You have been accepted as a leader in your company or your community. You have been asked to serve as a program chair for a dinner or master of ceremonies (otherwise known as MC, or emcee) for a more lavish event. It’s quite an honor. It means you are known by the audience and respected by the people putting the event together. If you do it well, you are admired anew and you grow in stature within your company and with all those in attendance.
Your first responsibility is, of course, to open the event, to welcome everyone. Usually you will do this from a platform or a stage. How you do it creates the climate for the meeting. You either lift the audience and build anticipation, or you bore them and create apathy. As such, you are the catalyst. You carry the audience on your shoulders. At this point, they are a clean slate. You are the artist who determines what is painted there.
Many years ago, there was a great speaker named Percy Whiting. He would always greet the audience by asking in a booming, microphone-aided voice, “Can you hear me in the back over there?” while pointing to the far right corner. A few brave members of the audience in that corner would shout back, “Yes, we can hear you!”
Percy would then turn and gesture to the far left corner while booming, “Can you hear me in the back over there?” The answer would come back, “Yes we can!” Then Percy would say at the same high volume level and with his arms outstretched, “Well, then, let’s begin!”
Here’s what Percy Whiting accomplished by opening in that way:
He became the focal point. All side conversations ceased. He got everyone’s attention and brought the group to order.
He achieved audience interaction. Members of the audience actually spoke out loud. Amazing!
He created excitement. The anticipation level started off on a high.
That was what he wanted to accomplish. That was his purpose. Yet it all seemed so natural as far as the audience was concerned. It was fun, and it stirred everyone to attention.
In the crowd, of course, will be significant people within your organization. They need to be recognized for any number of reasons—if nothing else, they have marquee value with the audience, and their noted attendance will lend prestige to the event. Let’s use an example. We’ll assume that you are the program chairman for a fund-raising event for your local YMCA. There are seven hundred people present. Once you have opened the session and welcomed those in attendance, you need to give ample recognition to the officers, the directors, and the people who were responsible for putting the event together.
Do it individually for the key people. Decide with them beforehand if they will stand when their names are mentioned. Make sure you know how to pronounce their names. If you muff an important name, you’re a dead man—or woman. And it feels bad, too. If there is a difficult name, ask its owner how it’s pronounced. Then say it back to them at least three times. Then write it phonetically in your notes. Then say it five times to yourself before your moment of truth.
Next, tell the audience “why we are all here.” This critical opening statement tells the crowd why your prominent panel of speakers is taking the time to be present and offers a connecting common thread that brings the speakers and the entire audience together. You need to find this thread, state it, and connect everyone.
We are here tonight because the “Y” is, in some way, important to each of us. Certainly many of us use the Y regularly as an adult fitness facility. And it’s the best and most affordable one in town. But that’s not where the great Y legacy comes from. It comes from what it has done for kids. Probably 75 percent of you folks in this room can remember a time when you were a kid and the Y made a positive difference in your life.
And though the Y has programs for every age group, kids are what we are all about. The Y has no equal for providing programs for the development of kids from toddlers through the teen years.
I’d like to share a quote about kids from one of our great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. He said: “Every kid has inside him an aching void for excitement. If we don’t fill it with something that is exciting, interesting, and good for him, he will fill it with something that is exciting, interesting, and which isn’t good for him.”
The Y has been supplying that excitement in a way that’s good for kids since it began in 1850. But it can’t do it without the help and support of people like you. Thank you for being here.
Now imagine yourself in the audience hearing what you just said. It’s pretty good, isn’t it? There had to be a beginning. The session had to be opened. The audience needed to be connected to one another and to the event. And you just did it. You’ve given the event a common denominator and a perspective. Everyone present is now “tuned in.”
The very next thing you should do is give the audience an overview of the agenda. Tell them what to expect. Include an indication of how long the program will be. Now your listeners are comfortable. They know the parameters. They will settle in.