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Nigerian Compete Industry Worth N1bn Annually—Chigozirim Otefe-Edebi

By Niyi Abiola
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Everyone who has ever attended an event will agree that the difference between an ordinary event and a memorable one is the quality the Master of Ceremony adds to the event. While many are of the opinion that the arduous task of compering an event can be delegated to anyone, the reality is this task can only be delegated to a select few who possess the requisite skills of public speaking coupled with the ability to keep the audience hooked; a set of skills hard to come by, but can be found in a professional MC.

A numberof female professional Master of Ceremonies have begun to emerge in the hitherto male dominated industry. One of such female MCs who has braved the odds to carve a niche for herself in the industry is Chigozirim Otefe-Edebi. Chigo as her fans would call her started her career in the banking and telecoms industry with over a decade old experience before deciding to pursue a professional compere career.

Chigozirim’s story is an interesting and educating one, as it offers us a rare insight into a previously unexplored industry. She shares her unique experience as a female professional Master of Ceremonyin this interview;

The Industry
How would you describe the compere/master of ceremony job you do, Is it in the acting category or a trade or profession of its own?

In my opinion, being a full time compere can be referred to as a profession on its own.Its serious business and very lucrative if you have the right machinery in terms of skills, publicity and patronage.

Would you prescribe a special school to raise professional talents for the job?

Well it could be part of a whole curriculum like arts, entertainment, communication, show business or any other field that leverages strongly on public speaking. A special school just for being a compere might be extreme because the curriculum and activity schedule to train a committed and interested person is estimated to require a few days of like 3- 4 hours per day. The major challenges and bulk of personal development exercises though for someone interested in this field would be things like building confidence, conquering stage fright, diction& grammar improvement etc.

Presently, what is the estimated worth/value of the industry?

Well I can’t say I have thought of this question before today but let me paint a picture that will attempt to answer this question. In Lagos alone I was reliably informed that following an event venue audit, there are at least 600 event venues active every Saturday for weddings and other activities. Let’s assume half of those events are wedding receptions which must have an MC and these MCs range from celebrity MCs to the smooth talking relative, with a very conservative average fee per MC pegged at N50,000, that brings the worth of the industry to about Fifteen Million Naira for just one Saturday for weddings in Lagos state alone , not to mention all theother types of events in the other 300 venues plus other days of the week. The industry is huge and there is so much room because unlike catering or event planning an MC/Compere can only be in one place at a time.

The Compere business in Nigeria appears to be all comers affair, what do you think and how would you like it to be structured?

The entry barrier is very low. Once a person believes they can speak well and they are not afraid of the crowd, possibly they believe they have humor as well, then they make themselves available for any willing client. It requires little or no capital if you have a nice outfit or a friend to lend you your outfit and another friend to drop you at the venue.In some cases, you are lucky, and you are paid either part or all of your money before the event so you can buy what you need if you want and get yourself there but at the end of the day, some of these enthusiasts have wrecked a lot of events. Some clients are even forced to take on celebrities like actors or musicians as MCs for their events just because they are great on TV but will they be great with engaging your crowd?It’s not bad to identify potential and want to harness it but I believe so much in training and it would be great if we had talent managers who clients can rely on to give them trained MCs for various events from formal to social. Personally I dream of growing bigger to be known globally as a quintessential and dynamic brand as far as compering events goes. Thenas I grow I am training and raisingothers under my communication company so people with different budgets can access excellent comperes for their various events.They look at my quality as a standard guarantee that anyone from under Voicewox(my company) must be a great MC

Some master of ceremonies run down Nigeria at international events, what do you think and how can this business be used to promote Nigeria's image?

