A bad emcee can make an otherwise outstanding event look like amateur night at the local Moose Lodge. A good emcee helps to make an event more entertaining. I’ve hosted everything from large music festivals to small dance events. Wanna do it too? Here’s ten tips to help smooth your way.
Show up early
Arrive in enough time to talk with the stage manager (or organizers), scan the program and write or look over the intros. Find out where your mike is. Walk out on the stage, if you can, to see how it feels.
Don’t look like you just came in from working on the car. It’s okay to look casual, especially if it’s an outdoor festival, but don’t slouch in wearing flip flops and a faded t-shirt if everyone else is in evening wear. Make up is a good idea, especially if it’s a big stage or being filmed.
Prepare your own intros if none are provided
It’s best if it isn’t long. You don’t want the audience to think God is about to walk on stage. Get a few items from the event program and talk with the artist or their representative. Don’t go overboard on the superlatives. Something personal is often appreciated, like “I first heard this artist when …” Don’t EVER read from the program. It’s insulting to the audience and will always sound stilted.
Practice the intros
Find a quiet corner and read through the intros. Make sure the words feel smooth. Take out any 25 dollar words you’re likely to trip over. Know that you don’t have to read it word for word. Make it sound conversational.
Start off in an upbeat way
Welcome everyone. Follow that up with a positive comment – the time honored “It’s great to be here!” is a good one. Then go right into the first intro.
You’ll be expected to make them, whether it’s to tell folks to turn off their phones or use the correct recycling bins. Usually it’s the stage manager who’ll tell you what to announce although at some events I’ve simply gone through the program and picked out a few things. Tell audience members you can only make announcements given to you by the stage manager or other person in charge.
Be creative. A dry recitation of rules is boring. Years ago at a music festival I remember Therese Edell admonishing the audience not to do a certain thing, then threatening to tackle them to the ground if they did it; she made everyone laugh but they also paid attention.
Other ways to fill the time
At some events, they’ll play recorded music while the set changes occur but at others they want you to fill the time. Unless you’re a comic, don’t tell jokes, although funny stories can sometimes be entertaining. I know one emcee that got the audience to sing Girl Scout songs. Sometimes I wear funny stuff and talk about it on stage. (The Topp Twins are expert at this. I’ve seen them in everything from cowgirl outfits to 50’s era swimsuits.) You can do a poll – find out which couples have been together the longest (with a show of hands) or who’s attended the event for the most years. If it’s a festival, tell them about the other stages, the workshops or that cute toddler you saw dancing to the bluegrass band that was on earlier.
When the stage manager says they’re ready for the next act, finish your sentence and move on to the intro. You are not the reason folks are there.
Be prepared for anything
One time at a festival the set change was supposed to take 10 minutes but after 35 I was still up there blabbing about my dog, my house and my girlfriend. Fortunately, I had some entertaining stories ready or I would’ve been dead in the water.
At one event there was a medical emergency in the audience and several hundred people started to panic. I was the one with the microphone so I calmly asked everyone to sit down then requested that medical personnel raise their hands. I told five of them to go to the person in distress then continued to talk with the audience until the ambulance arrived. Later, off stage, I fell apart.
After the act is done
Ask the audience to applaud for them one more time. Find something poignant or funny to say about them – “Wow, wasn’t it amazing that he played the banjo and juggled those chain saws at the same time?” Then, move on to the announcements or whatever else you have.
Most of all, have fun and remember to stay away from those chain saws.
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