When you’re MC of a big night, you get to see things from a totally different angle.
When I first got on stage an hour before the meeting started, just to get used to the space as all speakers should, first thing I noticed was that it was a long way up and a long way away from everyone sitting at tables. That can be both intimidating for a speaker, and it can leave an audience feeling separated from the main action. This is fine when you go to see a Broadway production, but this was still a “meeting”, where everyone needs to feel involved and included.
Turned out, my concerns were unfounded. First up, the organising committee did so much to make everyone feel welcome, which created just the right atmosphere. I mention this because I often see organisers looking very stressed before a meeting (or a show), and that stress always finds a way to bleed into the general atmosphere; but the committee under Elizabeth were so well organised, and in fact arrived so far ahead of time, that they could feel relaxed and enjoy themselves even while sorting last minute issues.
Ron’s signature naming of stragglers I guess was another way people felt included, albeit on the wrong list.
One of the surprises of the night, for me at least, was the way our normally sober President whipped up the audience as he called me onto the stage. That really got us off onto a flying start.
An efficient welcome by Wendy and Ian allowed us to move to a special surprise package – Andrew on the pipes, leading in the Parade of Presidents. It was a magnificent spectacle, and unambiguously a highlight of the night, delightfully hosted by Elizabeth, one of the few people in the room who would have known every president that she personally thanked.
The “smaller” assignments by Monique and John T, our larfmasters Vicki and Tom W, the cake cutting by Elizabeth, and the mini business session by Alicia didn’t just kept the night moving, but showed another reason why we are Parramatta – because even the smallest assignments are taken seriously and prepared – a point totally lost on many toastmasters who have been around long enough to feel comfortable winging it.
Prior to the meeting, I was really wondering about table topics, whether there would be a loss of energy with each wait for a speaker to make the trek from the table to the stage. Robyn foresaw the issue, and had a solution – all participants were marched onto stage at the start, providing the added bonus of allowing them minimal thinking time. A very dynamic solution.
The choice of guest speakers showed a perfect balance: Russ Walkington to provide the definitive story behind out formation – a story that I thought was lost to history, perennial favourite Greg North giving us a laugh, and a rare opportunity for club level toastmasters to hear an address by a current International President, Mike Storkey.
In my belief, though, the night was totally carried by the Parramatta key note speakers, Michael, Gary and David. Most of the discussion I heard after the night was about their speeches. Nothing could have more comprehensively illustrated the club’s sense of tradition, culture and excellence than their performances on Thursday night.
And something that only an MC will observe – David brought a copy of his artillery report that was assessed as NYC and left it on the lectern. He never showed it: it was not a prop, rather, it lent him a deeper sense of connection to his subject.
Finally, giving us an enjoyable finale to a long night, Ian’s reflections from guests did exactly what I had hoped, that was to leave people feeling like they were part of a meeting rather than watching someone else’s show.
As each speaker walked up the stairs and toward me to take over, their confidence and readiness for their task was completely evident. Each one of them looked me in the eye, shook my hand firmly, and held the gaze that little bit longer than usual, a gesture that acknowledges the MC in a very personal way, before they turned their attention to the audience, showing they were masters of the space and the moment.
I should have known things would have turned out. Having so many old friends get together to celebrate something we’re all proud of, the atmosphere will almost create itself. Of course it was underwritten by a committee that deserve the congratulations they received for creating what many have described as their all time favourite meeting.
– Demian Coorey