The MC role is Changing to Create Extraordinary Bar Mitzvahs
It was a beautiful hot sunny Sunday at the pool in our neighborhood and my friend Janie was sitting in the sun watching her little girl swim. She said “Michael you may be getting a call from a friend of mine who’s planning her Mitzvah.” I said Oh, thank you and we began to chat.
She told me she was at a Bar Mitzvah in NYC the night before and with that tone of political correctness said “it was good” making good a 2 syllable word with a rise and fall. She continued, “The DJ was good…but he wasn't you.”
It wasn't one of those trying to stroke my ego things thank goodness. It was just her observation. While I feel grateful that she considers me in this way I'm a bit amazed. I mean they've never really seen me at my best like at a wedding or Bar mitzvah, or in front of 1800 people at a corporate event. Have I really earned it with her?
Each year since I moved to my home town I have donated my MC services for the annual Family Day event and Halloween parties. My neighbors and town folks have only ever seen me do these events with the exception of my next door neighbor who is a professional photographer and has worked for me. At those events I’m doing my best to manage dozens to hundreds of kids from 3 years old to 16 years old, their parents and other adults while still making a great time for everyone.
The night party at Family Day
It’s a completely different experience for me than doing a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, Sweet 16 or company event. Plus when people know you, you have to want to find an extra gear to create a sense of specialness and fun, while still maintaining your true self. Each of the previously mentioned events that I do regularly have a focus to them. There’s a specific intention and form to the event.
At the neighborhood events it’s quite open and the form has to be created from scratch. Plus you never know what’s going to happen. There are so many diverse interests and needs. Music that makes kids happy. Music that makes teens happy. Music that makes parents happy. It really requires a powerful focus with a deft touch. So in doing those parties I have often felt more challenged. I have to be less formal, and there’s a lot of improvisation going on.
Interestingly it appeared the less formal, more natural and improvisational way of emceeing is in fact the very thing that most people tend to appreciate, love and remember the most fondly.
More on this in just a little bit.
Back to our conversation I said to Janie let me see if I can guess what you experienced: Here’s what I've been noticing from the events that we've been hired to be on with our photo booth where we aren't the DJ.
(A brief explanation here, we have a pretty unique photo booth that planners and clients really love. we’re often called just to book our booth alone as it has grown in popularity. We get calls from people who don’t know that we’re a full entertainment company to hire the booth after they've hired another DJ company to perform. In many of these events we have seen companies with the greatest reputations perform. On some gigs if I’m not personally booked I’ll be one of the photo hosts and get to see them work.)
So I say to Janie, “this is what I've noticed. Tell me if this is what happened… Let’s say the threshold for what the ear can really tolerate is at a “10”. The DJ is playing at a “9” right from the get go and the MC in order to be heard above the music is at a “12”. And he’s not just talking at a 12, he’s yelling at a 12. And he doesn't really stop talking.”
Janie said, “You’re absolutely right! We were out on the dance floor dancing saying I can’t believe how *(&^%)(*& loud this is. Even when we went back to the table that’s what we were talking about.”
I told her it’s practically a universal experience at higher end Bar Mitzvahs, well most Bar Mitzvahs as it were. No matter how intelligent, or experienced, or knowledgeable these MCs and DJs are these parties almost ACROSS THE BOARD repeat the same thing. Call it the “Shock and Awe” style of entertaining at parties. Basically it’s like a loud carnival carnival barker with pounding dance music bombarding the guests into participating.
As a guest being blasted you're really just reacting and trying to cope with what's hitting you and keep upbeat. As civilized people we usually following the crowd and protocol. Guests for the most part know what’s expected of them, and if they don’t, well the MC is ordering them so they can just follow the commands. Hey it’s a party right? He's there to "create fun".
But they get results: People are on the floor. So it's "successful". Right? Well....depends on what amounts to success for you.
Some folks are easy going, party types and they just go with it. Others will get on the floor but their minds and bodies are not with them. They are following what's expected, but they are conflicted and disconnected. Emotions can range from marginally annoyed to kind of angry. If you watch you will see people going through the motions...swaying to the music but they’re not committed. Their eyes are not engaged. It’s almost like inside their mind is saying the same thing that my friend Janie was saying, “I can’t believe how +*&*&*%$ loud this is. Couldn't he just be quiet...SOOOO LOUD. I want to get away.”
It’s as if people while being outwardly gracious are internally rebelling. You can see the conflict. They’re upset but what can they do? They can’t leave. It's a party "I should be enjoying myself." But they go along for the ride because they’re supporting their friends or family, and “it’s not their (host/hostess') fault” that the entertainment is not enjoyable.. So they try to make the best of it.
