“They say people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of snakes. It doesn’t seem to make sense. I mean, you don’t see someone walking through the desert, suddenly shouting, ‘Watch out! A podium!’” (Anon.)

If people fear public speaking more than death, then MC-ing an event must seem like a particularly horrible death.

Being the ringmaster on stage, and doing it well, is challenging. But the reality is that it’s not as hard as it looks. The toughest things to do are just the sorts of things that people who fear public speaking – who are especially sensitised to their surroundings – are naturally good at. So you have an advantage!

Here are a few tips that I have learned……..

Get to know your speakers

If you are introducing or facilitating people on stage, make sure you have met and talked to every one of them, preferably face to face. Go the extra mile to meet people and research them. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this….and it shows. There’s nowhere to hide from lack of knowledge once you are on stage.

Give the event back to the audience

It’s not your event, or the speakers’ event, or your company’s event. The event belongs to the people in the room who are there to be informed or entertained. Tell them clearly in your introduction that this is their event. Only they can get the best out of it by absorbing, taking notes, asking questions, discussing. Make the success of the event their responsibility – it instantly takes a load off you, and makes them feel empowered.

Interpret the content for them

Make it easy for your audience. Sort out a theme for the event, and a purpose, even if there isn’t one built into the design. You can state the theme in your intro or keep it to yourself. Just be prepared to put each speaker and topic in context for the audience. Guide them along. Highlight the good bits to note down and remember. Weave in the theme. Check in regularly on the purpose of the event – are you nailing it?

Make the most of your stuff-ups.

Mistakes are not a disaster, they’re an opportunity! If you say something wrong or somebody points out you are wrong, embrace it. Best of all, laugh or make a joke of yourself, before moving on. Mistakes show you’re human, humble and no better than the audience. You can skin your knees, get up and keep going with a chuckle. Nobody loves an arrogant host, but everybody loves a human one.

Be a member of the audience.

In everything you do and say on stage, be just like somebody in the audience. You’re their rep – you’ve just stepped up there to help them make sense of what’s going on. Ask their questions, say the funny or difficult things you know they’re thinking, highlight the things they would care about. If you don’t know your audience well, make it your business to do some research beforehand so you can represent them well.

Different rules do apply if you’re hosting an event that is purely designed to entertain. But if you’re hosting an event that’s designed to inform and inspire, no matter what the audience, then humility, humour and empathy are all you need.

Audiences are scary – they like to control their own reactions and impressions. Go figure – they’re human. So give them that control. Work for them, listen to them, give them what they want. Including a bit of love. Easy.

And you’ll never dream about a podium (or an audience) chasing you through the desert ever again……

Gayle Austen is a corporate event host and facilitator, and a communications consultant and coach. She is Principal of Gayle Austen Corporate Communications and Director of Women in Multinationals.