Three Essential Qualities of a Master of Ceremonies
A good Master of Ceremonies cultivates three important qualities: self-confidence, preparedness, and ability to roll with the punches.
You need self-confidence because you will not be able to rehearse every word you say. Much of a Master of Ceremonies’ role is announcing and introducing people who will say a great deal more than you do. Your job is to exude enthusiasm without wasting too many words over it-and to sound friendly while stating in no uncertain terms that people need to get themselves settled down for dinner service!
This is vital for two reasons. First, about half of your job is announcing and introducing people. Some of these people will be relatives whose names you know. However, others will be friends of the happy couple. Friends tend to have names like “Roderigo Hassenpfusser-Vitalis”… except when they are named Cindy and look exactly like your college friend Mandy. The potential for offense and confusion is high: make a point of getting all names well in advance and practicing any difficult pronunciations. (And remember that a name can be easy to spell but difficult to pronounce. My husband’s very simple name sometimes leaves people spluttering because it has so many “F” sounds.)
Obvious but essential, because a Master of Ceremonies usually uses a microphone. Make sure you know, before you start talking into a microphone, how it works! In addition, make especially sure that it has set the way you want it.
Ability to roll with the punches is critical because, no matter how carefully you plan with the happy couple (and we will get to what you need to plan in a minute); there will be elements of the reception that do not go as planned. The bride’s favorite aunt will decide that she absolutely must do a toast… the cake cutting will be delayed until after the first dance… no one will laugh at your favorite “garter” joke… You need to be prepared to make a quick recovery and move ahead.
Usually, the Master of Ceremonies takes charge of making the reception run smoothly. You should sit down with the happy couple and find out what events they want you to announce. Every wedding is slightly different. However, the typical announcements, in order, are:
- Entrance of the parents, wedding party, and happy couple, early in the reception.
- The “official” dances: bride and groom, bride with her father, groom with his mother, wedding party as a group.
- The switch to “open” dancing for everyone-and any other special dances.
- The switch from cocktail hour to dinner service, if guests don’t get the hint.
- The toasts: The first toast is given by the best man. After that, anyone can toast, but the happy couple often has a specific order of planned toasts in mind.
- The cutting of the wedding cake.
- The bouquet toss and garter toss, or any substitutions for these, such as a dance that ends with giving the bouquet to the longest-married couple.
- The departure of the happy couple for their honeymoon.
None of these events is etched in stone as “must haves”, and the order can certainly be rearranged. It is very common, for instance, to omit the grand introduction (which was never standard etiquette) and put the various dances after dinner. Use the list as a starting point for helping the happy couple define your job.
What To Know
For each item, you need to make sure you have the following facts – take notes during your talk!
- The names, with correct pronunciation, in correct order, of everyone who will be participating. For the grand introduction, it is especially important that you know how the happy couple prefers to be introduced! Are they “Mr. and Mrs. John Astor”, “John Astor and Mary Kramer-Astor”, “John Astor and Mary Kramer” or what? Do not assume-be sure to ask! It is also important that you know the correct name and order for any scheduled toasts. Do not settle for “and next, the maid of honor”; write her name down again so you cannot possibly lose it.
- How will you know when it is time for you to talk? Will there be a musical cue? Will you see people lining up? Will the bride’s mother punch you in the arm? Should you use your own judgment?
- Do you have to warn anyone else to do something before you start talking? If you are about to announce a champagne toast, are you responsible for telling the servers to start pouring? If you are about to announce a dance, are you responsible for making sure that the DJ or bandleader is ready to play the right song?
- Is there anything that you positively must not do or say? Is there any special touch you must be sure to include?
Also, make sure that you know the name of the DJ or bandleader. This person will be very important to your happiness, as you have to coordinate your announcements with his music- and he may be the person who owns the microphone.
Write your notes on cards small enough to stuff in a pocket, and label them clearly, so you do not fumble with them. No one expects you to memorize the names of a 16-person wedding party (although it would be nice if you did)-you’re just responsible for seeing that your notes are not awkward or obtrusive.
You are not, ordinarily, required to dress like a member of the wedding party-although the happy couple may suggest that you wear a tuxedo if you own one. Dress formally and conservatively. This is not a good occasion for ties that are “conversation pieces”; in fact, a good Master of Ceremonies generally avoids making himself the center of attention. Sound odd, since you are up there making announcements and expecting everyone to listen to you?
It’s Not About You
The content of your announcements should not focus on your feelings about the wedding or your reactions-keep the focus on the people and events you are announcing. The touches that show you know the happy couple should be small remarks, made in passing, rather than long stories that might distract from the formal toasts.
Keeping It Simple
Finally, avoid turning the event into a roast. Humor is always risky, and roasting humor is particularly risky. On a wedding day, everyone is over-excited and over-sensitized. Keep your remarks simple, sincere, and to the point, and you will be an outstanding Master of Ceremonies.