Monthly Myth Emcees and Facilitators - Same or Different?

Sometimes, as facilitators, we find ourselves in awe of a skilled Master of Ceremonies (emcee).  Some emcees can really bring an event to life, confidently engaging the audience and seamlessly pull an occasion together with effortless flow and poise.  Where appropriate, the best MC’s will also inject humour and entertainment and make an event ‘sparkle’.

The reason we’re so impressed is that this isn’t our core skill set! Contrary to popular belief, these two roles aren't interchangeable.  To address this month's myth, we interviewed a professional emcee and professional facilitator, gaining first hand insights into these two unique worlds. 

In reality: 

While there's certainly some crossover – for example, we both help to support the sequence of an event and engage with a group of people – the purpose of our role and principles of our work are different.  To explain the difference, we interviewed one of the best emcees there is and one of our own specialised MosaicLab facilitators. 


What is an emcee?

Brett de Hoedt  is the founder and (self proclaimed) Mayor of Hootville Communications and a highly sought-after MC.  Brett provided a generous, interesting, candid and entertaining insight into the unique role and skill set of an MC:

I place an extreme value on being interesting, engaging and energetic. I am serious about my job, and my job is to ensure people have a good time and get value from their time.
— Brett de Hoedt, Hootville Communications


“I am showbiz.  That’s my culture, that’s my tribe.  I hate being in the audience because I like the limelight.  I place an extreme value on being interesting, engaging and energetic. I am serious about my job, and my job is to ensure people have a good time and get value from their time.

For me, the audience is my top priority - even above my client.  My role is to make them feel like they are somewhere special. 

My radio days mean I dislike dead air. I fear being boring and sticking to convention.  None of these things are my cup of tea.  Some events I address topics that are very dry.  If I don’t inject some humour, irony or added interest no one will.  

I like to make people laugh – it’s a key component of my role though I am not a comedian.  If you’re funny, people warm to you play along with you– it’s better than being good looking! If you’re smart too, you get double points. If you display understanding of their sector your points are tripled.

There is a ‘serious’ side to my job - I liaise with event organisers regarding the structure of the event where needed and prepare for the day.  

I draw from my time as a journalist to ask hard questions of the speakers, comparing and contrasting points of view particularly during panel and Q&A sessions.

I emcee events devoted to disability employment, dementia, rail freight, waste water treatment, emergency management – serious stuff. I do need to be reasonably clued into the issues, the topic, what the audience is feeling, the discussion around the event and so on.  I need to understand the audience in order to connect with them. If I’m going to be funny and engaging, I need to make sure I am reflecting what is happening around this topic and connect it to the audience’s world. 

I consume an enormous amount of news and current affairs which comes in very handy. Also - I have emceed some conferences for more than a decade running in which time you get to understand their issues.

Confidence is key.  Fake it if you don’t feel it. Self-deprecation is appropriate when used humorously.  People want to see that the MC is in command – then they can relax and enjoy the experience.  The audience doesn’t want to be ‘cringing’ – I’d rather they disliked me or felt my approach was too irreverent rather than felt sorry for me.

I do ‘garden variety’ facilitation where I support a conversation such as a panel session.  However, I couldn’t do what I see as ‘real’ facilitation where the focus is in depth conversations and refined outputs – I have no decision making procedures in my toolkit! I am however, a good extractor of people’s contributions and am experienced in gathering and summarising information.

I don’t consider myself ‘professional’ in the classic sense of the word.  Ultimately, my approach is to walk in as late as possible and then show off and get hired again because the client is delighted. 

The emcee’s role is often undervalued by organisers.  I’m not here to do ‘housekeeping’ (I’ve never seen anyone go to the toilet where they shouldn’t), keep the event to time (that’s what an event robot is for) or read a script (people can read that themselves).  I think it shows a lack of respect for the audience for me to simply read what they can read and tell them where the bathroom is. 

I’m there to breathe life into an event, add value – and hopefully look smart and funny while doing it."


What is a facilitator?

“Facilitators are called upon to fill an impartial role in helping groups become more effective. We act as process guides to create a balance between participation and results.”  This is the opening statement of the International Association of Facilitation’s Statement of Values & Code of Ethics, which outlines key principles of facilitation. 

One of the key features of a good facilitator is their focus on supporting the conversations, deliberations and work of a group in order to produce meaningful outcomes.   A facilitator’s role isn’t built around entertaining an audience, introducing speakers or supporting an event that is built primarily around the provision of information.  Instead, facilitators are the glue that enables a collaborative process to take place.  

Facilitation is a specific skill, and some people make it look easy.  However, it requires lots of practice and training.   MosaicLab co-founder Nicole Hunter is an experienced facilitator that has specialised in the field for more than 25 years.    Nicole provided some reflections on what makes a facilitator different:   

We’re not the star of the show.  In fact, quite the opposite – we want to be unseen – we want the participants to say ‘we did this ourselves’. 
— Nicole Hunter, MosaicLab


“We’re not the star of the show.  In fact, quite the opposite – we want to be unseen – we want the participants to say ‘we did this ourselves’.   For us, the key players are the participants and our job is to facilitate a dialogue that helps the group to collaboratively consider the issue at hand, weigh up all the pros and cons and come to collective agreement. 

We promote informed engagement, and we advocate for every group having access to the relevant data and information they need to move beyond opinion and into an informed judgement.   However, we don’t design sessions that are primarily built around the provision of information or that force people to listen to a long presentations.

We don’t provide opinion or take a stance on the issue being discussed.  The wisdom we are seeking is within the group itself, and we work to draw out diverse perspectives and enhance the quality of the conversation around the problem at hand.  “


Want more information on the skills and roles of emcees and facilitators? 


Have you witnessed the work of an experience emcee or facilitator? What made them stand out? 



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