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Chapter 15: How to Emcee an Event, Introduce Speakers, and Present Awards

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 - To Open the Event

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!"

You Are the Focal Point

Here's what Percy Whiting accomplished by opening in that way:

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.

Identify Key People in the Group

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.

Provide the Common Bond

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.

An Example of an Opening

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.

Why It Works

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.

Your Second Responsibility - To Introduce the Speakers

The next step is to get on with the program. Usually that means you introduce the first speaker. Is there a right way to introduce a speaker? You bet there is, and it begins with an understanding of your responsibility as the go-between, the connecter of the audience to the speaker.

It's similar to when you're hosting a party at your home and you have guests who don't know one another. You feel an obligation to introduce them, to tell each of them something about the other, so that they will discover areas of common interest. You want to connect them so that they can interact better. Once you have accomplished that, the party becomes lively, the guests will talk more freely.

The same thing holds for the talk of introduction, though you should go into a bit more detail, since the dialogue that takes place at a party will be missing.

The word "introduce" comes from the Latin words intro, which means inside, and ducerem which means to lead. When we introduce a speaker properly, we lead the audience inside the speaker's world so that the audience is intrigued by the topic, impressed by the speaker's accomplishments, and excited to be present.

How to Organize an Introduction

Is there a simple way to organize such a talk? Of course there is. We call it the TEAS format. It was created by Charlie Wend, a cofounder of Communisync, and has helped thousands of "introducers" perform this function flawlessly.

Here's how it works:

Try to hold the speaker's name until last, even when the audience knows who the speaker is. It keeps the introduction cleaner and adds a sense of drama and a lift to the end of your intro.

To do this exceptionally, your first job is to interview the speaker and gather the necessary background information. You may have to work harder to get the anecdote. Sometimes the speaker is shy or "can't think of one." In that case, ask him or her for the name of a friend and phone that person to get the anecdote. Even if you encounter roadblocks, persist. It's worth it.

A Simple Luncheon Intro

J. Walter Thompson (JWT) was hosting a luncheon for the Ford Motor Company, its biggest account, to celebrate a new advertising campaign.

The luncheon would take place in the JWT executive dining area. About seventy people would be present, half Ford people, half JWT.

The JWT management supervisor, Glen Fortinberry, wanted the event to be special. He wanted a speaker who would appeal to this sports-oriented audience. So he arranged for Frank Gifford, the former all-pro Giants flankerback, to be a speaker. He also asked Charlie Wend to introduce Frank.

Gathering Information

The first thing Charlie did was to call the New York Giants' office. He talked to Ray Walsh, the general manager, and told him that he was going to introduce Frank and that he wanted to tell the story of the great catch Frank made against the Steelers toward the end of his career, at Yankee Stadium.

Ray Walsh said, "I'll never forget that catch. We [the Giants] were in the race for the Eastern Divisional Championship of the NFL. We were tied. We had to beat the Steelers to get to the championship game. We were in the fourth quarter. It was third down with fourteen yards to go for a first. We were on our own forty-yard line. The quarterback was Y. A. Tittle. Gifford lined up left and ran a crossing pattern.

"Joe Walton, the tight end, was supposed to clear the area for Frank but was held up at the line of scrimmage. So Frank ran his pattern with two defenders on him. Y. A. was being rushed hard, but he held the ball as long as he could. He finally threw it out of desperation, and he threw it long. There was no way Frank could get to it ... but he did. He dove, caught it with his fingertips, and tucked it in as he rolled on the ground. It was a first down. We went on to score, and we won the Divisional Championship. Frank's catch was the turning point."

Charlie took notes and was overjoyed because he knew he had a good anecdote! He also had prepared the other parts of the TEAS format.

No Secrets: Tell the Speaker What You'll Say

On the day of the luncheon, Charlie met with Frank Gifford and told him what he was going to say while introducing him. Not a bad idea. There's nothing worse than spouting some facts in your introduction and then having the speaker walk to the lectern and disclaim the truth of what you just said.

Let's look at the format for the talk of introduction as it applied to Charlie's intro of Frank Gifford. It follows the TEAS plan.

Charlie had a little rubber football with him on the lectern, and as Frank walked to the lectern, Charlie tossed him the little football, which Frank caught and tossed back to him. Nice touch. Luckily, Frank caught the little football.

