I was one of two MCs and a magician at Try!Swift NYC last week, which was super fun. I’d been thinking it would be fun to MC for a while, so I jumped (OK, asked…) for the opportunity to do it. Liz Abinante wrote an amazing post about her experience MC-ing, which inspired me, although I definitely worried I am not high energy enough! Thankfully I had another MC and a magician to help me! The first day we broke it cleanly that I covered the morning, and that my co-MC Hector covered the afternoon. The second day we blurred things a bit, with Hector appearing once in the morning and me appearing a couple of times in the afternoon. All part of an elaborate joke about them disappointing me that culminated in a break-dance-off.
Natasha (whose event it is) and I are close friends, and I’m continually inspired by what she does for the community. It’s super fun to collaborate and support friends on their amazing projects so I’m always excited to have the opportunity to do so! Speaking at Try!Swift Tokyo was a highlight of this year, and MC-ing was an opportunity for me to support her more with the NYC event. It is really stressful to run an event, and so the idea is that the other MC and I are taking care of transitions on stage, whilst Natasha and the amazing Vaish made sure everything ran smoothly backstage.
For me, being an MC had three components. 1. Make transitions smooth. 2. Make the audience feel welcome. 3. Make speakers feel comfortable.
1. Make Transitions Smooth
Transitions are hard. I know as a speaker, I hate it when I’m waiting to go on, hooking up my laptop, feeling like the entire audience is watching and judging me for not being ready already. It’s hard to be the first person on stage after a break, when people are trickling in, checking their phones. Having a magician really helped – he would warm up the audience, provide a distraction when we needed a little more time between speakers. Handling transitions was the main thing that I did – now we’re going to a break, now we’re going to lunch. Get the audience to refocus on stage, so that the next speaker doesn’t have to.
2. Make the Audience Feel Welcome
Natasha did an amazing job of providing diversity scholarships, many of whom were first time attendees of an event like this. There were also three first-time attendees in the audience who are special to me. The first time you go to a big event like this can be super intimidating, and I kept them in mind throughout.
How do I make them feel welcome? There is a bit of a “scene”, and a lot of people know each other. It’s really cool that a lot of us know each other, and are friends, but we want to invite the audience into that warmth, not seem like a clique they are shut out of. At every break I took ten minutes to do a circuit of the coffee area and say hi to my crew, and anyone else I encountered. I wish I’d had more time to mingle.
How do I make them feel safe? Natasha talked about the Code of Conduct when she opened day one, but it was my job to re-iterate it on day two. She emphasised the hope that people would make connections, which was something that I talked about again before lunch on the first day.
When Natasha ended the event and thanked us all, one of the beautiful things she said about me was that I had been “injecting [my] energy into the audience”. I was really excited to be there, and really excited for each speaker, and I really hope that came across to the audience.
3. Make Speakers Feel Comfortable
I am a nervous wreck before every talk I give, and I know how much the conference staff can help that. I spoke to everyone I introduced, tried to make an effort to connect with them, and connect my intro to their talk. I gave pep talks to a few anxious speakers!
My usual strategy (for basically anything) is compulsive over-preparation. But my life has been chaos lately and my schedule ridiculous – so I did not do that, and went into this feeling like I wasn’t ready. I wish I’d spent more time preparing, but one thing this did was force me to connect with people in person rather than relying on email / slack. I hope I get the opportunity to MC again, and I’ll do more work to prepare – but I’ll also make sure that I connect in person, too.
I had a great time, and co-MC-ing was actually pretty manageable. I would do it again in a heartbeat!