Janie listening intently came back with “Oh my god, that’s so true. That's exactly right. And we don’t constantly need to be taught by the dancers. I felt like I was at a Zumba class. We love to dance we don’t need that. I can go to a class by myself. We just want to have fun.”
And there’s the ultimate irony. The entertainment is actually getting in the way of guests having FUN. We've talked about it a lot at our company, because our goal has always been to create the greatest, most fun, experience you can have at a party, and even beyond that, to create a top 10 experience in a lifetime. And we realized that's just not the best way to get there.
What we have realized is that the companies have taken on the job of “making a party” by producing a "PARTY SPECTACLE" rather than insuring people are engaged, having fun and enjoying themselves. This direction is understandable based on other forms of entertainment: Concerts, Dance clubs, Carnivals, Amusement Parks but when it comes to Bar Mitzvahs and weddings and most milestone celebrations it hasn't served our clients and guests to get to our goal for them.
Janie even said, “If I’m at a club I expect it to be loud and I’m ready for it. I’m there to dance, not talk, but I couldn't even have a conversation.” And that’s key as well. Part of having fun is being able to converse and connect with others. It seems many DJ Companies have adapted the FIELD OF DREAMS ethos for doing parties…”If we build it they will come.” Or more to the point, “If we produce the SPECTACLE they will have fun.” But we've realized over time it never really works that well like that.
It's baffling really that even the very top , most well known, higher end renowned companies with tons of clients and praise employ a method of entertaining and engaging guests which is often disengaging. While it's completely effective in producing the spectacle it falls so short of offering an opportunity for real joy:
§ There’s a overpowering element of demand rather than invitation.
§ Instead of warming people into a celebration, they want to blow them away.
Because we've focused on how to create the best feeling parties we discovered that real joy can't really be forced. Many people turn off being told what to do during normal circumstances.
So during 'free time' or party time, being told what to do is even less welcomed. Joy has to come from a personal place and experience: it's not made or manipulated, it emerges.
When a DJ company is above the threshold of comfortable sound LOUDLY COMMANDING or DEMANDING guests to "party" or do what they say they truly miss the opportunity for the guests to create or discover joy on their own. So even if they are having “fun” or a “good time” it’s momentary and forgotten by the time they get home. Real joy though has weight and depth to it. It tends to last and hold on a bit.
While Janie was talking about her adult experience, we see the same thing happens with kids. Kids tend to have a lot of energy. There are some who love the spectacle. But there are many others who don’t. Regardless of what they end up doing, what we have seen at these parties and this is nearly 100% is that when the DJ Company starts off HOT and plays at a 9 where the MC is at a 12 this happen:
§ The very first response from kids and adults is recoiling. They haven't caught up that energy yet. Unless there's something dynamically appealing to entice them, instead of jumping in at the same energy level as the DJ and dancers (if it’s a Bar Mitzvah) they noticeably pull back from the PUSH. And yes they may actually listen and get drawn to the dance floor, like a moth to a flame, but they are not really dancing. They're not "into" the party. They could be swaying or moving arms and legs, but they are not in sync, full out dancing with the music, the DJ or the dancers.
How you know this is happening is when the MC and dancers are pushing the energy on a scale of 1 to 10 – at a 9 or 10, but the people actually dancing on the dance floor is at an energy level of 1 to 4. If you watch video of DJ companies it’s quite noticeable. You’ll see the dancer or DJ really PUSHING their energy out to the kid or adult while the kid is kind of just going through the motions.
We've seen when some companies "miss the mark" it will take them nearly 3 hours to regroup from this hard opening where the guests and kids are actually WITH the entertainment and having a nice dance set. Others really never do get them. There is a dance party but it never really gets to the level of genuine celebration. People do dance…they’re on the dance floor, but it just doesn't lift off.
Janie said a mouthful though about having fun. And that’s often what’s missing from these parties. You get pockets of fun, but since the DJ Company has their own agenda, (we’re going to make a great party) to create a spectacle, the fun usually gets overrun in favor or assuring spectacle.
It’s ironically backwards. Because if people are having fun it’s much easier to lead a party to spectacular places, than to have the opposite happen.
ALONG COMES ELLEN, JIMMY and HUGH just in TIME
It started with Cirque du Soliel. Essentially Cirque really put interaction into shows, and because of that the art was able to be seen and appreciated, and enjoyed on a personable level. Before them it was the Bombast of Barnum and Bailey…”Ladies and Gentleman, Children of All Ages…” but the first Cirque show I saw the most amazing MC who never said a word.
David Shiner started it all in 1990. From Wikipedia, “he was featured in Cirque du Soleil's production Nouvelle Expérience, touring for 19 months through Canada and the USA and playing for another year in Las Vegas. With his antics, including stepping through, on and over much of the crowd and the staging of a mock silent-movie melodrama with four members of the audience, he may be the best-remembered of the Cirque's clowns.”