I am a very firm believer and advocate of the mantra that every single person in the communication business has a role to play in nation building from movie makers to musicians and yes MCs. What we say and how we say what we say speaks volumes to the listeners. We are automatic leaders of thoughts and influencers of ideas. You can leave an event and days after still be laughing or upset when you recall what the MC said, so yes I agree we are powerful. Personally I try to chip in some positive thoughts when I am on stage. E.g. at weddings I proudly let them know I am a successful product of intertribal marriage, at another event one time, I used humorous examples to advocate for keeping Nigeria clean because someone just threw something out the window when there was a dustbin a few feet away so I took a cue from that. Such roles can shape our society for the better if we actively think about it.

There are not too many ladies in this industry, what is keeping them away and what is making you strong?

It’s possible that there are a lot of ladies but we don’t know a lot of them because they haven’t done some homework yet. As I speak to you I can count over 10 Female MC (Not Comedians), pure professional MCs that I know personally. However you are correct that as with most other business sectors, women have challenges. . I don’t know what might be limiting other women but let me share some of the things that threatened to limit me.

I started this business in December 2003 and I got married in 2007. I have had a lot of breaks in my career due to pregnancy, maternity, raising my kids etc. I have done events with pregnancy because the clients really believed in me and wanted me or no one else. Those were really humbling times but I just had to tell myself this is like a job you go back to when maternity leave is over and don’t write yourself off . Then there is the issue of physical flaws whether real or imagined; I’m too fat, not beautiful enough, tummy is too big etc. but thanks to the fashion industry we can now hide these flaws or manage them and feel more confident. There is the issue of sexual harassment from strange men at events but the way you dress and comport yourself as a woman can help prevent that. Also, you can go with someone to events, which can help. Overall believing in myself against all odds, determinationregardless of competition and staying focused because the sky is so big and wide for all birds to fly in this profession. I also have an extremely supportive husband and family. They cheer me on andmake it very easy for me to keep going.

What challenges does the industry face and how can they be solved?

There used to be this challenge of competing with comedians for space and even when you get the job, the crowd expects you to behave like a comedian. Meanwhile we are not the same. An MC is not a comedian. An MC might be funny, some comedians might be good MCs but ultimately our functions at events are not the same. However I see that challenge as no longer existent for me because I think I have outgrown that crowd that doesn’t understand the difference. These days, I am specifically sought out by people who are clear on the difference. Between2008 to 2010, I also did some advocacy work in my own little way using articles, my old blog and opportunities to speak at events to highlight the differences between a comedian and an MC/Compere. That doesn’t mean an MC shouldn’t bring humor to the table, except in cases where the clients specifically advice against any jokes and give strict instructions for a strict, formal interaction all through. This brings me to the next challenge, some clients and some MCs underestimate the importance of planning an event before D-Day. My best events are those where a proper planning meeting or rehearsal occurred before D-Day. It doesn’t mean somethings might not change but it always comes out better because expectations are aligned. The other challenge is the perception of star power. Clients will rate and pay an in-experienced radio or TV personality higher than you forgetting that live crowd engagement is different so I have since started playing in the media space with a couple of my own radio shows on various radio platforms and I have some TV gigs in the making; both film, series and talkshows . I also featured in the Audrey Silver hit movie ‘Surulere’ which was sold out in cinemas. The beauty of God’s grace is that I happen to do TV and radio fabulously so I can only fully overcome this challenge in a matter of time.

About yourself
How did you find yourself in the Compere/master of ceremony business?

I found myself in university as a confident public speaker and somehow the job chose me.People kept identifying me as MC for small gatherings and it just kept growing. My first huge platform which made me go commercial was my office year end party in December 2003. It was a Telecommunication company, I was in the call center at the time and by a series of events I found myself on stage as the compere. I did so well, I got two wedding bookings after that day for N5, 000 each. I kept growing; today I am worth over a hundred times more.

What makes you accept to perform at a ceremony - money or audience?

I have a price tag which I review quarterly or annually depending on Macro Economics so really any client who can afford me, I will work for. It’s pretty much first come- first serve for now. However I have been privileged to stand before some amazing audiences in the course of my work but that doesn’t necessarily affect my choice. It’s my job, I want to work. Once you can pay my price, I will work.I haven’t yet had to refund any body’s money or turn down an event because a bigger crowd called me. I have had one or two scenarios like that but I stayed true to the first caller. The journey is long term, there will be plenty opportunities ahead. Just book early, its first come, first serve, the price is constant.

