Spotlight On Event Hosting: A Journey Of Passion And Adaptation
Read this exclusive interview with Pooja Kanwal as she speaks with EE about the exciting and dynamic world of emceeing
In the realm of event hosting and emceeing, Pooja Kanwal stands as an emblem of passion-driven excellence. Her captivating journey, from aspiring actor and dancer to a versatile emcee with over two decades of experience, exemplifies the power of unwavering commitment to the world of entertainment. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Kanwal's remarkable career, exploring her profound insights into the evolving landscape of event hosting. From memorable moments that left a mark on her heart to the transformative influence of technology in the digital age, she shares her wisdom and experiences, shedding light on the art and science of engaging audiences and keeping the show going, no matter the circumstances. Join us as we unravel the secrets behind her enduring success and peek into the future trends that promise to shape the world of event hosting and emceeing.
What drew you to emceeing as a profession?
Emceeing was not my childhood plan, but the one thing I knew right from the time I probably came to my senses was that I wanted to be an entertainer. When I was just about two or three, the only thing I understood was acting and dancing, that's what I visualised myself growing up to do. Working on diction, working on speech, working on body language, this was all part of the training process for being an entertainer, which, anyway, I was doing from the time I was very little. It was only later that I realised that I was using all this training to Emcee. I was always interested in the concept of being able to entertain an audience. Initially, the concept of doing it live was very overwhelming, and I was way more comfortable with the craft of performing on screen with a camera.
I think it was meant to be because when I started emceeing, I was using everything that I'd learned to be an actor, to be a dancer, to be a voice artist. All of it was coming together on stage. Once you get over that initial inhibition, you realise it's very liberating.
Could you tell us about some of your most memorable moments from the events you've hosted?
One of the initial shows that I remember opened my eyes to how much fun a corporate event could be. I was hosting for Bajaj Electricals in Sweden and there was a musical evening on the cruise. I was supposed to make them sing, dance and karaoke. We had 500-600 people jumping and dancing in the middle of this ocean. At the time I didn't realise that the senior leadership was there, the kind of bonding that happened with all of them, it was absolutely one of those wow moments.
I could then apply this to award shows too, giving out 300-400 awards can get quite monotonous. For these very long award shows, I've made that my style and I think it is being liked. It is something I enjoy. I think it's amazing when you get paid to party (laughs). That's how I look at my work.
What are some key skills or techniques you've developed to engage and connect with your audience?
The basics of conducting your body language well, and control over the languages that you claim to know. For me, I only claim to do Hindi and English. However, for me, anchoring is all about connecting with the audience. Having done shows where there have been audiences from so many different ways of life and strata, I think the biggest thing and the most important skill is to be a people person and to understand how every audience is different. Before going on the show, ask the right questions so that you know what sort of engagement is going to work there. You have to be careful of how you're tweaking, especially the engagement portions for which show. The most important thing, especially when you're doing your first show with a brand, is to ask, at the cost of sounding stupid, however many questions it takes for you to understand the pulse of the audience. Other basics like knowing exactly how to get ready, doing your hair yourself at times, doing your own makeup, because you have to travel a lot. I think you upskill yourself with every event and it's very important to understand timing, nobody can teach that to you, it's just experience, It's just watching anchors that you admire.
During the pandemic, for example, I was doing a daily soap and overnight I was told, you can't get out of your house and the show has to go on. Everything including hair, makeup, and costumes, right down to the backgrounds had to be done without the help of anyone. We were initially shooting it on the phone, then they sent a camera, we learned how to upload and light your scenes because it still had to go on national television.
The role of an emcee often involves handling unexpected situations or challenges during events. Can you share an example of how you managed such a situation and ensured the event's success?
