How can you decide which skill set will bring the most to your next internal conference or event…and what’s the difference, anyway? Find out everything you need to know about the different hosting approaches here.
We have been in the conference and events business for a long time. We’ve been lucky enough to fly all over the world with large, blue chip companies and so we have seen and been a part of every type of event possible. We have also seen all the variations of running such events, and the pros and cons of each of them.
In this article we want to share this knowledge and insight with you, so you can make an informed choice about what will best help you achieve your objectives.
Broadly, hosting options come in four forms:
- Guest Speaker (not really a ‘host’ but worth understanding where this fits)
- Event Experience Lead
Now, we know that you might well be thinking: ‘We’ve done this so many times, we know what format works’. …Well yes, that is most likely true. You may well have a format works in so much that it isn’t bad. But do you really want to be striving for ‘not bad’?
Here is our first tip for making your conference or meeting feel different to the norm:
Only use professionals that treat the audience as the customer. This might seem obvious, but the way that most events are set up means the commercial transaction is with the CEO, the budget holder or the organising committee. These groups then become the customer, not the end user, which in this context is the audience.
Think about the last speaker or Emcee you saw at an event – how much time did they spend having coffee or building a relationship with the delegates either before or after their slot? How much time, in comparison, did they spend impressing the person that holds the budget? Or the CEO?
The commercial transaction confuses this point, so it’s worthwhile keeping that in mind when you are deciding who to bring in to help you.
Let’s take each hosting option in turn and help unpick the options open to you as an event organiser.
Emcee – Master of Ceremonies
A newsreader is probably the best analogy to use for an Emcee.
This is a default option for many events, especially those centred around multiple guest speakers or individual presentations. An Emcee provides a structure, acting as a ‘host’ to ensure the whole meeting comes together and that there is a common reference point.
A good Emcee will have the right balance of professional and humour…but without the cheese. In our experience this balance can be very difficult to find.
It may be decided that a leader will Emcee the event. This has obvious budget benefits, but also having a leader obviously in charge of proceedings can demonstrate a clear message of leadership by putting them front and centre.
There are downsides though. Housekeeping aspects, such as where the toilets are and timings of coffee breaks etc. need to be communicated by someone, so if there is no external party then it will most likely fall to this person. If that is a leader, their ‘status’ could be seemingly diminished. Unless of course, you have a leader who is skilled in presenting with humility and humour, whilst keeping up their status…and if you have that, using this person for this role is probably a very good option!
- Introductions and initial housekeeping
- Setting the overall tone, objectives and agenda for the event
- Provide context and introductions to each speaker/presentation
- Link all the sessions together and extract the main points as the day progresses
- Host panel discussions and Q&A
- Keep and eye on time and the agenda and keeping the whole event on track.
You will know if you have hired a good Emcee if they are:
- Able to work without reading straight from a script
- Able to act ‘in the moment’. Without this skill it will come across as formulaic and lacking in emotion.
- Have a good sense of humour and not be ‘quiz show’ like (quiz show MC’s are more common than any of us would like!)
What an Emcee typically does not do:
- Provide content introductions or presentations – this would typically be left to the content experts
- Run activities such as ice breakers or team activities
- Provide challenge or provoke thinking.
In a conference context, think of a facilitator as a TV news reporter out in the field: taking care of specific sessions and making their individual ‘slot’ engaging, content-rich and useful.
A facilitator is often used in internal content-based sessions or workshops where robust conversations and specific outputs are required. However, this skill set is increasingly being applied to larger conferences and events, as people require more focus on developing outputs and increasing level of skill development as well as listening to speakers/networking etc.
A facilitator’s job is to co-ordinate the group, but in a way that harnesses the collective energy and knowledge to achieve a desired outcome. A facilitator will often issue instructions for an exercise, provide prompting thoughts and challenge for the group to consider, and generally help to guide the group to a conclusion or output of some kind…all the while ensuring everyone is able to participate and contribute.
- Look after specific sections of the event, i.e. a team building session, a brainstorming activity or a working session
- Understand how their sessions will work in terms of logistics, materials and providing clear instructions
- In advance of the event, design formats for specific elements which are engaging and outcome-focused
- Run those sessions with confidence and a level of authority (having the presence and impact required to control a large group of people is critical!)