What David Shiner did was have complete command and engagement with the audience in a way that few had really ever seen before. He was stealing people’s popcorn. Posing people for photos and then taking their camera and giving it to another audience member 2 sections over while he’s being chased by the original camera owner. All this before the main show even started. It was a shining example (no pun intended) of how connecting with the audience can create the most powerful memorable and joyful effect.
Then when he was on stage asking for people (miming) to come up they gratefully obliged. That’s engagement. He commanded the stage without speaking a word.
We as a company immediately incorporated this interactive engagement style to begin our parties, and it became the overriding essence for how we did the entire event. In order to engage people you need to ENGAGE with them. Find the place in them that creates desire for them to participate.
Fast forward to 2014 when Jay Leno retires and Jimmy Fallon takes over the Tonight Show. Jimmy began his career on the Tonight Show by talking to the audience, by sharing his true life emotions and desires and keeping that as his tone the entire time. Whether he’s joking with a guest, doing a game with a celebrity or doing a hilarious rapping through the ages with Justin Timberlake, it all has a very genuine interactive approach done for the audiences benefit, without a note of the self-congratulatory aspects of show business.
Each show he comes out and greets the audience with joy and appreciation and he starts his monologue by saying, “Here’s what people are talking about….” Relating perfectly to his audience. Not here comes the joke style of Jay Leno, Johnny Carson and most of the predecessors. Just completely pulling the formality out of it and sharing his take with folks. Which is what we all do. It's very humanizing.
Colin Ferguson on the CBS Late Night show has a similar style even so much so that he pulls the camera into his face and talks directly to the viewer. This creates an even more intimate connection with us. His style is very appealing and self-effacing which makes him accessible to audiences. It helps that he's also very funny.
But the performance that really announced the changing of the guard style of emceeing was when Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Academy Awards. She turned it on its ear. Her conversational, fun filled turn going out to the crowd with pizza, taking $20 bills from the stars was simply brilliant and gave a call back to David Shiner with the original production of Nouvelle Experience.
Gone was the “look at me” wink of the eye Billy Crystal style or comedic formality of Steve Martin. These new style MCs allow a window in to see the genuine person and then the humor, and outrageousness connect so much more. You can see how genuine, nice and wonderful these people are as humans, THEN you get their talent on top of it.
Ellen’s Selfie with Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt and the others was spontaneous, live and completely interactive. She didn’t know what would happen, she thought she was just going to take a shot with Meryl Streep, but because she had connected with the audience on a human level they all wanted to participate. And she completely had us and them with her.
Hugh Jackman picked up the gauntlet for the 2014 Tony Awards. His 5 minute hopping routine at the opening of the show was inspired. We as guests marvel at what he’s doing, and yet when he gets to the opening, he makes fun of it, pointing out his own behind the scenes humanity in rehearsing it. When he sang the nominations and cracked on a note, he just waved it off, and that made him even more endearing to us. He’s human. He makes mistakes. He rolls with it. It’s live. We go for it. And we willingly go with him.
This is the new evolution of emceeing. Breaking through formality. You can relate to the real person. You see it and enjoy it. This is the style and method that we've (LSNY EVENTS) been engaging in now since 1990 when we first saw David Shiner command an entire crowd of Cirque audience members without saying a word.
We embraced the power of connecting and engaging with people over creating a spectacle for people to have to deal with. We discovered that when you engage with people they find their own fun and joy and the spectacle emerges spontaneously. And their spectacle is more powerful, more joyful and real than anything we can plan and manufacture.
Yes the MC is the guide and leader. But he is there to empower and inspire the fun, the joy and excitement. For me he’s not there to overpower, demand it or make it happen from you. He’s there to help you find it in yourself. That’s the road less traveled by DJ companies big and small but the difference is compelling.
The good news with folks like Ellen, Jimmy, Colin and Hugh and the many more that have been moving in that direction, Ryan Seacrest has been moving in that direction, it will eventually seep in the Bar Mitzvah, Wedding, Sweet 16 and Corporate Event environment. It cannot help but happen. And that will be a great day for parties.
And this style of connecting with people will emerge out to corporate life making companies more accessible and fun places to work. The human engagement model is universal.
In the meantime, we’ll keep offering this to our clients, and I’ll keep learning and growing to be more available to guests, keep inspiring my staff, MCs and DJs to be open, caring more about the quality of experience that the guests are having over their own self-congratulations. If you would like more information about our company and what we can do for you for your special events, please give me a call.
Until then… Remember you are Extraordinary
Michael Sage Schindler