« 12. How to be an engaging master of ceremonies »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She is the author of "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking" and is one of only 800 people in the world with the highest level of accreditation in the professional speaking industry - CSP - Certified Speaking Professional.

A master of ceremonies is a very important role. Yet few do Mcing duties really well. They underplay the importance of their roles and sometimes think that all they are doing is making a series of announcements.

Eye contact, a warm smile and gesturing towards the audience all help you to be engagingIt is not so!

There is so much more to being a brilliant master of ceremonies. The ability to engage an audience is just one of the many essential skills that is needed. 

In this article we will look at some of the master of ceremonies duties, and consider the ways you can really engage your audience when you are an MC.

I have been attending a number of functions and conferences recently so I have plenty of examples, good and bad, to share.

Many of them highlight how useful it is for a master of ceremonies to have good levels of emotional intelligence, especially as leaving an audience feeling engaged is about managing the emotions of the audience.

If you, as the master of ceremonies, fail to engage your audience, then you make it harder for everyone else who is speaking at your event or function.

Audiences do not want stiff and starchy MCs. They want warmth, engagement and relevance.

Emotional intelligence tip 1: Have your own material

There is so much more to being a master or mistress of ceremonies than simply announcing who will speak next or what will happen next, or saying thank you to a speaker or performer. This is only the bare minimum.

Your job is also to add something unique and wonderful to the whole event so that you help to keep the energy flowing all the way through.

This means you need your own material. By this I don't mean just focus on telling master of ceremonies jokes, this is only one way of contributing.

For example, I was talking to a gentleman yesterday who was telling me about one of the best masters of ceremonies that he had ever seen. This master of ceremonies did all the usual duties of introducing and thanking speakers and then in between did magic tricks and rope tricks that kept the audience enthralled.

Why does a master of ceremonies need their own material? Because this helps to maintain momentum across the whole event. Thus, if a speaker has been dull, the master or mistress of ceremonies can then pick up the energy of the audience before the next speaker or performer starts.

Have your own material and contribute something of your own, and do this without hogging the limelight and taking too much time.

Want to engage your audience more easily and make your presentations more interesting? Book into our public speaking development package.

Emotional intelligence tip 2: Relate and be relevant

Relate and be relevant to your audience sounds like a very simple EQ tip. Doing it can be harder.

Every audience is different. Adapt what you do and say to each audience. Do everything you can as the master or mistress of ceremonies to be relevant to your audience. 

When it comes to being a master or mistress of ceremonies one size does not fit all.

Know your audience in advance and plan and prepare everything to suit their needs. Please do not come out with the same old master of ceremonies routine that you do with every audience. Make what you do directly relevant to each audience.

Whether it is the:

  • Language you use.
  • People you mention.
  • Attributes of the organisation or profession you draw attention to.
  • Jokes you tell.
  • Stories you relate ...

They all need to be directly and specifically relevant to, and personalised for, each audience.

Audiences relate to relevance. Engaging an audience is so much harder if you are irrelevant or performing a set routine or going through the motions.

So think in advance of the audience and what they will relate to, then do it on the day.

Being able to predict people's emotional reactions is all part of emotional intelligence, and a really good skill for a master of ceremonies to have if you want to engage the audience.


Watch more tips on how to be a superb master of ceremonies on our video.

Emotional intelligence tip 3: Add passion to your introductions

As the master of ceremonies, part of your role is to help motivate the audience to want to hear the next speaker or performer. Motivated audiences are engaged audiences. Motivation is all about emotions - so how do you motivate an audience?

You certainly don't do it by reading out a biography word for word, and yet so many MCs do this, and leave the audience bored, flat, or at best, mildly interested.

Your job as the master of ceremonies is to explain to your audience the benefits they are going to gain from listening to a speaker, or hearing a performer, so that the audience is enthusiastically paying attention. This is good for the audience and good for the speaker.

You have to add passion, and interest, and something special to your introductions. Make the introductions personal and relevant. Connect the speaker to the audience.

Don't just say, "And now I'd like to introduce our next speaker, Dr Evelyn Jolly, who is an Associate Professor in Environmental Management from Cambridge University, and she is going to talk on, 'How as a society we can improve our environment'. Please welcome ...".

You can see this does not excite the audience, can't you? You have probably heard the equivalent many times though, sadly. Part of emotional intelligence is the ability to manage the emotions of others and these kinds of introduction fail at this level.

Find something new to say, find something different to say, find something enthusiastic to say that the audience can connect with.

