Once in a while, you may be called upon to be the Master of Ceremonies at a funeral reception. How do you approach your duties at this kind of social event? What kind of tone do you need to adopt? Is humor appropriate when you are the MC at a funeral?
On The Day
Dress appropriately, in mourning colors, and attend the funeral service. Although you could perform your duties at the reception without attending the service, it is a good idea to go. You will get a sense of how the deceased is being mourned. More importantly you will also be able to gauge the mood of the audience and match it during the reception.
Some funerals can have an almost relaxed atmosphere, especially if the deceased lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully. Others can be very somber and such a mood will inform your style of delivery and even your choice of words.
Make sure you leave the service as soon as it is over and head straight to the reception venue. Ideally, you should get there before the first guest arrives so you can go over the seating and parking arrangements. If you arrive early, you can also meet the DJ and musicians, do a sound check and liaise with all the other people who will make the reception successful (donation collectors, ushers, caterer, security, venue manager).
Before you take the microphone to welcome the guests, make sure the donation table has been set up in a visible area and the people receiving the donations are seated and equipped with receipt books and pens.
Often you have to draw up the program for a funeral reception. If you are not familiar with how it is done, here is a template:
Briefly introduce yourself and invite the designated person to perform the opening prayer.
Purpose of Gathering
Thank all the various groups of people who have come to mourn their deceased relative, colleague or friend. Acknowledge the various groups that may be represented – maternal and paternal families, religious hierarchy and congregation, as well as organizations to which the deceased belonged. Remind them that they will be served refreshments and then direct them to the table where they can make their donations.
Introduce the musical interlude by asking the DJ, band or cultural troupe to perform. Intermittently (on average every fifteen minutes), break into the musical performances to announce the names of people who have made donations.
Get the names of donors from the people seated at the donation table. Some people prefer their donations to be announced without mentioning figures; others do not mind. Find out from those at the donation table whether donors have expressed their preference for either option so you respect it.
If a buffet lunch is served, liaise with the ushers so that queues are short and orderly. If guests are served snacks while seated, walk around from time to time to ensure that everyone is served. I am no longer surprised by people who attend funerals and get worked up because they were not given a pie or a beer but such is human nature!
A few words about jokes. A funeral is not a funfair. Stay on safe ground. No jokes.
Vote of Thanks & Closing Prayer
Once everyone has been served and the numbers start dwindling, formally close the program. Get a family member of the deceased to say the vote of thanks. A representative of a religious organisation or a relative of the deceased will perform the closing prayer. Then thank the audience for attending the funeral and wish everyone a safe journey back home.
Your work is done.