I’ve done a fair bit of MC-ing just lately and most of the speakers have been very good. One or two, however, have made some crushing errors and the audience has ended up rather like my cat, Sammy, who you can see above. (Ace photographer, me). So, since it’s a load more fun picking holes than celebrating good practice, let’s start with some of the howlers I’ve seen:
- Start by asking whether everyone can hear you. Sounds harmless, and yet if you do that while you’re speaking, you’ve just told the sound crew you don’t trust them to do their job. You’ve also told the audience you don’t trust your team.
- Start by saying “I don’t know anything about your industry…” well go and find out. It’s often the celebrity speakers who offer this little gem; frankly they’re being paid enough to open Google up on their computer to have a read. If you have a lesson that’s salient, just say it – qualifying it by that you don’t know the industry tells the audience you’re just there for the cheque.
- Try not to sell from the stage, or be subtle (and brief) if you do. The number of people who stand there and say “this is what my company does and why we’re the best” is embarrassing. People who already wanted to know will already be in touch. People who don’t will not respond. Tell them something of value and establish you’re worth speaking to and they’ll probably come and speak to you.
- Take part in a panel and deliver only scripted responses, pre-agreed, backed by PowerPoint. There is nothing wrong with being scripted and delivering a presentation. It doesn’t work when you’re trying to persuade the audience it’s spontaneous.
- Agree to a half-hour slot but prepare ten minutes and assume the audience will fill in the rest by asking questions. Even if they’re interested, they may be stunned into silence by the fact that you’ve just stopped.
I’ve also seen some excellent practice going on:
- I like it when MCs start with an anecdote or quick point that acknowledges the location of the talk. That subtly tells the audience that you’ve done your preparation for them, that day.
- It’s been good when participants have visibly listened to others on a panel rather than looked the other way. The audience doesn’t just see the person speaking at the time, they see a tableau. You’re part of the picture on stage – make it look good.
- It works when speakers finish with a call to action rather than a summary. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for “tell them what you’re going to say, say it and tell them what you’ve just said” – but if it can be spun in an active way, so much the better.
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