describe them (e.g. Vivacious, goofy, generous…whatever is appropriate).
- Then think of stories that illustrate those qualities.
- Make it general enough (so other people can relate), but also personal (so that the stories carry the emotional weight they should).
- Write it all down, and read it through several times. You never know how the emotion of this kind of moment/occasion will affect you. Have the paper up at the pulpit/podium with you. Ignore every piece advice you’ve ever heard about not reading your speech. Feel free to read your speech, if that seems best. At one funeral I attended, the individual delivering the eulogy had prepared a beautiful speech but had to stop halfway through because his emotion overwhelmed him. After a moment break, he opened up his written speech and read the rest. It was just as moving and meaningful as it would have been had he spoken without notes.
- Cry if you need to. People will wait, and cry with you.
Most of all, as you prepare your funeral address, be honest and sincere. It is a great honour to be able to pay public tribute to a friend.
From time to time I peruse writers’ chat pages and Facebook groups to read about what’s causing the latest buzz in the indie writing world. A few months ago, I happened upon a seemingly innocuous comment about what makes a person a writer. The poster indicated that a writer is simply, “someone who writes.”
I suppose that definition is technically correct, but the people on the chat page were not interested in literal definitions. Most of the posters were wondering, as I often do, what turns a person from “someone who writes” into a capital W Writer? Can you become a Writer, and pursue other professional interests? Are you a Writer, even if you produce poor writing? (I realize that my capitalization of writer is also technically incorrect, but I’m doing my best to differentiate between the “act of” and “the role or title”.)
I suppose the same question can be asked of anyone who engages in any artistic pursuit. What turns someone who writes poetry into Poet, someone who dances into Dancer, someone who runs into Runner, or someone who paints into Painter? When and how do you earn the title? Is it a function of levels of dedication? Talent? Success?
What do you think?
I don’t believe you have to bow to writer’s block.
As I reflect on the process of writing “The Games”, I admit that there were a few occasions when I sat for long periods staring at a blank page, trying to finish off one chapter or another, unsure of what to write. Each time this happened, I felt like screaming. It was horrible to watch the unmoving, flashing cursor. A total waste of time. Each time I knew I had to snap out of my frozen funk before the precious minutes set aside for writing ticked away. I realized that succumbing to this paralysis was a luxury I could not afford. Within a few hours my kids would return from school and I would have to shut off my computer for the day.
The synchronized swimming equivalent of staring at a blank screen would be to stand on the edge of the pool and never dive in.
I had to dive in.
As un-artsy and uninspired as this sounds, sometimes I just had to muscle through.
Here are some ideas and tips on how to put the click back into your keyboard…so to speak:
- Find inspiration…and fast. The experiences of nostalgia or strong emotions often drive me to write. I find ways to access these sources of inspiration, such as looking at old photos, reading a poignant poem, a brief walk in the woods, revisiting a favourite chapter of a novel, listening to music that moves me, etc. What inspires you? Find ways to tap into that source.
- Change locations. Maybe you just need to pick up and move yourself. Try a different room in the house. The indie coffee shop down the street. A favourite art gallery. A private carrel at the local library. See if a new venue offers you renewed creativity.
- Work on something else. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply turn the page. When I got stuck trying to finish up a particular paragraph, sometimes I would flip back to an earlier section and work on edits, or flip forward and begin the next chapter.
Perhaps the sensation of writer’s block is just a signal that the writer needs to change his/her approach?