Some say that you learn all you need to know during kindergarten. If this is true, one of the biggest lessons for me was Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the others” segments.
In these segments, four items are shows; three are related to each other in some way, the fourth is not. Your job is to determine which is not like the others.
Part of what I enjoyed was also determining how the other three were related to each other.
Despite this early life lesson, and Sesame Street’s over 4,000 episodes since 1969, it seems some have still not applied this learning to the key moments at their events.
I’m referring of course to the Host or Master of Ceremonies (MC) who is out of sync with the flow of the keynote, whose jokes are falling flat, and who is not like the others. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen it at least once. It makes us cringe, cover our eyes, or shake our heads in confusion.
Some feel an MC or host is essential for introducing presenters, covering housekeeping announcements, or making sure executives are not “reduced” to these chores. In some cases, the role is needed or the experience improved as a result of having one. But like comedy (an unfortunate place many MCs tend to go even in a serious keynote) hosting is not easy.
But an MC gone wrong can be far worse to the sense of Place, Purpose, and Pride than asking someone associated with the hosting organization or the audience to fill this role.
Another childhood experience may lend some guidance on how to make sure the MC does fit – the circus. The Ringmaster serves as the Master of Ceremonies at the circus, helping direct the attention of the audience from one stage/ring of the big tent to another, but they are much more.
Like the Ringmaster, MCs fit best when then they are:
Authentically Relevant and to the story and experience: Traditional circus Ringmaster have a big top with several performance areas (rings) where performances take place. Their relevance to the performances (and the audience) is to direct the audience’s attention to the right performance. Their creditability came from the fact that they are the leader of the circus – it’s performers, performances, and story.
Modern circuses like Cirque de Soleil still point the audience’s attention and string together the performances, but in a new form. They appear in the form of a character(s) more woven into the storyline, who interact with the audience and the story. They bridge the two. Their connection to the audience is increased by being part of the story as well as the audience’s guide.
Today’s new program hosts are different from anchors in the past who read the news. News hosts today are part of the storytelling, direct the discussions, and act as the “voice of the audience” in asking the questions the audience might if they could. Hosts at award ceremonies are often relevant as they are from the industry such as actors hosting the Oscars or Tony’s; journalists hosting a press core dinner; your parent’s hosting Thanksgiving.
If your host is not relevant to the story, the experience, or the organization putting on the event, they may not be a good fit.
Recognizable to the audience: The audience should be able to recognize the host – if not as an individual, as a persona or type.
It’s best for the audience to recognize the individual as they do when they tune into the favorite sporting event and hear the long time announcer. However, even in situations like a corporate event, there are ways to “introduce” the host prior to the event, and show their relevance to the audience.
Whether an outside professional MC, or an employee within an organization, using social media, videos, blogs, and other communication channels can position the individual as the host for the entire event rather than just for the MC for the keynotes or presentations. This also provides a connection to the event pre and post, using the same host as during the event.
Another method of speeding up recognition is to use a recognizable persona – like a news reported, industry analyst, or other recognizable (and relevent) type of person even if the specific individual is not well known. In most cases, audience don’t recognize the actual Ringmaster at the circus, but they recognize the persona of the Ringmaster.
If your host is not recognizable by the audience, they may not be a good fit.
Relatable: Finally, the audience needs to relate to the host or MC in order to feel they are representing their interests. The more “like” the audience, or the more creditable to the audience, the more the audience will “follow” them through the experience.
Part of what makes comedy funny is that you can “see” yourself or others in the humor. The same is true in an experience like a keynote. If you do not relate, you will likely tune (or actually walk) out. If the host is not relatable, it can make relating to the balance of the experience even harder.
And as mentioned above, comedy is a tactic many professional MCs use to be relevant and relatable to the audience. Not only is comedy difficult, but if the tone of the event is not comedic, it can result in the opposite of its objective – less relatable and less relevant.
If your host is not relatable to the audience, they may not be a good fit.
There are many ways to manage the housekeeping and announcing/introducing aspects of a keynote or event. Audio announcements, visuals on screen, pre-recorded videos, and more. Even the largest events such as sports, awards, and the recent political conventions use a combination of these tactics with or without a host.
However, a host who is Relevant, Recognizable, and Relatable can easily carry some of these duties with no issues. An MC who is not relevant, not recognizable, and/or not relatable will certainly make it feel like they don’t belong.