“How many times have you been an emcee?” Paddy asked as he put the coffees down on the table.
“You mean at social events?” I asked.
“Well, yeah,” Paddy replied, “weddings, retirement parties, birthdays, things like that; not business dinners.”
After a moment of recollection I estimated, “Probably fifty or more.”
“Well,” Paddy went on, “I’ve got to emcee my niece’s wedding. Got some advice?”
“Lots,” I replied.
“Lay it on me,” Paddy said.
“Weddings are really quite different from other emcee situations. But first let me give you some general emcee guidelines,” I offered.
“Fire away,” Paddy urged as he took out his little notebook and pen.
“First,” I started, “You have to remember that being an emcee is not about you; it’s about the event itself, and particularly about the person being honoured. Your job is not to make speeches. Your job is to keep the event moving, which means sticking to the script and resisting the temptation to tell jokes or make editorial comments. However, if a spontaneous, short, 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.”
“Okay,” acknowledged Paddy as he scribbled some notes in his little book, “that makes sense. What else?”
“I just mentioned sticking to the script. You should prepare a detailed script; and a problem you’ll probably have to deal with is last minute changes, so be sure the format of your script leaves room for revisions.”
Paddy scribbled some more and then prompted, “Next”
“Get all the details of any announcements you’ll be making, the names of all people whom you will be introducing, their roles in the event, and any other information about them that should be mentioned. It’s important to find out the correct pronunciation of all the names you’ll be using and be sure to phonetically spell any unfamiliar or particularly difficult ones.”
“OK,” Paddy said, as he scribbled some more, “but what about weddings in particular?”
“Weddings are different in a number of important respects from other functions,” I told him. “For one thing, you may have to act as the event manager as well as the master of ceremonies.”
“What do you mean?” Paddy asked.
“For example,” I said, “in addition to the general responsibilities of a master of ceremonies, you might have to make sure all the necessary equipment, such as lighting, sound system, lectern, and slide show, is available and working.”
“Hold on a sec,” Paddy said as he made more notes then said, “Go on.”
“You may also have to appropriately balance the participation of the two families. And be sure you have all emails and other messages the bride and groom have received that you’re going to read. You need to check with the bride and groom as to how they want to handle the ‘tinkling of glasses’ ritual and then be sure to explain the rules to the guests.”
“Lordy,” Paddy exclaimed, “hang on for a minute ’till I catch up.”
I kept quiet until Paddy again said, “Go on.”
“You’re going to have to make some personal comments relevant to the bride and groom and the wedding itself, so have some ready; but keep them short and be sure you don’t pre-empt any comments other participants may be making. Remember, being an emcee is not about you. You’ll have to recognize out-of-town guests, so be sure to get that information. And, again, be sure you know the correct pronunciations of names”
I let Paddy scribble for a bit and then I went on, “Find out if the parents of the bride and groom are going to join them on the dance floor after the traditional first dance, and, if so, make sure the parents are aware of their participation.”
“Anything else,” Paddy asked in a tone of voice that suggested he dearly hoped there wasn’t.
I thought for a moment and then added, only half facetiously, “You might want to be sure the wedding cake is there.” He wrote that down; even though I’m sure he’d have no idea what to do if the cake wasn’t there.
“What’s the most important thing for me to do?” Paddy asked.
“Your main job is to ensure that everyone has a good time. And the best way to do that is for you to remain confident, upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic at all times” I told him, then added, “You have to remember that you’re in charge, so be in charge; but don’t act like a dictator. The event is not about you.”
“Why do you keep harping on that ‘it’s not about you’ stuff,” Paddy asked.
“Because thinking that they are the star of the show is the biggest, and most egregious, mistake that emcees make,” I told him.
“I’m going home now to practice,” Paddy announced, pocketed his notebook and pen, and left without ever touching his coffee.
As he walked away I thought I heard him mumbling over and over, “It’s not about me… it’s not about me.”