Anyone can talk. Some people can talk amazingly well on stage. But professional presenters and MCs need that extra bit in the tank to convince people they’re worth paying for.
I’ve been professionally hosting events as an MC and presenter in Dubai for the past eight odd years now. Here are the top five skills every pro presenter needs apart from the ability to talk well.
1Being an investigator
You might think your work starts when you walk out on stage. You’d be wrong. Pro presenters realize that the real work happens before the event starts.
You need to know why the event is being held, and what the event organizers want to get out of it. Figure out what the key messages are. If you’re introducing speakers to the stage, get their names and bios absolutely right, and also have an idea of what they’re going to say.
Remember: Every single event has a reason for existing. Find out what that reason is, and why it’s good for the organizer’s bottom line. Then knit that into your spiel through the course of the event.
2Learning to talk off-script
As a professional MC, you don’t want to be reading from a full-length script.
Yes, it’s important to have a script as backup. It’s your safety net. But don’t have a script that you recite from verbatim.
If you follow a paper script line by line, you’ll be looking down at your clipboard instead of maintaining eye contact with your audience. Never isolate your audience from you – be it in music, or while presenting on stage.
I’d suggest summarizing key points on cue cards that you can hold easily in one hand so they’re there to guide you.
3Speaking without a lectern
Some very good speakers use the lectern (sometimes called a podium) to speak. It’s useful because you can array your notes on it.
The problem is that the lectern cuts most of your body out of the line of sight, leaving only your face visible to your audience. MCing and presenting is mostly about creating a connection with your audience, and it helps if all of you is visible. Body language and welcoming gestures are far more effective if your audience doesn’t perceive a barrier between you and them.
Walking away from the lectern is hard, and can be risky. There’s less safety. Mistakes are more visible. But presenting from the lip of the stage is totally worth it. The benefits you get in terms of immediacy and engagement outweigh the risk. The lectern is your comfort zone and life jacket. Leave it behind and go all in. And check out how other performers and presenters are going all in.
4Working with the tech and sound teams
Pro MCs aren’t just there to talk. They take charge of the stage and conduct the event’s flow. This also means ensuring the lights and sound are working well.
It seems obvious – but it isn’t. Bad sound can kill an event stone dead. Of course, all speakers do a sound check before the crowds file in. But full rooms sound very different from empty ones – with the latter seeming loud and echoing.
And of course, people get a very different experience depending on where they’re sitting vis-a-vis the sound system speakers. Too close, and their ears are suffering. Too far, and your careful words just become an indistinct babble.
I’ve learnt to make the audience a part of my sound check. As part of my crowd warm-up, I ask all corners of the room if they can hear me well, and then thank them for helping me out. It breaks the ice, amps up the audience participation, and identifies concerns.
Panels present a particular challenge – because there are multiple mouths and mics at work at the same time. Often, you get echo issues. If at all possible, do a soundcheck with a full panel before the event so you can position seats accordingly.
Also, please don’t be shy about gesticulating to your sound team if you need adjustments. Audiences get stressed if they’re kept in the dark about sound problems they can quite obviously hear. Acknowledge the issue, fix it, and move on.
5Learning to quit while you’re ahead
The event isn’t about you. You’re on a job, and getting paid for your time. Your job is to keep the event engaging, and the flow moving, and the event a success for the organizers and your audience.
As professional speakers, we love what we do and enjoy holding forth from stage. But it’s important to not overstay your welcome. Keep it short, sharp and engaging; and get off stage before your audience has had enough. Switch it up and leave them wanting more.