Frank Gifford's Transition

Frank's opening remarks went something like this: "Thank you, Charlie, for the nice introduction. Actually, I'm not the one who deserves the credit for that play. Y. A. held his ground back there, looking death in the eye as two defensive linemen roared at him. After he threw the ball, he was almost annihilated by those tacklers. Any other quarterback would have thrown the ball away to avoid being hit so hard, and I wouldn't have had the chance to catch it.

"After the play, I congratulated Y. A. for holding the ball that long and then getting it to me. And he said, ‘I wish I had thrown it to Del Shofner [a faster receiver] instead of you, Frank. Del would have been wide open, five yards in front of those defenders. It would have been an easy play, and I wouldn't have been hit by those linemen.'"

A Great Introduction Is Enjoyed By All

That was Frank's transition into his talk. He was so self-effacing the audience loved him before he even started his prepared remarks. That's what a good anecdote can do for a speaker. It provides an opportunity for the speaker to gracefully transition from the introduction into his talk. But it's not just the speaker who benefits, the audience does, too. The entire affair rises to a new level if the introductions are done well.

After the luncheon was over, Frank sought Charlie out, thanked him again, and said, "Would you follow me around and introduce me whenever I speak?"

The Key, Of Course, Is the Anecdote

If you can get a good anecdote, the speaker is "launched" with the audience. Charlie once introduced Ted Sorensen, a former speechwriter for President Kennedy, at one of those JWT events. Sorensen was a brilliant man who looked rather studious. In the introduction, Charlie said, (deliberately holding Ted's name until the end of the intro):

"Last week this man pitched a shut out and knocked in the winning run for his team in a slow pitch softball game in Central Park. And even after those heroics, he was much more elated by the team victory than by his own contributions. It shows what a team player this man is."

Notice how the story humanized Ted Sorensen. The audience could identify with him just a little bit more.

Sometimes it's difficult to get the necessary information, try though we might. We think we can get the material on the spot, and so we let it go until we have nowhere to turn for help. But we shouldn't excuse ourselves. Remember, a speaker cannot be as effective with a weak introduction. He cannot do it alone. You are there for a purpose. You are there to help make the event more meaningful, more enjoyable, than it could be without you.

Sometimes the Setting Is Difficult

For many years I lived with my wife and family in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. One day in May, the organizer of the local Memorial Day parade asked me:

"Kevin, would you be willing to serve as the grand marshal of the parade? If you say ‘yes,' here's what's involved:

"You would be part of the great parade, riding in the elevated back seat of the grand marshal's car as the parade weaves its way through town. Alongside of you would be our guest celebrity and featured speaker, Fred Furmark (not his real name), of TV fame. The parade will start at Todd's Point and work its way all the way down Sound Beach Avenue, ending at Memorial Rock.

"You and Fred will wave to the crowd during this journey. They will line the streets on both sides and be hanging off the train trestle bridge as you go under it. At Memorial Rock in Binney Park, you will introduce Fred. He will give his Memorial Day talk, and the parade will be over."

The whole thing sounded exciting to me, so I said, "Sure. I'll do it."

I knew how to do an introduction. It meant I'd have to get some information about the speaker, but I could get that from him as we inched our way along in the parade.

The Memorial Day Parade

Memorial Day came, and it wasn't long before I found myself in the back of the car with Fred Furmark on Shore Road in Old Greenwich, behind marching bands, baton twirlers, Veterans of American Wars, American Legion members, Girl Scouts, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Fire Department, local officials, and just about any other organized group that wanted to walk or march from Todd's Point to Memorial Rock.

Fred and I were in the middle of all that. I told him I would be introducing him and asked him to tell me about his background. He said, "I've lived in this town for twenty years and they all know me here."

We were sitting high in the grand marshal's car, waving to the left, to the right, overhead. Wherever there were people waving, we waved back. It was fun. But I had a job to do. I needed information from my fellow "waver," and I was a little bit nervous about whether I was going to get it.

Interviewing the Speaker

So I said, "Fred, what is the topic of the talk you are going to give?"

He waved to the people standing in front of Sterling Watts's hardware store, and said, "I'm going to talk about patriotism."

I said: "I need a title for your talk."

Fred said, "How about ‘What freedom means today'?"

I said, "I like it if you do."

At this point someone from the crowd yelled, "How are you doing, Fred?"

Fred answered, "I'm doing fine. I love being here with all of you."

We returned to our dialogue, still smiling, still waving. I said, "Could you tell me something about your background, your schooling?"

Fred said, "Why do you want to know about that?"

So I said, "I have to introduce you. I have to tell the people about you."

Fred said, "They all know me. I've lived in this town for twenty years."

