When the room goes silent, the spotlight comes to life, and all eyes in the room focus on you, you'd better be prepared to entertain your audience. Emceeing anything is difficult, but being the emcee for your school reunion offers some particular challenges. All these years after graduation, people are curious about their old pals, teachers, and flames...and now you're responsible for the tone and smooth progress of the evening. The good news is, with a little preparation and confidence -- actual or faked -- you'll find yourself at the top of the class.
Know your audience -- do your research! Emceeing isn't warfare, but it's close. Knowing your audience will allow you to tailor the evening to the crowd, upping the odds that the group will be responsive and engaged. It will also help you steer clear of any particularly hurtful or inappropriate comments. There's little worse than being the guy who cracks the joke that leaves the audience wide-eyed and gaping in embarrassment for your lack of tact. So, do a little digging: Who's doing what? Who's married? Divorced? Dead? Do some research prior to the night.
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Set the mood and know your space. Part of being a successful emcee is working with your space. While the decor won't determine the performance, it can add or detract from it. Try to know your space ahead of time, and tailor it to your needs. Some era-appropriate decoration is important. Also, if you need any props, be sure to have them close by. Photos from back in the day can be useful, too.
Take a stroll down memory lane, but keep it current. The whole point of a school reunion is to reunite people who haven't seen one another in a while, and to collectively reminisce about the glory days. So, pepper your presentation with dashes of the good 'ol days: winning the big game, crowning the prom queen, giving Stevie W. a wedgie so epic that he still won't wear briefs. But, don't get caught in the past. Use your knowledge of the current lives of your classmates to update the room on what everybody's been up to since graduation.
Vary your lineup and keep things moving. Perhaps the only thing worse than a tasteless or poorly timed comment is a speech that goes on, and on, and on, and on. Your audience is at the reunion to have a good time and talk to one another; a 15-minute monologue is going to kill the spirit of the room faster than a math lecture from Mr. Baker. Keeping that in mind, limit your interludes and any speeches from other classmates to a minimum, about two or three minutes at a time. Also vary the entertainment; arrange ahead of time for speeches, photos, musical performances, and even little skits, all of which will keep your classmates intrigued and entertained.
Don't be a bully. Jokes are funny, even jokes at someone's expense, provided that the subject of the gag is comfortable with it. However, picking on the same person or group, or being necessarily hurtful in a juvenile way isn't funny in a 30-year-old, it's sad -- and actually, it wasn't really that funny back then, either. If you spent most of first period back in 11th grade dunking the chess team in the toilet, leave it back in 11th grade. It's time to be a grownup.
Be inclusive. You're emceeing for the entire class, not just the guys and gals you know. Try to incorporate as many groups and individuals into your performance as possible. Ask around for stories about the class members, both from their past and current lives. The more you integrate your audience into your act, the more attentive they'll be, and the more fun they're going to have.
Practice. It's not the Olympics, but it's worth a dry run. Try to arrange an on-stage practice before the big night. If that's impossible, go over your performance with someone beforehand. Knowing your material well will help your confidence and your flow. Also, while practicing, you'll notice any awkward, misplaced, unclear, unfunny or inappropriate bits...and getting feedback, especially from someone who'll be in attendance, is invaluable.
Audio/visual elements can easily be incorporated into your emceeing, but don't overdo it. Throwing a few old and current photos into your presentation will keep the group's attention, but a 30-minute slideshow from your senior class trip to the Grand Canyon is going to put people to sleep.
Don't be afraid to take a moment to honor those who've passed. Reunions are almost always also marked by some loss: the friendly janitor, the inspirational science teacher, the incorrigible class clown. Take a moment to pay collective respect to those who are no longer with us.
It's normal to be nervous before a big performance and it's normal to have a drink or two of the fermented stuff before going on stage, too. But, beware: too many drinks will leave everyone talking about your performance, but you're not going to like what they're saying.
If you're unsure about the appropriateness of a joke or comment, ask around. Get a second, third or even fourth opinion. If the joke is about a specific person or group, it may not hurt to ask the person or group directly how they feel about it.