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May I Please Have Your Attention?

Tips for the public address announcer.

By Craig Harrison, DTM


A number of actors, voice-over artists, professional speakers and Toastmasters shine when they serve as public address (PA) announcers. You can too! Some play this role at conferences, conventions, galas, sporting events, inaugurations, grand openings and all kinds of civic events.

Actor and Toastmaster Lili Wexu of Los Angeles says it’s an honor and a privilege, yet also a big responsibility to provide PA services at local, national or international events. “It can be hard,” Wexu says, “because while everyone can hear you, sometimes you can’t hear yourself.” The voice for the International Olympic Committee at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Wexu strives to sound warm, inviting and sophisticated in her announcing, even though “sometimes it’s just the name you have to announce, so you have to infuse it with the right amount of excitement to set the proper tone.”

Speech delivery coach Bill Brown, DTM, of Powerhouse Pros in Las Vegas, a master of ceremonies as well as a PA announcer, says, “Accuracy is crucial as an announcer. For one assignment I spent a great deal of time, in advance, learning to pronounce the name of Miss Vietnam as ¬≠accurately as I could. It was a thrill when she said I got it right.”

Certified Speaking Professional Christine Cashen of Lantana, Texas, served as a PA announcer for many years. She breaks down this specialized skill: “You’re there to shine the spotlight on other people and give general direction to the audience in an ¬≠official—but not officious—way.”

Cashen shares 10 tips for doing the job well.

1 Preparation is essential. Get the script in advance and study it to understand the big picture and how the different parts of the event fit together.

2 When rehearsing, read the script out loud. If words written on a page don’t flow as naturally when spoken, alter them to sound more conversational and make them easier to say.

3 Use thick pens and highlighters to ­underline, embolden or flag key parts of the script and add crib notes, if helpful. (Often, lighting is dim during the actual event, so both highlighting and using an illumination device help words pop off the pages.)

4 Arrive early to set up and get familiar with the surroundings and equipment, as well as to meet the other professionals and principals on the team.

5 Be meticulous about learning people’s names and pronouncing them professionally. Spell out hard names phonetically and check with those individuals before the moment of truth, to ensure the correct pronunciation.

6 Here’s a radio tip: Standing when performing generates more energy than speaking while sitting and also helps one be more expressive. Gesturing and using body language, even though it’s unseen, adds vitality to your words.

7 Smile when making announcements. Although your smile cannot be seen, the audience can hear it through your voice.

8 Always have room-temperature water nearby and, if needed, drink warm tea and honey to care for your vocal chords.

9 During announcements, strive to stay present. Be familiar with what should happen (by studying the script in advance) to help ensure that what you’ve announced is actually occurring. (If you’ve already jumped ahead to the next announcement, you may not have noticed something unexpected that is happening in real time.)

10 Mistakes occur for a variety of reasons. Your ability to own it wins you points. When things go awry, don’t act like nothing happened. People appreciate when you’re truthful. And sometimes humor helps.