BY Laura Byrne, Dietitian Connection newsletter editor
Ever been asked to serve as host or master of ceremonies for an event? We bet it puts butterflies in your stomach just thinking about it. There you are in front of a crowd, tasked with keeping the audience engaged all day – while ensuring the event flows well. It can be high pressure and intimidating.
We turned to an expert, Glenn Cardwell, APD – who served as emcee and a guest presenter for our 2015 Dietitian Day – and asked him how he does it.
In addition to Glenn’s 30+ years in clinical and public health nutrition, he’s an award-winning speaker who has presented on nutrition topics on four continents. [You can watch a sample of Glenn in action with TV chef and food author, Fast Ed Halmagyi here].
Given this extensive experience, we’re excited to now share Glenn’s eight top tips on how to effectively emcee an event.
1. Prepare yourself. “An emcee is not someone who just reads each presenter’s bio in a monotone,” notes Glenn. “You need to be as (over) prepared as a speaker would be, from knowing your audience to knowing the hot topics within the field.”
“Get background on each person whom you will be introducing,” he recommends. “Ask them directly, or go to their website. Ideally, you can meet each presenter before they go on stage, so that you both feel comfortable chatting in front of an audience. You may even learn something interesting that isn’t in their bio.”
2. Prepare your speakers. In addition to preparing yourself, Glenn suggests you give each speaker support and encouragement, to ensure they’re ready, too. “Prime your speakers,” he says. “Remind them of their presentation time, and whether they need to leave time for questions.”
Some speakers prefer to talk from a lectern, while others prefer a lapel microphone so they can get closer to the audience, for a more intimate feel. Either way, help them prepare to communicate comfortably.
3. Ensure the room is in order. It’s smart to show up early and run through the event’s logistics. “Make sure all technology is working, for starters. Also, be sure to familiarise yourself with the technology; not every speaker is a frequent speaker, and may not even know how to change a slide”, says Glenn.
He also recommends taking a step back and surveying the overall stage set-up: “Rid the presentation area of clutter, like unnecessary tables. Make sure there is water for speakers.” Finally, it’s prudent to ask the right questions of event staff, so that you can effectively present any housekeeping messages (e.g., where the toilets are, or how to get to the nearest fire exit).
4. Introduce with style and beauty. “Too many introductions sound like a laundry list of role the speaker has held – smart, but rarely human. Instead, give your introductions a personal feel, just like you are introducing them to a friend,” suggests Glenn (reference tip #1 for more on this). He shares this humorous yet relevant sample:
“Before I tell you how clever our next speaker is, let me share that she has walked the entire length of Tasmania. Not only is she fit, she is also the Head of the Department of Nutrition at ABC University, did her PhD in maternal nutrition and has published many papers in the field. She will enlighten us about vitamin X in the first trimester. Please give a super-warm welcome to Dr. Sally.”
5. Have a strategy for question time. “Many times people are slow to ask questions, so have some in your back pocket,” Glenn advises. “I have at least one question prepared in advance for each speaker, and then add a couple that come to mind during the talk.”
If you feel part of the speaker’s talk might have confused the audience, ask him or her to clarify. Or, ask an opinion of the audience (“Who else has a similar view? Who would like to disagree?”).
An emcee is also responsible for ensuring the audience is not rude, abrasive or off topic during question time. “Be prepared to quickly ask for respect, or to interrupt and say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have a lot of time; can you please ask a brief question?’”
6. In case of emergency… Glenn feels strongly thata presenter should be able to speak without notes or slides. But it’s the emcee’s role to be prepared to adapt quickly in the face of a tech meltdown.
“If a speaker faces technical difficulties and is showing signs of being unable to continue without their slides, step in,” he recommends. “Ask questions of the speaker that advance the presentation, such as, ‘What would be the single key message you want this audience to know?’ or, ‘What practical changes do you think people need to make based on your research?’” Ask the audience, as well, for their thoughts, comments and questions.”
7. Know whom to thank. Says Glenn, “Sure, there are the organisers, volunteers and sponsors – but too often, we forget the audio/visual team and catering staff, who often make the event rocket along smoothly.” Prepare a list of thank-yous in advance, so that everyone responsible for the day’s production is recognised for their contributions publicly.
8. Above all else, make your speakers look good. “A good emcee is hardly noticed, as they keep the attention on the speaker,” notes Glenn. “You are present, but the speaker is the focus; it’s your job to make sure the speaker is comfortable, keeps to time – and receives thunderous applause.”