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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Emcee Excellence: Intro Stars with A+ Results

Dedication goes to national storyteller Willy Claflin who inspired me on this topic and shared some comments. Many thanks to Devin, the teenager also known as “the Cat in the Hat”, and his parents for giving permission to post photo and reference his A+ emceeing.

A golden star given to every exceptional emcee may give the idea that the emcee has as much of an impact on a successful show as the storyteller.

The emcee is usually the first person the audience sees to grace the stage. The lights may have been darkened and the sound checks may have been done, but when that emcee reaches for the microphone, the audience is in anticipation.

Some venues recognize the emcee’s important role and hold auditions for emcees as is done for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Before the auditions are held, two storytellers teach a workshop purely on emceeing.

Other venues have high officials or community leaders as emcees, assuming that their time within the public offices would give them enough experience to make introductions. Often, these leaders resent such roles and can reflect that mind-set in the voice. Their presence at the event is always an honor so having them participate is a natural choice.

Another idea is to acknowledge them as honored attendees because unless the officials have heard the storytellers before or are truly excited about the experience, then it is usually better to ask someone else to be emcee. . .perhaps someone like Devin, a teenager also known as “the Cat in the Hat”.

To be an A+ emcee, each step starts with an “A”:
1. Arrive early and talk with the storyteller
2. Announce with enthusiasm
3. Ask people to turn off cell phones and other electronic devices
4. Avoid reading the introduction
5. Add a one-liner personal message, if applicable
6. Applaud at the end of the introduction
7. Attend to any situations that may distract from performance

Arrive early and talk with the storyteller
As a storyteller, I already arrive at least 45 minutes to an hour before a performance so I have at least ten minutes before the concert to mingle with the audience and to spend some time with the emcee.

If the emcee does not arrive until one or two minutes before the start of the show, then I, as the performer, am nervous as I have no idea what the emcee will say. It is possible that this is the first time the emcee ever heard of me let alone meeting a professional storyteller.

The emcee might have been given some sort of program with your information, but usually this is the same information that the audience has themselves. The emcee can ease the performer’s nerves by arriving at least ten minutes before the show so as to gather a couple facts not already revealed in the program.

Willy Claflin, national storyteller, encourages emcees to search each teller's website as most professional storytellers have one. If the emcee has never heard the teller perform, some sites actually have audio or video clips.

Though pronunciation of a teller's name can rarely be found on websites, the emcee could check with the teller on the day of the performance. Claflin admitted, "As someone whose name is mispronounced a good third of the time, I know this problem well." He loved how the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN provides a pronunciation guide to all emcees. "Would that all festivals did the same!" added Claflin.

Before people entered the storytelling room, Devin asked me what I would like said about me. He chose a calm time to ask these questions for as soon as we opened the doors to let the audience find their seats, the room was too bustling for us to concentrate.

Announce with enthusiasm
I have heard emcees who seemed to be falling asleep as they spoke. Unless the audience is about to hear bedtime stories—though even then this would not help—this only makes the audience wonder if they made the right decision choosing to come to this event versus something else.

Though it is likely that the emcee does not mean any disrespect, even if the emcee is tired, he must make every effort to seem filled with energy so the audience can also feel energized.

As many storytelling events happen in the evening, it is understandable that after a long hard day that we sometimes get zonked emcees. Perhaps the emcee could carry some candy for a quick sugar high or do some jumping jacks to increase the blood flow. Maybe the emcee has a chance between work and the show to get a 20-minute power nap. Regardless of the method, be awake.

Sometimes an emcee sounds sleepy only because he is a monotone. If the sponsor already knows someone is a monotone, then either someone else could be asked to emcee or perhaps there could be a partner emcee with at least one person being more varied in speech.

Devin had a certain “smile” sound to his voice and he made great eye contact so that the audience could also see the excitement in his eyes.

Ask people to turn off cell phones and other electronic devices
One of the greatest disruptions to a show is a cell phone going off.

Devin was quick to make the announcement and it was music to my ears as people took their cell phones and little sounds were made as the devices were turned off. Some people arrived late and missed Devin’s announcement so I did have a couple ringing moments within stories.

I heard an emcee say that any person with a ringing cell phone during the show means that person will give a $1000 donation to the event. For some reason, no phones rang.

Avoid reading the introduction
Someone who reads the introduction probably did not arrive early enough to review the facts and put it into their own words, which emphasizes the importance of an emcee arriving early.

