Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Hazards of the Emcee

Jun 4, 2010

Murray, KY – Whether it's a wedding reception or the Academy Awards, the Master of Ceremonies often plays a critical role, and they come in varying species and levels of quality. Robert Valentine hosts this commentary on the types, tasks, and hazards of the emcee.

Well, we have come to that portion of the calendar reserved for such items as graduation, weddings, end-of-the-fiscal year meetings, and annual golf outings disguised as end-of-the-fiscal year meetings.

Heaven help us.

All of these meetings, banquets, receptions and award ceremonies will take place at the direction of the person selected by fate, family or fiduciary capacity to act as the MC. Let us take a moment to consider what lies before him, her and (Heaven help) us.

MC is short for "Master of Ceremonies." The party in question is, often, not really a master of anything at all. He or she may note be comfortable with public speaking, nor may have ever chaired an event of this nature.

In any case, the MC has one purpose: to encourage the pleasant progression of the event from beginning to end as expeditiously as possible so that our reason for being here is justified and we can go home. After all, no matter how good the food or how joyous the event, everyone will be pleased when the mission is successfully completed and we can . . .

A. Get out of these shoes, which are darling but which are killing my feet

B. Get out of this d**n tie. I hate wearing a d**n tie. Why do I have to wear a d**n tie?

C. Get out of this chair; I think my posterior has actually picked up the imprint of this checkerboard pattern on the upholstery. Is it upholstered? I've sat on softer stone benches at the zoo.

Some people will do a great job as MC; others won't. You've seen them. Some of the biggest problems will come from people like:

THE STAND UP COMIC. It's a nice idea for MCs to have a bit of humor to relax the audience or cover for that awkward moment when an absent award-winner doesn't appear to collect the trophy. However, some people take the opportunity to turn the MCs job into a starring slot at the Unsuspecting Comedy Club.

You've seen 'em: A guy who couldn't tell a joke from an obituary grinning his way through a funny story he doesn't even understand. Somebody told him to tell a joke, so he looked up "joke" on the Internet. Neither the lack of smiles nor the absence of laughter will deter him; he's got another one to help introduce the next speaker. Ha, Ha, Ha. Let's go home.

Humor is like a pistol - dangerous in the hands of amateurs. If you weren't funny when you got out of bed last Tuesday, you ain't going to be funny today. Smile and keep it moving.

Or, how about THE LEADER OF THE PACK. This guy knows everything about everyone - except those who are attending their first event, or are not a member of his family. He's got plenty of little comments and clever jokes that only the in-crowd will get, so little titters of embarrassed laughter break out in the audience. The majority of us feel left out and confused. Nice job, Mr. Togetherness.

Then, there's THE IMPROVISER. Everyone had suggestions about how to set up the banquet, and even gave her the agenda from last year's event. Sadly, one guy said something like, "We always do the same thing; why not shake it up? Try something a little different?"

So she threw away all the history of things that work and decided to just go with her instincts. "You know - make it up as you go along; go with the flow; do what feels right. People love that sort of thing."

Welcome to the Titanic of meetings. Speakers will be left out of the program; The meal will be cold, the dinner will run too long. It will be miserable for all concerned - except the MC who will only perceive that "it sure is different from last year." Yeah - last year nobody hated you.

If you get the job of Master of Ceremonies just remember that, in the final analysis, it is all about them. They are here to celebrate the graduation, to join in the union of these two lovely children, or to salute the salesman of the year. Help them enjoy that moment.

In this day of cell phones and iPads and computers in every room, we have little enough pleasant human contact. Each of us should do everything in our power - whether we stand at the podium with the microphone, or just smile pleasantly from across the banquet table - to make other folks feel comfortable in our company and the company of our friends, family and fellows.

I think we're adjourned; have a nice summer, drive safely, and we'll see you next time.

Robert Valentine is a professional Speaker, Storyteller, and Senior Lecturer at Murray State University in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. You can visit his website at