Where do you rate yourself in the compere business?

I always tell people I’m a compere not an MC because I think ‘MC’ is too pedestrian a word for beautiful, international me. I have distinguished myself from the crowd by approaching the business with a professional disposition as opposed to a hobby and I like to think I made that word ‘Compere’ popular or main stream. Since 2008, I took up that cause to carve that niche for a compere being associated with a classy, top notch, professional MC. I can confidently say I am one of Nigeria’s top pure breed- professional Comperes.

Among other master of ceremonies, what stands you out?

Beyond being female, classy, beautiful, confident, articulate, funny, decent, warm and respectful, I also have a strong corporate and marketing communications background in both Banking and Telecommunications in Nigeria. I did almost 2 years in Banking and 12 years in Telecommunications so you find that I understand business protocol, language and the brand or business communication objectives at formal and corporate events. I also have strong Christian and family values which have qualified me to be the compere of several high impact social religious events. I also enjoy high patronage from female brands or social events because as a fun loving, woman I know how to show the girls a great time.

Apart from yourself, who do you admire most in that industry?

IkonwosaOsakioduwa (IK) is really doing well and literarily living in my dreams.

What do you love more when performing on stage?

Once the crowd is engaged and responsive that’s when I feel most fulfilled and certain again that I was born to do this. I lose myself on stage, it’s not about me for those hours, it’s about the flow and the people. There were times I was seriously ill just before an event and I would forget I was ill until event was over. No one would even suspect. One day I crawled into my house after an event cos I was really ill but no one would have guessed at the event. Even I forgot something was wrong with me for the 4 hours I was on stage.

What makes you pick the dress you wear for a ceremony?

I choose my outfit based on the brand colors if it’s a corporate event or colors of the day if it’s a wedding. Sometimes the event theme, culture or tribe of the celebrants inspire my outfit but my outfits must also flatter my physique, must be decent and I must be comfortable. I also love accessories and sometimes I tend to use really bold pieces.

What do you do when not performing?
I resigned from paid employment in December, so these days I take care of my family, then I’m an APCON accredited Media and Communications professional, I have a diploma in Digital Marketing and Social Media Marketing from the Shaw Academy UK, so when I’m not on stage, I consult for clients, I manage and design web content for clients, media placements among other things. I also host my own radio shows on Metro 97.7FM and then Digits 1024Radio which is online. There are TV programs in the making as well. Sometimes my 24 hours are not enough.

Where and how do you get your inspiration for stage performance?

I believe I was born to do this, sometimes I think from heaven I must have been announcing the names of the next set of angels to present worship or something because I don’t need much to inspire me before I do the work. However I watch a lot of TV with emphasis on comedy, game shows and drama so I think those things help as well.

Tell me some of your best performances?
Please they are too numerous to mention, however I have found that when my client (s) and I plan the event flow together and when my client(s) believe in me then allow me the liberty to do my job, the results are exceptional.

What advice would you give to upcoming master of ceremonies

Believe in yourself. Practice and rehearse with any opportunity you have so that when you are given big opportunities you will do well. Keep building and growing your confidence and invest in your wardrobe.

Where do you think you will be in the next 10 years?

Heading and growing my own Media and Communication consulting company with at least 30% of the business revenue coming in from Talent Management of a kaleidoscope of talents with me being the number one compere out of Africa for National and International premium events. I will also be my husband’s wife and my children’s mother.

Any other comment?
I want to use this opportunity to appreciate everyone who has ever cheered me on or patronized me on this job and advice event planners and potential clients not to settle for less than a professional MC for their events having invested so much into making it a reality.

“Smile is a universal language.”
By: Emmanuel O. Ogbonna