Fellow Toastmasters, I got a problem.
It’s contest season, so this problem is particularly acute, and if we want to be professional conference hosts, we need to correct this.
At the end of a speech, best practice recommends that speakers stay on the stage until the Toastmaster of the Evening, or the Contest Chair, returns to the stage and shakes hands.
“Never leave the stage empty.” That’s a great mantra.
That’s a great best practice, in fact, for most situations beyond Toastmasters — for conference hosts to professional speaking gigs to high-profile corporate events.
Sometimes, however, a newcomer just doesn’t have this engrained in their DNA. Sometimes, even a more advanced speaker simply forgets.
That’s not the problem. Nobody’s perfect.
Here’s My Problem
All too often, when a speaker departs the stage without shaking hands, the Toastmaster of the Evening pursues the speaker off the stage, insisting that the speaker shake hands. Sometimes they even say, “You forgot to shake my hand!”
Then there’s a terribly awkward moment when the speaker cowers and humbly shakes hands, while the Toastmaster of the Evening glows with pride for having taught something to the speaker and to the club.
It’s even more awkward for the audience, and in my not-so-humble opinion, it’s not good event hosting.
One of the primary duties of a Conference Event Host, in general, is to make everyone shine. Chasing a speaker off the stage for a lesson and “corrective behaviour” casts a shadow over the speaker… and over the entire stage.
But It Gets Worse
This goes beyond club meetings.
This happens all too often at Toastmasters speech contests, from the club level right up to District Contests!
Major League Ugh!
This single act could – and often does – cause the judges to take points away from a competing speaker.
If the judges notice that a contest speaker has departed the stage without shaking hands, that’s fine. But it’s not the Contest Chair’s job to place a glaring spotlight on a minor mistake of any competitor.
And it’s certainly not the Contest Chair’s job to make the audience cringe, either.
Clearly, it would be poor hosting if a Contest Chair were to say after a speech, “Hey, you said ah and um a lot in your speech, and your eye contact was poor.”
So what is it that emboldens a Contest Chair to chase somebody off the stage for the proverbial handshake?
Professional Stage Hosting
Over the past few years, I’ve had the good fortune to be hired to host business conferences and corporate events. I have Toastmasters to thank for much of that. Toastmasters has helped me — and thousands of speakers — to improve not only in giving good speeches and presentations, but also in providing constructive evaluations and in hosting the stage.
As recently as last week, at START Summit in St. Gallen, I promoted and encouraged many of these best practices with the speakers, including the handshake before and after their talks.
Indeed, whenever I’m a conference host, I tell speakers backstage that, when I introduce them, I will remain on stage and greet them with a handshake.
I also tell them that, when they finish, to also remain on stage, that I’ll take the stage immediately, and that we should shake hands again before they depart the stage.
Sometimes speakers spontaneously give me a hug. I personally think that’s really cool, and I can feel the audience loving it, too.
But sometimes speakers forget, and they scamper right off stage.
That’s ok. No big deal. Chill, baby!
When that happens, I normally smile, gesture toward the side of the stage where the speaker has exited, and repeat his or her name with gratitude… and positive energy.
Imagine that you are the host of a TV awards event.
Major production. A few thousand people are in the arena who have secured tickets months in advance. A few million people are in their living rooms watching.
And… the big award of the night goes to…
Applause. Music. Tears, as the winners come up to the stage in tuxedos, evening gowns or even blue jeans. They accept the award. They make an emotional speech. They walk off the stage with their prize…
… and they forget to shake your hand.
Would you chase them off stage?
Wouldn’t that be an embarrassment to the winner? Wouldn’t that be uncomfortable for the audience? Wouldn’t that make the producers cringe? Wouldn’t the sponsors say, “What the hell was that all about?”
The One Job
The main job of a conference host is to make everyone look good… and, with that, to make the audience feel comfortable and entertained.
That should apply to Toastmasters of the Evening and to Contest Chairs!
Let the audience form their own opinions of the speakers. Let the judges judge them with their own subjective eyes. But don’t cast a shadow on anyone!
Am I the only one who finds this “I’ll make you shake my hand no matter what” thing uncomfortable… and unprofessional?
I’d love to see your comments below.
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