Being a professional conference Master of Ceremonies I want to share my personal check list. Useful for event hosts and event organizers to make sure all the bases are covered.

Justin Halsall
Dec 8, 2017 · 6 min read
Picture © Hannie Verhoeven @ Beyond Banking Hackathon Amsterdam

By Justin Halsall, Developer Advocate at IBM in NYC.
Booking requests @ TheNextSpeaker

I have been an emcee/host/moderator for tech events for over 10 years. Ranging from moderating talks in intimate settings to hosting multi-day and multi-track conferences with tens-of-thousands of attendees. Being a full-stack developer by trade I specialize in tech events, with a special soft spot for hack-battles and startup pitches.

I love being an MC, it’s a lot of fun. I always enjoy getting the crowd hyped up for the next speaker and making sure no one knows what chaos might be happening behind the scenes. As an MC you are the face of the event, and so it’s important that your preparation includes communicating thoroughly with the event organizers to be able to do a good job. Below is the checklist that I review with each conference I work at to make sure all my bases are covered.

Example of the Genesis Conference I did recently in Moscow

Feel free to use this checklist next time you get asked to host a conference.

Conference MC Checklist

Planning

  • Do you have a timetable of the day including announcements you would like me to make and when?

I really appreciate when conferences use one master google doc or spreadsheet that includes everything. That way if someone changes something in the schedule and forgets to tell the MC it will get noticed.

  • What other general announcements do you want me to make throughout the day?

Think things such as: hashtag, wifi password, afterparty location, coat check, etc.

  • Is there anything off schedule you would like me to do (interviews, videos for social media, etc.)

Any off-schedule interviews etc. must fit in the timeframe available given the MCs scheduled stage time. Some conference organizers can be a little over-optimistic, so it’s good to know what else is being required in advance.

  • Would you like me to call anyone up on stage (the organizers, volunteers etc) at the end of the day to thank them for their hard work?

Some conferences like getting people that organized and volunteered for the event up on stage as a thank you for the hard work they did.

  • Is there a speaker’s dinner or similar event? And what is the time and location of these events?

If there is a dinner or drinks with the speakers I always make sure I represent the conference well and don’t go for the free bar. Often the speaker’s dinner is a good opportunity to get to know the speakers.

Content

  • Is there a specific introduction or talk you would like me to give at the beginning of the day? (For example: what is the theme and what you would like attendees to achieve?)

Often I open the day with a 10–15 minute talk relating to the theme of the conference.

  • Do you have a list of sponsors/partners I should thank?

Making sure the partners and sponsors get enough recognition is very important and keeps conferences a success. I need to do my part to make sure that doesn’t get overlooked

  • With regards to questions and answers (with the audience) what format did you have in mind?

Some conferences use microphone cubes that the MC throws into the room, some conferences don’t do Q/A and others have “runners” that run around with microphones and some conferences have static mic stands of which the audience should be notified. I also make sure to have a few questions prepared in case it takes the audience a while to ask their question.

  • Can you introduce me to the speakers via email as soon as possible before the event? I would like to ask them some questions about their talk to make sure I can best prepare for Q&A.

I like getting some background from the speakers so I can do a great job at introducing them.

  • Are there any panels you want me to moderate? If so, do you have a list of questions or topics you would like me to ask about?

Often the organizers have talked extensively about what topics they would like their panels to be about while they decided what talks they wanted at the conference. It’s often very valuable to get that insight.

Tech

  • Will I be using a handheld or a headset microphone?

Handhelds generally have better sound, but as an MC it’s nice to have your hands free so you can shake hands, give out prizes etc. Lapel mics are generally terrible.

  • Will the event be photographed or filmed? And will you give me access and permission to utilize the materials that feature me at the end of the conference?

I like to document some of the things I do at the conference and it’s always nice to make sure I receive whatever documentation possible, it allows me to learn from myself or just to do a bit of cross promotion for myself and the conference.

  • Is there a countdown clock available that is visible to both the MC and the speaker?

This is particularly important if I’m managing the time speakers still have on stage.

Operations

  • Will I be managing the time speakers have left on stage?

I prefer when someone else is managing the time speakers have on stage. I can focus more on the talks, asking the right questions, preparing for the next talk, and being witty. However I don’t mind doing it, especially for smaller conferences. It’s always good to have conferences that run perfectly on time, both for the speakers and the visitors.

  • Is there a chair close to the stage available to the MC so they can quickly jump on and off whenever needed?

Nothing worse than a talk ending abruptly early and the MC taking a very long time to walk back on to the stage.

  • Will food and drinks be provided for the MC?

This is an important one, MCing takes energy, especially doing it multiple days in a row. And as the MC people tend to be very happy to chat with you when you get off stage. Which can make it very hard for you to get to/from lunch in a timely manner, especially at bigger conferences. Having someone from the conference organization bring you food and drinks after you get off the stage is sometimes the only way to get enough sustenance to keep doing your job well.

  • What designated time slot is there for me to have lunch?

Some multi track conferences don’t have an official lunch break to relieve the catering from being swamped at a certain moment. Knowing that there won’t be any time to have lunch means that I’ll be packing lots small food items (eg. bananas & protein bars) to constantly keep energy levels up.

  • What type of dress would be appropriate for the MC of your conference? Casual t-shirt & jeans, shirt & jeans, jacket & jeans or more formal, eg. suit.

Conferences know their audience best, and I’m flexible when it comes to attire.

  • Who will be my single point of contact during the event?

I prefer to work with one point of contact during the event (often a stage manager) so that I don’t have to spend time figuring out what I should do if multiple people come to me with conflicting information, which happens often if there isn’t one specific stage manager. It would also help if this person is in touch with the speaker’s team to make sure the next speaker is lined up and ready to go when I get on stage to announce them.

Hosting the TNW Europe 2017 Pitch Tower

Thank you for reading Justin Halsall’s Conference MC checklist. This is the result of 100+ events in 10+ countries. And will evolve over time. Feel free to reach out to me and book me as your (co-)host.

NYC⚡️DEV

NYC Developer Community

Justin Halsall

Written by

MC, Public Speaker and Full Stack Web Developer. Developer Advocate at @IBMCloud. Co-founder of @AMSxTech

NYC⚡️DEV

NYC Developer Community

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