If you want conference attendees to pay attention, change behavior, or get motivated, you'll have to do more than serve perfectly cooked fillet and a 1990 merlot. You'll have to serve the perfect host.
The host (i.e., the master of ceremonies or the moderator), directs the entire tone of a meeting or event. Yet in many cases, corporate executives fall short of the job. Odd as it seems, not all leaders are great on stage. Only about one-third of companies bring a host with great presence, charisma, and purpose to the show.
You probably know which top execs at your organization measure up, which need work, and which are beyond repair. You won't be blamed for a less-than-spectacular host, but there are ways you can help improve his or her performance.
The perfect host does not stand behind a lectern, read long passages of copy, or come across as rigid. Rather, he or she is prepared but appears spontaneous; is organized but flexible; and is authoritative but amiable. Speech coaching is great, but hosts don't give speeches.
If you're working with an internal executive, try to speak with him or her directly — or if need be, with an associate who will convey your message. Talk candidly about the need to move things along, create energy, and keep all communications focused and professional. Perfect hosts don't need to be humorous (a common misconception), but they do need to communicate the theme and objectives of the meeting to the audience in an engaging way. Their job is to take control of the meeting and make it memorable.
Encourage your execs to practice at low-profile events. They should also spend as much time rehearsing as they would for a formal speech, whether they're using TelePrompTer, hard copy — or best of all — memory.
Ken Kirsh, CMP, is president of Kirsh Productions Inc. in New York City. Contact him at (212) 262-4388 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working With External Talent
Program type, raw talent, and corporate culture will determine whether or not a host from inside the company is essential. But it's a mistake to think that an outside host or moderator undermines or distracts. A below-average internal host will diminish the program far more than an experienced outsider.
Not only will an experienced outsider know how to enhance your corporate message, but he or she will relieve your execs from telling attendees where to pick up their boxed lunches!
Advice From the Expert
Kirsh Productions sponsored Michael Weber, who has 20 years of experience hosting meetings and events, as host for the Insurance Conference Planners Association annual meeting in November. Here are some of our tips:
Have your host avoid the word “housekeeping.” People hear it and tune out.
Make sure your host understands his or her limited and specific role.
Help your host to prepare for the unexpected, and to exude calm and control in emergency situations.
Keep introductions and segues short.
Link the theme tastefully and appropriately throughout the meeting.
Allow your host adequate rehearsal time on site.