SALT LAKE CITY — I had a dream the other night that I was a muffler on my car. I woke up exhausted!
That was the first joke I told at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, formerly Salt Lake Comic Con, back in September 2013. It was the event's first year in existence and my first time as emcee — a role I had totally and completely not planned on.
In the early years of FanX, the panels were a work in progress. We started out with four emcee’s in the first year. I was one of them and as we got going on that first event, the other three had preferences to moderate panels, not emcee. So I became the de facto emcee. My main job as emcee was to provide information, including pointing out the exits, informing guests about upcoming panels, photo ops and other similar announcements.
We were lucky enough to have comic book legend Stan Lee attend our first event and when it came time for his panel, he was running a little late. As the crowd waited for Lee to arrive, they began to grow restless. I took the initiative and walked onstage and told my first joke.
The audience greeted my muffler joke with complete silence. Not one laugh.
I remember a lady in the back yelled “'A' for effort!” I thought her comment was hilarious and so, undeterred, I began telling other, similar jokes. For the most part, I was just trying to kill time until Lee arrived.
My jokes and style worked, though. People began to email me, message me on social media and walk up to me on the street and other places, sharing with me their jokes and asking me to tell them at the next FanX.
I didn’t have a lot of experience at public joke-telling, but I was ready, willing and able — and at that point, that was enough. Since then, I’ve been the emcee at every FanX, telling my trusty muffler joke to kick off every FanX. In fact, I tell it at most FanX events, including movie screenings, volunteer events and a host of other community involvement activities.
I’ve had a number of people tell me or the FanX team that they would like to emcee or be involved in announcing guests. We’ve accommodated some of these requests and I’ve found that for many people, one time onstage is usually enough. Several people have told me that they’ve seen what I do up there and think it would be easy, and a friend pointed out that that’s a compliment to me. He said that I make it look so easy that people think they can do it too.
The fact is, it’s harder than it looks. People get up, try it and quickly learn how difficult being in front of people can be. I don’t point this out to brag or to compliment myself — I point it out because since this conversation and seeing people try once and fail, I’ve developed a list of seven tips to being a successful emcee.
- Don’t be afraid. Often the key to public speaking success is not being afraid of failure. Public speaking is terrifying for many people — it's often listed in society's top 10 phobias. If you want to be successful at emceeing or hosting any event or meeting, you have to ignore the fear. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
- Practice in advance. I practice in front of my bathroom mirror. I pretend I’m at FanX or whatever event I’m hosting and practice welcoming the audience, telling jokes and introducing panelists and other participants. I used to video these practice sessions and post them on my social media requesting feedback and critiques.
- Be prepared. I like to get a copy of the schedule or agenda in advance and study it so I know what to expect. When I get the schedule, I’ll make notes on it to help remember specific ideas or things I want to say. I’ll also phonetically spell out names so I pronounce them correctly.
- Have fun. While emceeing can be stressful, it should also be fun. If you’re having fun, the audience will have fun too.
- Be concise. As emcee, you’re the face of the event and the main source of information. Attendees will look to you for information about changes to the schedule and to know what to expect. Be concise, accurate and kind when giving that information.
- Focus on the positive and ignore the negative. After every event, I get lots of compliments and words of encouragement. Nevertheless, I would focus on the few negative comments of people who say I wasn’t funny or even that I was terrible. For some reason, they just didn’t like me. This would discourage me. My wife told me to focus on the positive and ignore the negative, and that has made all the difference.
- Smile. It makes a difference when you smile while talking. Your voice sounds different and people recognize and respond positively to the happiness and animation in your voice.
For many, speaking in front of a group is terrifying. For others, it’s something they want to experience and get involved with. The first time is always the most difficult, but if you follow these tips, your experience will be far more pleasing and you won’t get discouraged.