When asked to act as a master of ceremonies for an event you have to work closely with the organizers to develop the program and gather the information you will need to fulfill your obligations. This will include
- Details of any announcements you will be making
- The names of all people whom you will be introducing, their titles, their roles in the event, and any other information about them that the organizers want you to mention
- Details of the timing of everything on the schedule, including breaks
- The names of the technical support people at the venue and how to get in touch with them
You should never try to act as a master of ceremonies using only notes. You need to prepare a detailed script. One of the problems you have to contend with when acting as a master of ceremonies is last minute changes, so be sure the format of your script leaves you room to note any necessary revisions.
Find out the correct pronunciation of all the names you’ll be using and note the phonetical spelling of any unfamiliar or particularly difficult ones.
The only way to find out how your comments as a master of ceremonies will sound is to rehearse them out loud. The more often you rehearse your comments the more comfortable you’re going to be when the actual event rolls around.
Arrive at the venue well before the scheduled starting time and do a walk-around to be sure that everything that’s needed is there and in working order. If anything is amiss, inform the people who can get the problem solved and monitor their progress.
Ensure that everyone who is scheduled to participate in the program is actually present. Introduce yourself to any of the participants you haven’t met before. You should chat for a moment or two with all participants to determine if any last minute changes are required. Remind the speakers of their time limits and how you intend to enforce them. Also check with the organizers to see whether they have any last-minute changes.
Start on time and do your absolute utmost to keep on schedule. You will sometimes have to deal with organizers who will want to start late and be soft on speakers who run overtime. Do your best to convince the organizers that it’s in everybody’s interest to stay on schedule, especially the audience’s. But you aren’t the boss, so if you’re forced to bend things a bit, do so with grace and good humour; nobody benefits from the performance of an obviously disgruntled master of ceremonies.
Don’t start the program until you have the full attention of most of the audience; but sometimes you have to actually start the program in order to get the full attention of the entire audience. If you have to take some tough measures to get their attention, be sure to do so good-naturedly. Once the event begins you’re in charge, so take charge.
Introduce yourself with a clear, confident voice and indicate your relationship to the event. If you’re simply the master of ceremonies, that’s all you need to say; but if you’re also the vice-president of marketing of the organization sponsoring the event you should make that known right away.
Your job is not to make speeches. Your job is to keep the event moving as scheduled and on time, which means sticking to the script and resisting the temptation to tell jokes or make editorial comments. However, if a spontaneous, short, completely relevant and worthwhile comment comes into your mind, by all means use it. Under no circumstances, though, should you be seen as trying to upstage any of the participants.
You have a responsibility to both the audience and the organizers to remain confident, upbeat, positive and enthusiastic at all times. If the event is running into difficulty, as the catalyst and tone-setter it is even more important for you to maintain a positive tone.
Weddings are different in a number of important respects from other functions. For one thing, you may have to act as the event manager as well as the master of ceremonies. In addition to the general responsibilities of a master of ceremonies, this will entail
- Making sure all the necessary equipment (such as lighting, sound system, lectern, slide show) is available and working
- Getting people into the room and seated; so you should deputize some people to help with this
- Reminding all the speakers when they’ll be speaking, what their time limits are, and actually checking out the tenor of their comments. It’s not unusual to have to bolster the confidence of some of the participants and dampen down the enthusiasm (and sometimes the content) of others
- Appropriately balancing the participation of the two families
- Making sure you have all emails, telegrams and other messages the bride and groom have received that you are going to read
- Getting the names (including the correct pronunciation) and home towns of all out-of-town guests
- Making sure the bride and groom are aware of the scheduling of the cutting of the cake. (You might also want to make sure the cake is there.)
- Finding out if the parents of the bride and groom are going to join them on the dance floor after the traditional first dance. If so, making sure the parents are aware of their participation
- Checking with the bride and groom to see how they want to handle the “tinkling of glasses” ritual
While at the lectern, in addition to the normal duties of a master of ceremonies, your duties at a wedding will include
- Making some personal comments relevant to the bride and groom and the event, so have some ready; but keep them short and be sure you don’t pre-empt any comments other participants may be making
- Reminding people to sign the guest book and telling them where it is
- Reading emails, telegrams and other messages
- Recognizing out-of-town guests
- Being prepared to diplomatically deal with any speakers who have had too much punch to drink, are rambling on too long, or who start making inappropriate comments
- Clearly explaining to the guests what the rules are for the “tinkling of glasses” ritual and good-naturedly enforcing them
- If there are disposable cameras at the tables, reminding the guests to use them and what to do with them when they’re finished
- Announcing when the formal portion of the event is over and what the rules are for the rest of the evening
Undoubtedly your two most important objectives as master of ceremonies at a wedding are to have a good time and to do everything in your power to ensure that everyone else does too.
It’s obvious from the above that being a master of ceremonies is an onerous responsibility which should never be taken too lightly.