I go to a number of conferences for my work, and I MC or compère a few. I’m gearing up for another now and here are some of the things I’ve seen going wrong at others – I’ll be watching for them:
- No-shows from speakers. How many times have you had a speaker agree to turn up and find something better to do on the day? Or not turn up because of illness, or a misunderstanding? Your MC had better have an emergency keynote speech in his or her back pocket. It might not be utterly brilliant but if it fills the gap and offers something of value, the audience will be happy enough and won’t know there was a disaster behind the scenes.
- Lack of audience control. I attended a conference last year hosted by a brilliant businesswoman – no, she was highly reputable – whose idea of getting the audience’s attention after coffee was to stand there with the microphone going “Ssh” repeatedly. The audience behaved eventually but they weren’t happy. Microphone close to the mouth and “Ladies and gentlemen we are about to start again, please take your places” is better – the voice fills the auditorium but you’re speaking quietly so it sounds respectful.
- Timings. Oh good grief, timings. I’ve been up as “next speaker” to find the speaker before me overrunning by five minutes and announcing “I know I’m overrunning but this next bit’s important” and going on for another 20. Of course I cut my speech down – I don’t think I’m important as speaker, however I think the fact that people will find their lunch ruined or the coffee cold is vital. That’s what they’ll Tweet about and never mind the “importance” of a speaker of whom they’d never heard before they turned up. The MC on the day just sat there.
- Timings 2: Controlling speakers is difficult and the audience can think it’s hilarious. A few years ago I was chairing one of the streams at Social Media World Forum, and we had the CEO of a guitar company as a speaker. We knew we were in trouble when a) his PR team told me it was my job to get him upstairs to a panel discussion for midday (my job??? Hello, you’re his PR team..?) and b) he started his speech talking about Elvis and Johnny Cash and how they never had social media. Ten minutes after he was supposed to finish I had to intercede, reminding him he had a panel: “But I’m not finished with these folks,” he told me. He reluctantly came off stage and I thought he was going to the other hall, but he stopped again: “Can we get a photo together..?” so we had to stop for a pic. I need hardly add that the audience in my auditorium loved every second of my discomfort; the audience waiting for him in the panel session might have felt very differently.
- AV: I’m not an AV man but a competent MC absolutely keeps an eye on the AV people, brings coffees, makes sure they’re happy – they can make a good conference spectacular. I was at an event this year at which the speakers were on a low stage so difficult to see already and the lighting was poor so they were quite indistinct. The hosts had saved money by bringing their own audio kit and from the back the sound was indistinct. It’s an old trope but if you think it’s expensive to use a professional, see what it costs you (at least in terms of reputation) if you don’t.
That’s why I have my seven-point system as an MC when I’m working on an event. If you’d like me to come and help with yours, have a look at my Speaker/MC/Compere page by clicking here or just drop me a line by clicking here and we’ll talk.