Sometimes reading the information cannot be helped as the person may be nervous to be an emcee in the first place or the same person who is the emcee also has a thousand things to do before the event starts.

I actually give an introduction card with four sentences to the emcee. I want it short so we can jump into the stories faster, as this is the reason the audience came.

I have seen some storytellers give over a page of bio information to an emcee. I have watched as that emcee had a mini heart attack trying to pick out the information to share. Sometimes the emcee gets the wrong impression and reads the entire essay.

As for Devin, he had an interesting situation as my introduction card was shared during the opening exercises before people divided into the various activities. That meant that anyone who joined the storytelling room already knew certain things about me. I quickly jotted two new things for Devin to announce so the audience did not feel like they were going through a re-run.

A storyteller could make an emcee’s job easier if telling on the festival scene where a storyteller has several sessions with different stories and the possibilities of having same audience members. Each session could have the emcee share two different things about the teller. So if a teller had six sessions over the course of an event, then a total of twelve facts would be helpful so two facts could be given for each show.

Fans will follow certain storytellers and hearing new facts makes it refreshing to these people.

Add a one-liner personal message, if applicable
The “one-liner” part of this tip is most important; otherwise it is as if the emcee is taking over the show with his story.

It is taboo for an emcee to share a story as part of an introduction. An exception is if this is part of the format of the event. For example, I shared stories at a Liar’s Competition in California. The emcee introduced each of the eight tellers. Since the audience voted at the end of the night to which person they thought was the biggest liar, there was need to entertain while the tallies were counted. The emcee knew in advance to share a story during the tally time, as it would not have been appropriate for one of the finalists to share another story.

Devin kept his personal message short like a professional as he said, “This is Rachel’s second time performing here. I was at last year’s show so I know you will enjoy her stories today.”

Sometimes emcees share stories that do not relate to the teller at all. I have heard anecdotes told that ate so much time that the teller had to rethink what stories to share.

Applaud at the end of the introduction
The louder the emcee claps, then the more encouraged for the audience to clap loud. This excitement passes onto the storyteller, who can do an even better job knowing the audience is ready for the stories.

If this is the first time for an audience to experience storytelling, they may not realize that usually there is clapping after each story versus at the end of the program. Even if this is an experienced audience to storytelling, the people like to reflect the energy level of the emcee.

As Devin was dressed as “the Cat in the Hat”, he had cloth over his hands to soften his claps. That did not stop him. He made the announcement, “Now let us give a round of applause to our Literacy Night storyteller, Rachel Hedman!” Devin’s claps were loud enough for the audience to catch on.

Besides applauding at the end of the introduction, the emcee may also be one of the first to applaud after each story to remind the audience of the appropriate actions.

Attend to any situations that may distract from performance
The unexpected can happen at any moment and usually the storyteller must focus on the show so that it must be cared for by the emcee.

Claflin observed that for any youth tellers, the emcee may need to adjust the microphone stand to the proper height. At the National Youth Storytelling Showcase, the youth are taught microphone etiquette a day before the performance so that the emcee has one less thing to oversee.

Then there are the times when the audience is in a trance by the teller and suddenly the magic is interrupted by the cries of a baby. If the crying persists, then the emcee could approach the family and ask for the baby to be taken out of the room until calmed down. Otherwise, the storyteller may need to make that announcement from the stage.

The emcee may also need to monitor the hall or entrance.

Before my performance, the door was closed to signal the start of the show. Some people arrived late and kept the door open. Devin noticed and silently yet quickly closed the door. I could not walk off the stage and do such a feat so I was grateful to continue telling.

When the show comes to an end, then Claflin commented that it is nice when the emcee announces, "And if you'd like to take these tellers home with you, they all have wonderful CDs for sale out at the resource counter." Sometimes the audiences members do not realize this possibility unless something is said.

For me, I was lucky to have Devin as my emcee. I knew that everything would be fine. He knew the way to get high marks in my book as an outstanding emcee.

Feel free to share these emcee tips with others by linking to this page or printing them off with some line saying where you received them. Then perhaps we will have more emcees that could get A+ results.

Other People to contact about emceeing:
  • Gay Ducey, national storyteller, wrote "The 10 Commandments on Emceeing"
  • Susan Klein, national storyteller, wrote "And Now, Would You Please Welcome. . ."
  • Willy Claflin, national storyteller

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

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