Emcee Scott Williams has just walked onstage at the Ultradata conference for the 15th year running. He explains why a good MC is imperative to a successful meeting.
Why do you think Ultradata has had you as the MC for their annual meeting for 15 years running?
If your job as facilitator is done properly then a certain comfort and security is built up with the client. This familiarity means that when you are locked in for an event it’s a whole area of the conference they know they don’t have to worry about. You also build on the relationships you make with delegates. There is an anticipation that builds in the mind of the attendee when they see your name once again included in the program.
A good emcee is as important as the speaker lineup for an event. When there is a strong rapport between delegates and emcee, the emcee has far greater control over the group. They will listen when they need to and can be guided through the program. There is a trust that develops. The end result of this trust is an event outcome that benefits everyone – the client, delegates and conference organisers!
When it all comes together and works, it’s natural for the client to say let’s do it again next year, which often happens. Fifteen years with Ultradata is definitely a milestone for myself and Carson White from ICMI who handles that event. It’s something we are both very proud of.
Where is their conference being held this year and when?
The Gold Coast has always been the favourite destination of Ultradata, and in particular the InterContinental Sanctuary Cove. It’s a great location and the Gold Coast of course has all sorts of highlights to offer visiting delegates.
When did you start as an MC? Do you remember your first gig?
To be honest I cannot remember my first MC gig as it was so long ago. But I was enjoying success as a corporate comedian at the time and at some point one of my clients suggested I anchor an event for them. I went from doing 45 minutes of stand up to multiday facilitation. It’s much longer hours but there is a great reward in coming into a new conference group as an ‘unknown’ and leaving a few days later as ‘family’.
The connection I make with a group is what feeds the return business year after year. Ultradata is a good example. 15 years. I can’t believe it. Of course one of the secrets of an engaging emcee is that you’ve got to like people. For me that’s easy because I really do like people.
How many conferences or events do you MC on average a year?
Post GFC the market shrunk significantly for all players in the conference industry but it’s fighting its way back. I’m probably averaging about 50 events a year, which is about half of the heady pre GFC days – but I probably couldn’t keep up the pace I did then anyway. I think today is a better balance of work and play, which is a good thing.
What is one of the most memorable ones and why?
A conference I emceed in Venice a couple of years ago. The event was held at the Westin Hotel right on the Grand Canal. Waking up that first morning and looking out our window at the gondolas bobbing up and down in the water is something Angie and I will never forget. The conference organiser Mike Tuzee also managed to have the magnificent Venice Duomo open to the delegates for a private tour. To experience that magnificent church without having to jostle with the normally huge crowds of tourist was outstanding. I felt very blessed to be a part of such an extraordinary event.
Where has working as an MC taken you in the world?
There are just so many places it’s hard to pick a favourite. I have been lucky enough to host events in many wonderful parts of the world: London, Mauritius, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Venice, Copenhagen, Shanghai, Boston, LA, Queenstown, Honolulu just to name a few. It’s too hard to pick a favourite.
But I do have favourite events each year. 2015’s favourite was hosting an event for five days at the Pera Palace in Istanbul just a few months ago. The hotel is over 120 years old and was a favourite destination for people like Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. They would catch the Orient Express to Istanbul and stay at the Pera Palace. The hotel also has Europe’s second oldest electric elevator (the oldest being in the Eiffel Tower in Paris).
My wife and I were lucky enough to stay in the Hemingway Suite at the hotel and often used this historic lift to get to our room. It was a once in a lifetime conference event. (Thanks to Mathew Lazarow and his team at Amaco Travel.) When those types of events come up I try never to say no. It’s what memories are made of for my wife Angie and I.
As a frequent traveller what do you like about travel and what don’t you like?
Good question. I like the anticipation of heading to a new location, whether local or international. And I love returning to places I have discovered and enjoyed with Angie so we can share the experience of that location together. Travelling is an education and something everyone should try to undertake.
The world is waiting for you and it’s cheaper than ever to jump on a plane or a ship. Traveling broadens your horizon and opens your mind. Like most people, I don’t like immigration queues that take almost as much time to get through as the flight itself! But in the end the long lines and flight delays are soon forgotten when you’re looking at Diamond Head at sunset or standing in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. It really is a small world after all.
How does an MC enhance a conference?
When it comes to emceeing it’s important to remember it’s not about platforming yourself or grandstanding for the sake of it. It’s not about you, it’s about the event. Your role as emcee at an event revolves around what I call the 3 T’s. Keep it On Time, on Track and on Target. You work to lift the group and re-energise them when needed or reign in a speaker when they are going overtime.
All too often without a professional emcee guiding and guarding the event that timing can spiral out of control and this has a knock on effect with all the other parts of an event that organisers have put a great deal of thought and preparation into. Timing is everything, both in comedy and in conferencing. I’ve given five minute wrap up warnings to everyone from Prime Ministers to Olympians. And most of them understand the importance of timing.
What’s the secret to hiring a good MC?
Pick someone who really is proficient in the art of emceeing. Their role should be seamless. You also need to understand various elements of a conference or event. The sound, the lighting, the presentations, the breaks – you need to have your head around the entire event, not just when you’re on stage. We have a trend today of every man and his dog taking on the role of emcee.
Just because someone may be a speaker or celebrity does not make them suitable to emcee an event any more than thinking someone from the company’s marketing department can do it. It is a highly specialised field if it is to be done properly. Not everyone can emcee, and thinking an emcee simply acts as a link between the last speaker and the next is to greatly underestimate the importance of this role in the overall success of an event!