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On being a conference host

30 June, 2015


As well as my work as an after-dinner speaker and keynote speaker, I have increasingly been asked to transfer my audience management skills to hosting conferences and other events. This is a job which goes far beyond “announcing names” – if you are going to do it properly! In the next few posts I will outline my approach – and pass on some tips to any other would-be “front-people”!

I will first look at the terminology – and then at what I consider to be the qualities you need to be a successful host. For a start, there are two distinct types of event that usually require a “host”: awards dinners and conferences. Both have similarities – and both are demanding roles, requiring much homework, preparation and rehearsal – yet should look effortless!

The difference between the two is that as an awards dinner is a social event, a more light-hearted approach is required. An awards host is similar to a “Master of Ceremonies” – “M.C.” or “emcee”. Typically this would involve doing a short preamble of humour relevant to the occasion, and then to present the awards and run the show with a “light touch”.

A business conference on the other hand, while still requiring “gentle” humour, will require a much more “hands on” approach, especially as it may require the involvement of the host for the whole day, and often over several days. It is this type of hosting that is the subject of this series of blog posts.

A common description of the role is often “Link Presenter” – however this almost suggests a superficial involvement – that of an “announcer” who is there to simply read out introductions.

Another title is that of “Facilitator” – which indicates a deeper involvement – i.e. someone who helps make the event flow easier – understands the nature of the client’s business and who can lead discussions and contribute to the content of the event. My good friend and speaking colleague Roy Sheppard refers to himself as a “Moderator” – which incorporates all of the above – and also includes becoming involved in the pre-planning of the event, which is closer to where I believe the true value of using a professional “front person” really lies.

I prefer to see to my role simply as “Conference Host” – which incorporates all of the above! I see it as being a general “factotum” –  someone who becomes integral to the event with many different responsibilities, and who can “take charge” to ensure its success. It requires a blend of leadership, discretion and common-sense – and a recognition that you are not the “star of the show” – in fact your aim is to make the others look good! I always like to compare the role to that of a successful (rugby!) referee! If he is authoritative, knows the rules, has the respect of the players, controls the game so it flows well, and crucially – you don’t notice his influence – then he’s done a good job!

The role requires certain personality traits which I will examine in my next post: What makes a good conference host?

For a detailed analysis of some recent events check out my Hosting Case Studies – and take a look at what others have said about my hosting skills!

If you are looking for a conference host to ensure the success of your next event – please get in touch!

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