You will know if you have hired a good facilitator at a conference or event if:
- They are able to instruct large groups of people effectively to complete activities or tasks
- They fully understand how different sessions will run and how the session will lead the group to an outcome
- They are able to challenge and question the group(s) in order to ensure that the conversation is of high quality and considers a variety of perspectives or inputs
- They do all of this in a way which is high energy and ensures momentum
- They can provide and run elements such as ice breakers or energisers
- They spend time understanding your business and what you are trying to achieve
- They design activities, exercises and formats that will help you to achieve your objectives
- They consider subtle elements such as the knowledge people have (or haven’t) got when they arrive, energy levels and how to best deal with dissenting voices
- They are skilled in getting people to participate and avoid free-riding
A facilitator wouldn’t typically:
- Be confident in ‘hosting’ large scale events
- Introduce speakers or provide an Emcee service (see above)
- Be equipped to design evening/networking elements of the event.
A good analogy for a guest speaker is the ‘expert’ that are invited on to news show as a guest.
Although not strictly a ‘hosting’ option, guest speakers are a regular feature in many conferences and so it would be amiss to not explore the value that they provide.
Inviting an external party to share their experience, their knowledge or their story is a popular way of cementing key messages or providing expertise from outside the organisation. Often large companies can spend a lot of their time looking inward, so a strong guest speaker is an excellent way of understanding expertise from the outside world, providing new and innovative thinking related to the objectives of the event.
Motivational speakers are frequently used, but in our experience, they can often be used as a default setting. Venue booked – check! Name Badges send to print – check! Motivational speaker booked – check! Used in the right context with a relevant and a well-presented message and story, they can be very powerful; out of context or poorly executed, they are an expensive way for people to spend time checking emails.
- Be happy to send you videos of them speaking and references for people that have heard them speak. Think carefully about booking someone who can’t or won’t do both of these things
- Have a powerful message which has been well practised, and is told in a compelling way
- Know their material and be clear on their technical requirements (microphones, videos etc)
- Understand the context in which they are going to be speaking, and be willing and able to adjust their message accordingly
- Have excellent impact and presence – it seems obvious, but unfortunately anyone can call themselves a ‘speaker’. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are any good at it
A good guest speaker will:
- Be available for even a short time, ideally after their slot, to have further conversations with delegates
- Be curious and interested in the context of the event and the background of the company – show genuine interest in how their message is going to help the audience
- Have good audience connection and warmth. Anyone who comes across in the planning stages as aloof is most likely missing this element
A guest speaker wouldn’t typically:
- Be around for the whole event
- Be involved or present in other sessions
- Interact directly with the audience apart from maybe asking for a show of hands.
An event experience lead is like a strong TV presenter – the glue that holds all the parts together, willing to challenge but can also entertain and keep people’s interest.
This is essentially an Emcee, a facilitator and presenter all rolled into one. This role considers the whole experience from the audience perspective and brings all the pieces together into one coherent, engaging ‘programme’
This role will work with you to weave together all of the various elements into an overall thread, working through the overall flow, the emotional journey of the delegates and weaving interventions throughout to keep the messages clear and the energy high.
This is suitable for events where you want the lines between stage and audience to blur, and not so suitable where a more formal, structured approach is desired.
- Be focused on the audience at all times and how this event is going to help them learn, be inspired or create a momentum towards individuals taking action.
- Review your overall agenda and help identify the ‘red thread’ that ties it all together
- Input into the individual sessions to ensure the links to your red thread are clear and consistent
- Help ensure content is presented in an effective way – coaching and rehearsing with less experience speakers or suggested different formats to mix it up
- Liaise with the AV team to ensure logistics don’t get in the way of seamless execution
- Create non-content interventions such as energisers, ice breakers or networking sessions to act as the glue through the event
A good event experience lead would:
- Provide high-energy Emcee as well as serious, thoughtful facilitation
- Act ‘in the moment’, ensuring that key messages are not missed
- Able to provide witty, funny and spontaneous reaction or playback of the event – creating a shared, memorable experience for employees
- Have the detailed business knowledge to challenge and provoke thought, helping to keep conversations away from corporate speak
Event Experience Lead wouldn’t typically get involved in:
- Arranging AV and room bookings
- Deciding the detailed content and messages
- Designing content sessions or producing presentations (though they might advise or provide ideas on the format and how to make them more engaging)
Each event will have different objectives and requirements, but the likelihood is, if you’re reading this article it is because you want to do something different. If that is the case then come and talk to us about our experiences providing event experience expertise to conferences all over the world. Get in touch via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office on +44(0)1926 311347
If you are looking for idea or tips to create your own memorable meeting, then download a copy of our e-book here which explains our PIE (Physical Intellectual and Emotional) Memorable Meeting framework.
Get a PDF of this article explaining each option.