Emceeing as a Side Hustle: 5 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking

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I’ll keep repeating it forever and ever: public speaking is a valuable skill. I don’t mean only in that it’s a good skill to have. Which, although true, I mean it in the sense that you can actually make money from it.

How? By emcee-ing. Or MC-ing. Or Master of Ceremonies-ing. Whatever you call it, you can make money from it.

There’s dozens of gigs out there for people who are good with crowds. Personally, I hosted trivia and then signed on to a cruise ship as entertainment staff where I hosted trivia, private parties, and game-shows. There’s also gigs like running karaoke nights, DJ-ing weddings and parties, hosting in a comedy club… look hard enough, and I guarantee you will find someone willing to pay you to work a crowd so that they don’t have to.

Yes, I know: public speaking is difficult and daunting. For most of my teenage years and a bit into my twenties, I had crippling social anxiety. Like, to the point where just the idea of just existing in a crowd was enough to send me into a panic attack.

I eventually came into my own. When I chanced upon the application for hosting pub trivia, the idea of being “Trivia Hostess with the Mostest, MC Sylvia Dee in the HOUSE” was more appealing to me than the terror of public speaking. Before my first show, I took a shot or two of liquid courage, queued up my ‘dad’ jokes, and had at it. Two and a half years later and a couple thousand dollars earned, I don’t regret it one bit.

If public speaking isn’t your forte, the good news is that it’s a skill that you can better with practice! How?

Extemporaneous Speaking

One of the most important aspects of emceeing is being able to speak from the top of your head. Whether it be a speech you’re giving or comedy you’re improvising, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re saying sometimes as long as you’re speaking at all. It’s all in the name of avoiding ‘dead air’. You know, those crickets-chirping, can-hear-a-pin-drop moments of silence? Those are brutally awful. Those are the times when you would gladly welcome lightening to strike you dead on the spot. Dead air not only ruins your flow, but it kills the mood of the room. As an emcee, you have the an unspoken (heh) duty to quell those moments.

That’s easier said (heh) than done, but there are exercises designed to help you practice and prepare for moments like those.

Wrong Names Game

  1.  Point at an object
  2. Shout out a name of a different object
  3. Do it again. And again. And again.

Example: point at the cat, yell out ‘bus’. Point at the toaster, yell out ‘phone’. Keep going.

Don’t repeat object names! Challenge yourself to go as quickly and for as long as possible. Work on saying words loudly and clearly, eliminating all ‘uh’s and ‘um’s and stutters.

This game is simple in design, but incredibly difficult in execution. The best part is that the difficulty increases the longer you engage—you’ll eventually run out of words that are on the tip of your tongue. The challenge then becomes filling in that dead air under artificial pressure, which will come in handy under real pressure.

One Minute Gab Fest

  1. Write down a list of topics; bonus points if you write down topics that you know jack about.
  2. Put one minute on a timer
  3. Pick topic at random
  4. Start talking about it!

For me, I might write down ‘cars’ or ‘sports’ (or ‘sports cars’ if I really want the pain). One minute might not seem that long, but when you exhaust your comprehensive knowledge on the subject after only ten seconds, that fifty seconds of dead air feels like infinity. However, that’s the exact moment to start improvising. Maybe you just rephrase what you already said. Maybe you start improvising with some made up BS. It doesn’t matter, so long as you keep talking!

Animal Noises

This is a great tool for working on eliminating the ‘uh’s and ‘um’s and other oratorical hiccups. Start speaking, and turn your hyper-focus to every word you say. Every time you’re about to say ‘uh’ or ‘um’ or some other filler word, make yourself say ‘oink’ or ‘moo’ instead. It’s lighthearted, but it also brings attention to the technical aspects of your speaking. Analyze when and where you are most likely to use filler words. Are there any patterns you notice? Challenge yourself to switch it up or find better ways to phrase things to avoid filler words from the onset.

Record yourself during one of these sessions. Review and count how many times you use filler words/animal noises. After you’ve dedicated time for a practice session, record yourself again and compare the results. The goal is to work on it consciously so that you’ll be better in the future without the conscious thought.

Public speaking is an exercise in multitasking, to be sure, but anything you can do to improve without taking up brain power is useful beyond measure.

Fake Car Vlogging

However embarrassing to admit, I ‘vlog’ in my car. I don’t record it because the goal isn’t to actually create a vlog. Rather, it’s to practice speaking off-the-cuff as well as conversationally. It’s definitely important to fill in dead air as an emcee, but it’s not that much better if you’re monotonous and stiff. A great emcee can make a crowd of one hundred people feel as though they are each having individual conversations.

Fire up your ‘camera’ and start ‘vlogging’. Start talking about your day, about your friends and the zany antics you might have gotten up to, funny anecdotes about something that happened in the sixth grade, etc. It doesn’t matter if these stories are truthful, it just matters that your tone is warm/friendly/accessible – that you sound like someone with whom people would want to have a conversation.

Streaming on Twitch

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the platform, Twitch is where you can broadcast live streams of yourself playing video games, creating art, or just hanging out and chatting. The sky’s the limit. I saved this blurb for last because it’s not a realistic option for everyone. At the bare minimum, you need a webcam and an Internet connection, but that doesn’t guarantee success. The more popular streams have invested the time and money into better (i.e. more expensive) broadcast equipment. So, while streaming may not be the most cost-effective way of improving your public speaking skills, I still consider it as one of the best.

  1. There can literally be up to millions of viewers on Twitch at any given time. While they won’t all be watching you, that’s still a marked difference from practicing by yourself. You potentially have a ‘real’ audience to work with.
  2. It’s the step between practicing by yourself and working with a real crowd. There’s still a real audience you’re working with, but there’s the barrier of a remote connection between you and them. It’s like dipping your toe in the pool rather than jumping all in. Any dead air is less suffocating than it would be ‘in real life’ because you don’t visually have a sea of faces gaping at you.
  3. You have actual metrics by which to measure your success. If people enjoy you, your personality, your ability to converse and entertain, then they will ‘follow’ your channel. If they don’t, they’ll bounce out of your room and never return. Maybe that’s an oversimplification of the ten thousand nuances of what makes a Twitch channel successful, but nevertheless: your ability to ‘host’ and speak ‘publicly’ is one of the top factors.

It helps to stream while doing something you’re passionate about, but branching out and trying something new can be helpful in its own way. Suppose you broadcast only video games – why not try a cooking stream? It gets you out of your comfort zone while challenging you to still be your delightful, emcee-ing self.

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As with most things in life, success doesn’t come over night and it’s not passive. It takes time and active practice. Are there any methods you employ that I didn’t mention?


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