Nov 16, 2008

District 61 Fall conference

As I am writing this, I am lying in bed, my lovely wife asleep by my side, in the lovely Manoir St-Sauveur, at the end of the second evening of the Toastmasters District 61 2008 Fall Conference. I've been to a few conferences and I can safely say that this has been one of the best experiences (if not the best) I've had at Toastmasters.

A few months ago, my friend LouLou called me and told me: "I'm organizing the district conference and I want you to be the master of ceremonies for the banquet. Would you do that?" LouLou is a big fan of mine. When I listen to her talk about me, sometimes I feel like I could walk on water.

I thought about it a bit. I hadn't been to a conference in a long time. Most of the time, when I attended, I did so as a competitor in one of the speech contests. Once, I had chaired a contest. But a banquet? I almost said no, but I decided to accept. She was thrilled! And I told her, "Well, since I'll be there anyway, put me down for a workshop." And so today, I had double duty as workshop leader and as banquet MC.

My workshop went very well, but I'll discuss it in a separate post.

MC'ing the evening's proceedings was even better. Honestly, I wasn't sure about the banquet. I wasn't sure my style of irreverence would go over well. And since I hadn't MC'd a formal banquet before, I wasn't sure how it would come off.

Well, if the standing ovation was any indication, it looks like I did a pretty good job. After the banquet, I received many compliments from people telling me how much they enjoyed themselves.

To me that's what it was all about: giving a bit back to the community and organization that helped me launch my speaking and training career. I'm not sure I took the time to thank them in my closing remarks, because I was too busy trying to get a few jokes in before the curtain went down. If I had to do it over again, I would focus my closing remarks more on expressing the gratitude I felt, rather than trying to be clever.

I've MC'd other events before, and looking back on my past successes, these are some of the things that stand out:
  • Although, as MC, I am the most visible person, I am not the star. The MC's role should be to let the guests shine, by not keeping the spotlight on him/her at all times. Billy Crystal was a great MC, because he took the spotlight only when needed but kept it on the actors, producers, directors most of the time. Other Oscar hosts were not as gracious.
  • The MC must be adaptable. Although you have a script, I have found that things rarely go as planned. This weekend, I had to adapt the ceremony to the meal service and other unexpected events that occurred. If I had decided that we absolutely, positively had to stick to the script, it would have been a disaster. One phrase will stick with me for a long time, I'm sure: remember the member. You don't want to know.
  • Making it personal will make it more memorable. Whenever I can, I try to make things somewhat personal. Last year at a wedding, I asked married members of the audience to share a story that would entertain us, but also would be helpful to the newlyweds as they began their life together. This weekend, the theme was "The Oscars" so I asked all the people I introduced about their favourite movie. In the process, we all learned a few great things about some of the leaders of District 61. It made them shine even more, and I was happy to contribute.
  • Use humour and be yourself: a few years ago, I attended a CAPS conference where the MC was side-splittingly (is that a word?) hilarious. The reason was simple: he was irreverent, he had no idea who were the sacred cows among the speakers, and he acted accordingly. His wit was quick, and anyone who tried to have the last word with him paid the price. He was invited to host the following year also. Boring galas, banquets, and other ceremonies are often caused by hosts who are afraid (or don't know how) to be funny.
Next weekend, I am slated to host a charity evening. I will see if the same rules can apply. It will be a first, once again.

This was a great weekend, I saw some old friends I had not seen in a long time, and it was great to be in such a festive and positive atmosphere.

I thank LouLou for asking me to host the banquet. It was an honour, and a privilege to serve the District. Hopefully, it contributed to making LouLou's conference a great success!


  1. Laurent, your performance as Master of Ceremonies at the banquet was masterful. Difficult to believe it was your first time.

    You kept the agenda rolling, kept the crowd rolling in laughter, and made what can be a tedious event VERY enjoyable.

    Craig Senior

  2. Craig,

    Thank you for the kind comments.