For example, you might say at a conference of school principals, "So far you've heard of the philosophy behind the conflict management programme, but I can see some of you are thinking about those really awful parents who bring you grief every time they come to your school, and you are wishing the programme would sort them out. Is it possible? Yes! You will be delighted to hear that our next speaker, Sun-Lee, Principal of Folk Greer school, has not only used it successfully for the last two years and calmed down her difficult parents, but she has even used it to sort out her own teenagers too! How did she achieve this miraculous feat? You are about to find out. Please give Sun-Lee a big round of applause ..."

There is lots more to learn about how to give good introductions and thank yous and you'll find plenty more information in our E-book "A master of ceremonies: A beginner's guide to being a brilliant master of ceremonies."

Emotional intelligence tip 4: Show genuine appreciation

It is your duty as a master or mistress of ceremonies to show full appreciation for whatever has happened.

When you are thanking a speaker, performer or a contributor it is not sufficient to just say, "Thank you Jonathon", and then simply give a bottle of wine or box of chocolates.

Your job as a master of ceremonies is to express gratitude and excitement on behalf of the whole audience. Yes, more emotions!

I hope by now you are seeing why emotional intelligence is relevant to being a brilliant master of ceremonies - you are often there to evoke positive emotions and diminish negative emotions. It can be a tough gig!

It is your job to help the speakers/performers feel valued, to show that you have listened to what they said or did, and to demonstrate that their contribution was indeed significant. You are to leave them feeling really good, and therefore the audience really good too. Yes more emotions! 

In the process of thanking people you need to remind the audience of how good the speakers/performers were and help them to savour the moment, and even revise the key aspects covered.

For example, you might make specific comments on what the speakers/performers said or did and how they have helped you or the audience.

Move well beyond a simple thank you and really show genuine appreciation. Expressing your own emotions of pride, gratitude and enthusiasm is all part of emotional intelligence and being an MC.

There is much more information you can learn about how to thank and introduce people, and you'll find plenty more in our E-book "A master of ceremonies: A beginner's guide to being a brilliant Master of ceremonies."

Want to improve your confidence as a public speaker so your audience wants to listen to you? Book into our public speaking development package

Emotional intelligence tip 5: MC jokes are not needed

It is your duty to be funny. A brilliant master or mistress of ceremonies needs a sharp sense of humour and yet, master of ceremonies jokes are often not needed.

Instead, use whatever is current on the day. Use whatever arises in the moment. Notice things that the audience say, do, or are interested in that you can refer to and that can provide natural spontaneous laughter.

For example, I was a keynote speaker at an engineering conference recently, and during the conference dinner there was an interstate football final playing at the same time with one of the local teams in it. Many football supporters were in the predominantly male audience. News came through that the local team had got thrashed.

At one point the MC came on and said he had received news that all was not lost because in the third quarter the winning team had accidentally had on extra man on the field for two and a half minutes, which was not allowed. He reported that the football league would be holding an urgent enquiry and would declare its finding at 3 pm the next day. There was good humour and laughter around this, people not being quite sure whether he was joking or not.

Some minutes later the MC said, "Of course, if you believe what I said it just shows that you have already drunk too much". The crowd roared with laughter! It was spot on and very simple. The humour worked as it was 100% relevant for the audience and up-to-the minute. (Glenn Mitchell, former ABC sports commentator was the MC.)

Instead of telling typical master of ceremonies jokes you could also consider telling personal funny stories; they may go down even better.

This is particularly so if you are a wedding master of ceremonies, for instance. At a wedding, stories about the bride and groom, about things they have done together or before they met can make everything feel far more intimate, relevant and funny.

Why do I say master of ceremonies jokes may not be needed? Because they can fail and fail badly.

How many of us have been to a conference, seminar or wedding when the master or mistress of ceremonies has used inappropriate jokes, or when the jokes have been heard before, are told badly or are not relevant? Possibly quite often.

Master of ceremonies jokes are risky, especially for people new to being an MC or telling jokes. I never tell jokes but I do tell funny stories about myself and I do get laughter.

Your job as the master or mistress of ceremonies is to engage everyone in the audience, not a select few who may appreciate your joke. Yes, your emotional intelligence can even guide you in what jokes to pick.

Master of ceremonies jokes are often not good ones - are yours? 

How to improve your public speaking now.

Can you afford to have you or your team unable to engage their audiences? No! Organisations need to be represented by engaging speakers in order to get their message across as swiftly and effectively as possible. This applies to you if you are an executive or a manager too - do not bore your employees, your stakeholders or your board. We have a number of options to help you:

  1. Book into our public speaking development package.
  2. There is a definitive guide: "The beginners guide to being a brilliant MC".
  3. Read the book "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking".

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.