Being a Productive Ringmaster

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For the past 10 years I have had the honor and privilege of being asked to act as the master of ceremonies for my children's school's annual PTO charity auction.  This is the biggest fund raising event of the year for the PTO and it takes the combined effort of a large team of people to pull it together and execute each time.  I've always said I have the easiest job of the auction:  show up, do my thing for five hours, and then go home.  Well, maybe I'm understating it a little bit.  Here's some of the things I do to make the evening as successful as I can and I hope they can help you in your next "ringmaster" role.

Bob Jagendorf / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Many little steps

One of the first things I do is get a hold of the schedule for the evening as soon as possible.  Published time schedules are targeted for the audience so for my purposes I need to provide some more detail to keep things on track.  Here's an example:

7:00 Silent Auction
7:30 Very Special Verbal Auction

Now what you see as a simple sequence of events, something that should naturally run smoothly by the nature of it's simplicity, translates into a different reality:

6:58 Reminder about the Very Special Verbal (VSV) auction after the Silent Auction
7:00 Dismiss for Silent Auction
7:20 Announcement about VSV beginning in 10 minutes
7:25 Announcement about VSV beginning in 5 minutes (strongly encourage people to sit)
7:28 Another announcement
7:29 Another announcement
7:30 Final announcement

When running an event like this, over communication is key to keeping things on schedule.  These are social events; people love to visit and talk; and getting them back on track is similar to the effort needed with their children in many cases.  A MC needs to watch the clock and know what the ripple effect of delays will cause and how to compensate for those delays.

The contortionist

George Eastman House / Foter / No known copyright restrictions Things change.  That is the rule of life and certainly the rule of large social events.  No matter how tight of a rein you keep on activities, things will crop up requiring you to think on your feet.  There are some tricks you can use to handle changes without disrupting the entire event:

  1. Consolidate announcements into groups rather than handling each one as a one-off as it comes in.
  2. If you have to change the schedule, do it in a way that will require the least communication possible.
  3. NEVER ask your audience if they would prefer one option over another.  You are just setting yourself up to have a group not happy with you no matter what you do.
  4. ALWAYS have one point of contact supplying you with changes to the schedule or event.  The last thing you need is multiple people telling you conflicting changes.

The clown

It is easy to fall into the stress of the evening, especially if the train looks to be headed off the rails. At that point, and earlier to be honest, it is key for the ringmaster to remember and remind everyone about the purpose of the event and their attendance.  Take their minds off their concerns and help them enjoy the show.  Don't feel the need to break into your untested monologue or use this as your chance to break into stand-up.  A funny anecdote, a shared story, or even a heartwarming tale related to the event can be enough to get things back in order.

The role of the ringmaster is not to be the center of attention.  The job is simple.  Keep the audience engaged and excited, keep the performers on schedule, and keep the lions from eating anyone.  :)