"Hi everyone, the toilets are over there. Does that make you think about wee? I don’t think this mike is working? Hey … Can everyone listen? Oi! Okay, now where are my notes … Does anyone know what time it is? Should we have already started? Johnno? Whats that? Okay, I’m ready … now to begin with a long irrelevant anecdote …”
- The MC from Hell
Having been a professional MC for over twelve years I've picked up a few tricks of the trade. After many ministerial launches, state environment award ceremonies, festival stages, professional dinners and conferences and many of my closest friends weddings and lots of community trivia nights and school fetes, I think I have enough experience to know a bad MC when I see one. And sometimes I cringe.
Recently Claire and I went to a charity fundraising trivia night. I had hoped we were in good MC hands. It would be good to be carefree and answering the questions for once … how wrong I was. Let me give you a few tips on how NOT to MC that were all present on this one fateful night:
- Do not use a sound system that is not loud enough. Simple yeah?
- If people can’t hear you, you haven’t said anything.
- The first minute is crucial. It's when everyone makes up their mind about whether they are on board with you. So do not ramble, mumble and look at the floor. Don’t mention the toilets yet. It makes people think about wee and poo and associate that with you. You could even try telling people what's going to happen. Or introducing yourself.
- If you yell "Shut up everyone or I won't read out the questions" and no-one listens, do not be surprised. If you do happen to yell this and it doesn't work, don't try it again many times. In fact, the people want to hear the questions. Whisper them and they'll listen. Do not repeat the shut up thing when reading the answers. In fact, showing anger or frustration with your audience in general is a bad move.
- Do not sell bourbon cans and UDLs at a trivia night if you would like people to participate beyond the first hour. This may have impacted on point 5.
- Try reading out or displaying the scores occasionally. Or at least let people know what round they are in how many rounds are left.
- Do not overload the evening with too many rounds, too many auctions and too many activities. Try and get people home at a reasonable hour.
- Do not be boring and monotone.
- Do not set up a computer, a projector and try to download a video as you MC. If you're going to use technology, set it up, get it ready and check it before the event has started. And make sure everyone can see the screen.
You may not be surprised to learn that we didn't last the entire night. Surely it would at some point occur to an MC that the folks attending a trivia night are there to have a fun night out?
A good MC is on time, on message, is clearly heard, uses their volume and tone of voice, position, hands and body language to great effect, is clear about the program, enables everyone to enjoy themselves, interacts with the audience at their level, allows the audience to interact with each other, creates a sense of eventfulness, knows who is speaking and who to thank, has researched the event and the people, remembers names, is fully present in the moment, adaptable and ready for change and has a friendly knack of briefing speakers on time limits and then keeping them to time. They have helped set the agenda to ensure the flow is good and space is allowed for. An MC plays up their own character strengths, whether that is humour, being good natured, strict, solemn or fun filled.
And if you want to be memorable for all the right reasons, take yourself and the audience on a journey outside their comfort zone to a really fun place: do something big, eventful and interactive that will be remembered forever. My favourite example was an Irish/Australian wedding where we held an Ireland vs Australia sing off. Molly Malone vs True Blue. It blew the roof off, set the tone for a very fun night and made everyone feel great.