Hosting an event of any size is serious business. Your role matters. Whether it’s a private gathering, a client, or a trusted friend, there are ways to screw it up and there are ways to make it soar. How you show up on the day sets the tone for the proceedings. It influences the impression guests have of the event. It dictates their actions afterward. No pressure.
Oli Barrett MBE knows a thing or two about hosting. As connector, chairman, compere and MC, Barrett is regularly hired to host events from small intimate get-togethers to arena-sized award ceremonies. After his first job at Walt Disney World, Barrett became a Butlins Redcoat, before being quickly promoted to MC. Now he hosts all kinds of live events, podcasts, and virtual gatherings, and has created courses to help others follow his methods. Barrett’s favorite quote? “Life is a search for people”, by Theodore Zeldin.
I asked Barrett his five steps to being a great host, no matter the event.
1. Understand the purpose of the event
Context is key and events have agendas. The agenda has a reason, so find out. Barrett recommended that this question be asked of yourself and the event organizers: “Besides the event being excellent, what do we want the guests to feel, say, and do when the event is over?” This helps to, “in the Why of the meeting.” Why it really matters. What it’s really about.
Without a why, the procedure will miss direction. It will be more difficult to find the common thread and more difficult to close with a bow. “Discover the purpose from the organizer’s and audience’s perspective,” said Barrett. “Because they might be different.” Anyway, knowing the Why means you know it has been achieved, when your actions during the event made it so.
2. Make guests feel comfortable
The more comfortable the guests, the better the experience. The more relaxed they are, the harder they laugh at jokes, the more they contribute authentically, and the less they overthink or hide behind a false persona. Barrett knows that as a host you may not have absolute power, but “you will almost always have the ability and potential to make an impact.” Take this influence seriously. “Move the mood around the room where necessary,” he said. You can reframe a point, redirect the conversation, or just add a few lines to get everyone back on the same page.
To do this, Barrett said, “listen, listen, listen.” Not only does this mean knowing where to intervene and what to say to productively move the event forward, but it can also lead to “the best insights of the day arising from a spontaneous follow-up question rather than something you prepared in advance. .” Make maximum effort to look effortless.
3. Do your research
If it’s your event, study the guest list. Take the guests one at a time and write down who they are and what they think is important. If it’s not your event, “ask for the list (without email addresses) so you know who’s in the room.” Barrett says this step is crucial. “Deep and thorough background reading helps you build great conversations and rapport on the day.”
Don’t just stop there. Dive deep into guests to build your knowledge base to ask them relevant questions and leverage their strengths. “Check out their Twitter, LinkedIn and especially YouTube. Use Google searches to find new stories and insights.” Understand who they are and what they’re about so you can give them the chance to shine.
4. Treat everyone like a VVIP
When they’re at the event, they matter. Barrett advised you, “treat everyone (especially the crew) like a VVIP.” Don’t ignore anyone. Every person who crosses your path is on your team to make this opportunity great, so act accordingly. Get different perspectives, including asking to “see the event room as soon as possible” and view the stage “from the furthest back seat so you know how to connect with the whole room.”
Don’t stop there. Barrett wants you to, “Meet Mr. Grumpy.” Find the grumpiest person in the room and talk to them. Use your background research to get on their level and put them at ease. “They always turn out beautiful,” he said. “This will reassure you about any negative energy in the room” so you can get on with your role.
5. Bring your best self
While taking care of everyone, don’t neglect number one. Barrett knows a few tactics you can try that work for him. “Consider a new pair of shoes or a new shirt to feel good on the day,” he said, before warning, “If you’re wearing new shoes, consider wearing two pairs of socks!” The more comfortable, relaxed and confident you feel, the more this leads to quick thinking and sharp insights.
“Practice whenever you can,” is Barrett’s next piece of advice. “Create your own gathering and throw yourself into a host role.” Consider investing in professional help, by “getting a speaking coach or working with an agency.” Finally, ask for feedback and ask three times. “This allows you to move past the intricacies and move on to what you really need to know to improve.” Then use what you learn to level up for next time.
Know what you’re doing and why it’s important before you put each guest at ease. Prepare ahead of time by watching them and treat everyone like they are important. Finally, lay the groundwork with your practice and invest in your appearance, comfort and professional skills. Five steps to hosting a brilliant event that guests will enjoy for years to come.