Friday, October 17, 2008

Guide For The Novice Master Of Ceremonies

At a wedding, a planned schedule for toasts and speeches, orchestrated by the master of ceremonies (MC or emcee), lends a certain agreeable formality to the proceedings. Contrary to what you might fear, however, the MC doesn't have to be the entertainment; he or she merely has to direct the entertainment.

Being an MC usually involves two main functions:
the first is to make sure the "formal" part of the event runs smoothly, which includes introducing each speaker; the second, especially if you are also the best man, is to give a speech.

The popular MC lives by the words "short and sweet." As a general rule, brevity and sincerity should guide the nervous or inexperienced. Most MCs take no longer than two to three minutes to introduce each part of the program.

Collect background information
The more you know in advance, the more confident you'll be. Talk to the bride, groom, their best friends, their families: they'll supply the stories you'll relate throughout the reception. Jot down any and all ideas on paper. Also find out all you can about the wedding:

The guests:
How many guests? Are they mainly students? Middle-aged business people? Seniors? Close relatives? Will children be present?

The schedule:
How many toasts will be given and when? In what order and by whom? What relationship do these people have to the bridal couple? When and for how long will you be expected to speak?

The set-up:
Will you be speaking from a platform or the head table? Will you have a podium? A microphone? Where will the guests be seated?

Your speech
Begin by introducing yourself, then tell the audience the reason they are all gathered together - to celebrate a wedding, of course! - then explain that it's your job to guide them through the program. Now give the guests the information they need to feel comfortable (e.g., the bar will be open from 5:00 to 6:00, closed during the meal and presentations, then open again until midnight). If you have a lot of information to give them, intersperse illustrations and anecdotes with the dry facts.

There are three rules to remember when telling stories and jokes: timing, taste, and tact. Some embellishment is good, but a story that runs on for more than three minutes is too long. Jokes and stories must be in good taste; what the soccer team having a brew in a bar may consider acceptable might not go down so well here. (This is why it's important to know your audience.) Does your joke or story go beyond gently poking fun and end up hurting someone? An MC must be tactful.

Come the end of the proceedings, you will have the last word. This is no time to get carried away; a short story, joke, or prediction of future marital happiness followed by a thank-you works just fine.

Once you've decided what you're going to say, reduce the speech to point-form notes on cue cards. These cards will remind you of what comes when; you won't be reading aloud from your notes.

Practice your stories until you feel comfortable and confident. Aim for a conversational tone. Listen for "ums" and "aahs," replacing them with pauses which can actually add dramatic impact or signal a change to a new point. A pause can also allow you to take a deep breath and gather your thoughts.

Before you can begin to speak, you must politely interrupt the guests' conversations and prepare them to listen. Pausing when you first reach the podium is a good way to fix their attention on you. If that doesn't work, try clearing your throat or tapping your finger on the microphone.

Be personal. Your speech should sound like a relaxed conversation between friends (at a dinner party, not in the locker room). Pitch, rate, and volume are the tools that will make it come alive. Your voice should rise with questions, or bubble with laughter when you tell a funny story. Speed up your delivery to show excitement; slow down to make a more serious point. Speak quietly sometimes to make the audience listen more intently. Whatever you do, look as though you're enjoying yourself!

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