In the 14th Episode of Oh-Ah-Ha Live, we’re very excited to have a kōrero with Michele A’Court; after dinner speaker, event MC and event Host. If you know Michele, you know that she’s a blast! 

Here’s a question that requires an honest answer. 

If we would put Michele A’Court and Jackie Clarke in one room; would you be able to tell them apart? 

Turns out a ton of people can’t. 

The ultimate trick to get the correct answer is easy enough. Just make them both sing. 

Apparently one of them can’t. 

You probably think this is some silly dad (mum?) joke I came up with, but I’m damn serious. 

According to Michele, she and Jackie often find themselves together at multi-day events and she has been asked to get on stage and start singing well over a dozen of times. 

I know…!!!

Here’s what Michele has to say about it:

‘I have many talents as an event MC, but singing isn’t one of them. Neither is knitting or talking about money.’

Which made me consider what DOES go into the role of a corporate event MC?

The role of a Master of Ceremonies according to Michele A’Court

For Michele, a big part of her role is to create a ‘We’, rather than an “I” and a “You’ during an event. 

For a few days, the audience, the speakers and the event organisers share the same goal: have an outstanding and frictionless gig. It’s the MC’s role to get them in that mindset. 

As far as the audience is concerned, one of the key talents she uses is to quickly gauge the audience at any given time. It’s a skill she also uses as a stand-up comedian.

Events are often fast-paced and there can be a big change in mood between one speaker to the next. As a result, she soothes the audience one minute (they may have just overheard a very upsetting story), calms them down (after a very high energy round) the next. 

But it’s also her role to look after the speakers. The several ways she does that are rather impressive. 

To transition speakers, she looks for a narrative to flow from one topic to the next. Sometimes she finds a blatant truth in something and reflects that back to the audience. She puts forward the questions she senses may live with more junior conference attendees, but are too embarrassed to ask. 

She channels her inner school mum when speakers go over time, fills in time when a speaker is late. 

The list goes on.

The common denominator is that all of this requires for her to have the finger firmly on the pulse. 

To Prep in Order to Sparkle as a Master of Ceremonies

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that to be so attentive to her environment, a multi-day event easily eats up a few days of prep. Nothing about the way Michele approaches her role as an event MC is a fluke. 

‘I over-prep my spontaneity’

What Michele means is that before the event, she emerges herself in the industry (It’s one of the things she loves about the work. ‘I could be a marine biologist by the time the event finishes.’) 

She researches her audience: gender, culture, language, age, role within the sector. 

She makes sure she pronounces people’s names correctly and collates speaker’s bio. 

When prompted, Michele admits to one of her pet peeves: pdf files. Or worse, several of them sent on the day before the event. For Michele, it’s Word documents all the way, because it means she can organise easily. 

Contrary to what you may believe, Michele doesn’t have a bank of funny stories in her head.

And in case you are wondering about pulling from her stand-up comedy jokes (Surely they would go some way?) They would be totally, TOTALLY inappropriate.

It’s all about the Money.., or maybe it isn’t?

Michele loves her work as an event MC because it so different from a lot of the solo work she does. 

‘I would do it for a bag of chips and a diet coke if I’m not careful’

But that might say just as much about Michele’s dislike for dealing with money. A lot of the work comes in through an agency, but sometimes people contact her via her own website

‘If that happens, I will check my availability and how keen I am to take on the work, but the money side of things is dealt with by my manager. Aside from the fact that I am simply not good at the financial negotiation, it’s also simply good business practice to remove myself from that. After all, when I am going to be the one to string the conference together, I need to be on everybody’s good side. It’s important I stay clear of negotiations that may be a bit tricky to navigate.’ 

Michele’s Oh-Ah-Ha Moment as an Event Host

I usually ask my guest about their Ah-Ha moment. This time I didn’t need to. Michele volunteered her personal epiphany without me even asking for it. 

‘Being an MC is such a bloody great job, and we’re so lucky to be in New Zealand. I intend on forever being grateful when I am in a room with wonderful human beings for the rest of my life. Call it my mindfulness goal that was born out of COVID times.’ 

As an after-dinner speaker, event host and conference MC, Michele’s hundreds of corporate clients over the past 20 years include financial advisors, health care workers, classical musicians, IT specialists, plumbers, insurance specialists, bankers, builders, lawyers, electrical workers, travel industry professionals and scientists.

Michele first came to NZ’s attention 30 years ago as the award-winning host of What Now, the children’s TV show which aired live for two hours each week, and The Video Dispatch, a current affairs programme aimed at youth but, according to legend, was the “must-see TV show” for NZ’s politicians who were looking for a weekly, easy-to-understand explanation of the big news stories.