"HARNESS" column - October 2005

Ten Tips for Contest MCs

The leather and bear communities seem to have a love affair with contests. Mr Grizzly Bear, Mr Leather Cowboy, International Flogging Top ... I've even met Mr Leather Coffeemaker on my travels! With all these titles being awarded it won't be long before someone you know is asked to host a contest. I've already written a column on tips for addressing crowds but here is some specific advice on being a contest Master of Ceremonies (MC):

  1. Look like you're having fun.
    Usually the organisers have asked someone to be the MC because they have an engaging personality. Anyone can read out a list of contestants' names but a good MC will be able to do it in a way that is entertaining and audible to the back of the crowd. Ways to fake your enjoyment include smiling whenever is appropriate, lots of eye contact with the audience, and being thoroughly prepared. If that fails, think of the person you most admire for their charisma onstage and spend the evening pretending to be them!

  2. You have three main priorities as the MC: put the contestants at ease; make sure that the judges can see and hear what's going on; and entertain the crowd.
    To achieve those ends you may need to ask contestants to repeat something they've said, spend more time onstage until the judges have finished scoring, or ask a heckler to stop calling out. If you can remember your three main priorities you'll have the confidence to make the right decisions throughout the event.

  3. Before the contest ask for the judges' biographies or put their names into a search engine (such as Google) and learn three facts about each of them.
    That way you won't be stuck for something to say when you're introducing them to the audience.

  4. Try to spend time with each of the contestants at a "meet and greet" (if there is one) or before the contest begins.
    Make sure you know how to pronounce their names and spend a few minutes chatting to them individually. That will help you to learn which one is which so you don't get them mixed up during the contest. It also helps if you can tease at least one funny anecdote out of every contestant, (for example: "what's your most embarrassing or outrageous sexual experience?"), so that you know you always have a reserve question and answer if the contestant dries up on stage.

  5. Ask the organisers to prepare a list of sponsors and other people who need to be thanked publicly.
    The list should be on one piece of paper and easy to read. Ask the organisers to appoint someone responsible for adding any extra names that are suggested. You don't want the responsibility of deciding who should and shouldn't be thanked, nor should you have to juggle lots of different pieces of paper when you're reading the names out.

  6. Clipboard or podium?
    As a general rule, if the organisers have written a script for you that's more than a few pages long, ask if you can read it from a podium with a fixed microphone. (You won't be able to turn pages if you're carrying the script in one hand and holding a microphone in the other.) However, if you can summarise the script on one piece of paper per segment of the show, ask if you can use a clipboard and handheld microphone. It's more interesting for the audience to see you moving around the stage, and it gives you more control over the proceedings if you're able to physically guide contestants when necessary.

  7. Have some "stand alone" jokes or comic material prepared that will fit in anywhere during the show when you need to fill time.
    If you know you're going to be a contest MC start filling a notebook with jokes that make you laugh. Be on the lookout for short punchlines that you can use as quick retorts onstage, or longer jokes that can start a segment of the show. If you need more material search the web for jokes. Wherever possible rewrite the plot of the joke to make it more relevant to your audience.

  8. Try not to drink any alcohol until your contest duties are over.
    You need to be more sober than the audience to stay one step ahead of them.

  9. Don't do anything to compromise your position as an impartial MC.
    That includes hanging out with any of the contestants socially, showing any bias in your presentation onstage, or having sex with any of the contestants between them entering the contest and the end of the event. In my experience it takes more courage to be a contestant than to be an MC, so don't just be impartial towards the contestants - be KIND to them as well.

  10. If there are moments during the contest when you're not required to be onstage use the time to get feedback from the organisers.
    Are you going too fast or slow? Are they happy with the way things are going? Are there any announcements they'd like you to make? (Make sure all announcements are put in writing.) Once that's done turn over the next few pages of script and revise the next segment of the show.

Good luck with the event!

Best wishes,

John Pendal
International Mr Leather 2003

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