Virtual events during COVID-19 were something I was not prepared for at all. My first virtual event was with a brand I’d already worked with. I bought lights, I had to get the laptop ready, and I bought extra internet dongles. I felt like, why am I dependent on the internet for my performance, I had a fear of being dependent on the network. My daughter, who was seven at that time, was made my backstage director. She was on these backstage WhatsApp groups and gave me cues, she was writing chits for me. She learned lighting, among a lot more because she was handling my backstage work entirely.
In today's digital age, how has technology influenced your work as an emcee, especially in virtual or hybrid events?
Thank God for my comfort with the camera. Over the years, I have been doing a lot of television. For me, it was always television first and stage later. I think for me that helped. Social media has changed the game so much. It's frustrating sometimes because I’ve personally been in the entertainment scene for 21 years. You feel like you finally have a grip on things, and then there is this huge wave of something entirely new and you must learn everything from scratch. Now most of us are back to doing on-ground events. A lot of our dry runs have become virtual, so I think therein we save a lot of time, a lot of our connections, a lot of stuff gets edited, and a lot of our work is put together a lot faster. Showreels or post-event videos add a lot of impact to your pitch. Technology has its pros and cons but I think we've all got to really up our game and upscale ourselves because it's a wave right now and if you want to be in the game, you've got to really learn to go with it.
How do you prepare and stay energized for back-to-back events or long hosting sessions?
It's important to look a certain way, we thank our concealers for the same, but of course, a human body is a human body. At the end of the day, I think there are two things. One is whenever I can, I try and stay in a routine. I think as we grow older a certain amount of daily fitness is something that really helps you when these phases of back-to-back events come. Sometimes it's four nights in different cities. Whenever you have the time where you can go to bed early, wake up early, go to the gym, and eat on time is what I really try to live by on non-event crazy days. In fact, I'm notorious in my social circle for rubbing my eyes at 9:30 PM at the dinner table. If I was exhausted, hungry, thinking of nothing but going to bed, and I had to give my 450th award, I had to be enjoying the process. Adding a little bit of yourself to it makes the process interesting. Once it's interesting for you, generally, your audience will feed off that energy.
What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a career in event hosting and emceeing?
For me, it was always very clear, I thought entertaining and performing was always me. Once you're very clear about what it is that you are, I'm not saying this is what I set out to do. I thought I would be doing films, and I did a couple of South films, Punjabi films, and Pakistani films, I did TV, and the only constant in my mind was that I needed to entertain my audiences. If you're very clear about what that one thing is and then you don't leave any stone unturned to work towards honing your skills, after that switching mediums becomes easy. Being very clear about that one reason why you want to do what you want to do and how much it means to you is the key.
How do you adapt your hosting style to suit the unique requirements of each event?
It all comes down to understanding your audience and then tweaking your engagement, the way you want to enter the stage, the way you want to introduce them, what percentage of Hindi-English you want to use, how you want to dress, everything. I personally think if I were having dinner with these people, what do you think my conversation would look like? We're all playing these roles in our lives. When going to a party, we're thinking about how we’ll interact with the people there. We just need to put a little more thought into it and just think a little more about exactly what that audience is. Once I figure out what my audience is going to be, I think after that, everything flows. Then, of course, you'll have the brand give you their own input the event organisers will be telling you their own things, and then sometimes they'll be contradictory. At the end of the day, it's just you with the audience.
As an emcee, you've likely witnessed the transformation of the event industry over the years. What trends do you foresee shaping the future of event hosting and emceeing?
We are noticing the digital revolution coming in. I think it's more than what we can imagine. It's evolving faster than we can wrap our heads around it. People are putting so much content on a certain platform of social media and sometimes you wonder if it will still be relevant five years later. We must constantly upskill ourselves. The most significant trendsetter in almost every industry will be AI right now. People don’t want to spend time writing scripts, they say Chat GPT can do it. I'm honestly a little concerned about everything new we’re going to have to learn soon. I work with many event companies, and brands, and see different styles of working. Almost in every conference, you’ll find them talking about AI. It's interesting, eventually, who knows, maybe they won't need human anchors anymore.
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