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Careers Clinic: How do I host an awards ceremony?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’ve been asked to host a theatrical industry awards ceremony. I’m not quite sure why they chose me over other more seasoned hosts but that doesn’t mean I’m turning it down. In fairness, the ceremony is in a theatre not a TV studio and not quite on the scale of the Oscars or the BAFTAs, but it’s still a very nice thing to be asked to do.

Many of the guests and nominees are people I personally admire, so I want to do a good job (and of course it will help my own profile if I do). I’ve been trawling around YouTube to find examples of good hosts in action, but in many cases the hosts themselves are living legends so the audience is onside from the beginning.

Possibly even more off-putting has been watching quite a few experienced comics who are normally good at getting laughs having some serious ‘tumbleweed’ moments while trying to make these kind of events work. I don’t even have the comedy background to begin with, so what are your tips for making this awards night memorable for all the right reasons?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Congratulations on being asked to host the event. You are right: it’s not the Oscars or the BAFTAs. I’m not saying that to rain on your parade but to point out that events require varying hosting styles, depending on theme, size of venue, the programme for the evening and the primary medium they are aimed at.

Increasingly, many ‘live’ events are actually mounted for the benefit of TV cameras. As anybody who has had to sit through one of them as an audience member will confirm, the slick, edited version that finally gets broadcast is usually a million miles away from the stop/start tedium of the event itself.

Just as TV talent shows can give an entirely false impression of what an actual audition is like, inexperienced presenters often attempt to host live events in the same style they have seen on the TV screen and it doesn’t always work. I’m not saying you can’t learn anything from watching experienced telly presenters but since you have been asked to host a live event, you will learn far more from watching good hosts in that environment.

A good live host can be anybody from a comedian on the corporate circuit to your local vicar, imam or headteacher – basically anybody who knows how to ‘work a crowd’.

The first step in taking control of the audience is to realise that control can’t be taken – it can only be given. Just as we tend to relax in a plane simply because the pilot sounds like they know what they are doing during the flight announcement, if you look and sound like you are in charge from the beginning of the event, the audience is more likely to let you take charge for the evening.

Preparation is the key. Learn as much as you can in advance about the history of the event, the nominees and the award presenters. You may never use half of your research but having it in your head will help with achieving that sense of being in charge. Know the running order backwards – not because it will go according to plan (awards ceremonies almost never do) but so you have thought through your ‘plan B’ if scheduled events run over or under time or don’t happen at all.

Lastly, don’t feel pressure to be a comedian if you aren’t – hosting an event means your main role is to move it along smoothly. Make it about the people receiving awards, not about you. As your internet research has already demonstrated, that’s not bad advice even if you are a comedian. I wish you and your audience a very successful evening.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne