23 ways to be an exceptional emcee (don’t skip #13!)

Have you ever attended an event with a cadre of amazing speakers – one after the next – that still felt a bit stilted? Disjointed? Disorganized? Even downright awkward?

Maybe that’s because the emcee was far less than exceptional.

As a speechwriter, speech coach and author, I’ve been asked more than once to emcee professional conferences, award ceremonies and other events.

If you’re a first-timer who’s been tapped to emcee an upcoming event for your organization or a professional association – or an emcee who’s looking to improve – keep this post handy as a quick to-do list and checklist.


  1. Preview the script. Fix any errors, resolve discrepancies and adjust for style before you rehearse.
  2. Don’t guess on pronunciations. Double-check and triple-check every proper name or unfamiliar word.
  3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
  4. Do some improv. Attend a local improv theater to practice thinking on your feet. (Are you in Toastmasters? Be Toastmaster of the Day for several meetings ahead of your emcee event.)
  5. Visit the venue at least the day before. Get familiar with your surroundings, the stage and the microphone. Then rehearse a bit more.
  6. Meet speakers before showtime. Your introductions will be that much better if you have a good sense of who the speakers are.
  7. Go beyond the script. Do your homework on the speakers and the event. Make it your business to know much more than the script.
  8. Give grace. Last-minute changes to the script are bound to happen. Don’t let them rattle you.


  1. Be a leader. Set the right tone, maintain the proper timing and keep things moving from start to finish.
  2. Make it personal. Tell the audience who you are and how you’re connected to the event. Make everyone feel welcome and appreciated.
  3. Pause – wait – and then begin. Don’t compete with a noisy crowd. Get the audience’s undivided attention first before sharing important information.
  4. Don’t gloss over or speed through “housekeeping” items. If you do? Your audience will tune you out.
  5. Refuse to read speakers’ bios. Instead, prepare and deliver engaging speaker introductions – relevant to the event – that set every speaker up for success.
  6. Listen carefully to every speaker. Then be ready with relevant wrap-ups and smart transitions between speakers.
  7. Don’t stick to the script. Add your own flair here and there so your words are comfortable and conversational.
  8. Start and finish strong. Make your opening and closing lines memorable.
  9. Never leave the lectern or podium unattended. Instead, transition each speaker on and off the stage with a smile, a handshake and words of thanks.
  10. Rely on your speaking skills. Project and enunciate, use vocal variety and avoid filler words like “um” and “ah.”
  11. Exude enthusiasm – SMILE! Your mood and your energy will be contagious.
  12. Pay attention. Lead applause when needed. Be ready to adjust on the fly if something goes wrong.


  1. Ask the event planner for an evaluation. Request a copy of the survey results and any written comments from attendees.
  2. Ask people you trust for honest feedback. Listen for specifics. What could you do better next time?
  3. Reflect on the experience yourself. What went well? What didn’t go well, and why?


Teresa Zumwald will emcee the 10th Annual Leadership Conference for Women in Business Networking (WiBN) on Sept. 20, 2017, at the Dayton Convention Center in Dayton, Ohio. This conference is the flagship event for WiBN, a group of diverse women in business who encourage one another’s professional growth and success.