I said, "Fred, please help me. I've got to introduce you, and I need some info on you. Would you help me?"

Little by little, Fred answered my questions and gave me what I needed. He never missed a wave. He smiled indefatigably. And a lot of the people did know him. I was really impressed with this fine man, but I sure struggled in getting enough information. I've changed a few details, but here is the outline of my introduction:

Always announce the name with a rise of intonation and a burst of volume. The speaker's name is the culmination of your talk. If you have held the name until the end, the speaker will rise and walk toward you with outstretched hand as the audience applauds.

Keep It Short, Then Step Out of the Spotlight

You might wonder how long the talk of introduction should be. The answer is - it should be short. Not longer than sixty seconds. Your job is to sell the speaker to the audience, enhance his or her stature, tickle the audience's fancy, build their anticipation, and excite them about the speaker. All of that, but no more, in sixty seconds.

You are not the speaker. Don't be confused by that. You are there to prepare the way for the speaker, not compete with him or her. And, for heaven's sake, don't show off your knowledge about the speaker's subject. Here is an old speaker's lament:

Nothing makes me madder

Than when the introducer's patter

Is my subject matter

Your Third Responsibility - Presenting Awards

If you are program chair inside your company or organization, you will either present awards or direct others to do so. This is a special time. The award winners love it. The audience loves it. There are two scenarios to be dealt with; one is when you have a series of awards or acknowledgments, and the other is when you are presenting the coveted top awards.

Examples of a Series of Awards

When you are delivering an award, make sure you clearly state what the accomplishment was. Dramatize it. Make it sound important. Be enthusiastic. Be happy. Be upbeat. Be impressed.

Hold the name until last. Announce it with gusto. Smile at each recipient. Shake their hands. Show how delighted you are. Remember that your speech - what you say and how you say it - is a massive part of the award. You create the aura. You create the magnitude. You create the sense of triumph. If you do it well, the award winners will revel in their moment. Potential recipients will be motivated to strive for the same recognition in the future. The audience will be impressed. The event will be a success. And you will be responsible for that success.

Make Sure You Pronounce the Names Correctly

The best way to sidestep this common error is to practice pronouncing the names. The best time to botch a name is in private. There are no penalty points for that, but if you do it out loud to the audience, that's the one thing they will remember - and they will think you're a jerk. That's not fair, but that's the way it is. As Dale Carnegie once said, "Remember, a man's name is, to him, the sweetest and most important sound in any language."

Don't ever lose sight of the fact that these people are being singled out for recognition. It's a marvelous moment, each time - for them. If you are bored with it, or it comes off as dull or perfunctory, you have failed. You lose personal stature with all those present. So, keep your enthusiasm at a high level from beginning to end, no matter how long and drawn-out the ceremony may become. Even if it sometimes seems to you that you are going on forever, remember that it is the first time and the only time for each person being recognized.

The Coveted Top Awards

Ideally there should be but one of these, just as there is only one Congressional Medal of Honor. But it's easy to make a case for two. Is there an absolute limit to how many top awards there can be? Yes. The outside limit is three. Beyond that, there is no exclusivity. The value is tarnished.

In many companies, the top award gets its name from some event in the company's history. Let me give you an example. At Communisync, the top honor you can receive is the Jack Sloan Broken Pick Award.

The Story Behind the Broken Pick Award

Jack Sloan joined Communisync as a salesman and worked for the company for eight years. He was marvelously successful because he worked hard and he worked smart. The vice president of sales, Ted Fuller, was so impressed with his work ethic that he used Jack as an example at one of our sales meetings saying, "You never have to wonder where Jack is. If you can't find him in the office, it's because he's at a client somewhere, breaking his pick (as in digging a hole with a pickax), trying to make a sale."

And so was born the Broken Pick Award. It goes to the person who best demonstrates that they "went the extra mile," "broke their pick," to make the sale. The award, given once a year, is a plaque with the broken pickax symbol on it. It's the apex, the epitome of recognition. You might think a broken pick isn't too glamorous. But that's where tradition and company culture come in.

When presenting a coveted top award, do so with much excitement and joy. Show that you are thrilled to be a part of this great moment and to be sharing it with everyone in the room. Follow these five simple steps:

  1. Tell the story and the philosophy of the award.

  2. Lay out the success record and accomplishments of the recipient.

  3. Explain how the accomplishments demonstrate the philosophy.

  4. Hold the name until last even though they know who it is.

  5. Say the name with gusto.

Key Learnings for How to Emcee a Meeting, Introduce a Speaker, and Present Awards



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