Emceeing at try! Swift 2018

I hope everyone’s 2018 has been going well for them! If the fact my first post of the year was in July is any indication, mine’s been absolutely off the walls. In November last year, I accepted a position as iOS engineer at a tech company called Mercari, and in February, I made the move to Tokyo, Japan to work at the company headquarters. As it happens, this was absolutely perfect timing for this next thing. πŸ˜„

I’ve been a huge fan of the try! Swift conference since its inception. It’s arguably the biggest and influential conference about Apple’s new programming language, and the Tokyo conference is hands-down one of the most amazing and important cultural bridges in the Apple platforms community. I presented at try! Swift 2016 (In Japanese to boot) and had an extremely chill time at the one in 2017.

Sadly for try! Swift Tokyo 2018, I’d already committed to starting my first day of work at Mercari on March 1st. The same day as try! Swift. I was figuring it’d be incredibly poor form to rock up to a company to promptly take the first day off, so I resigned myself to the fact that even though I was in town, circumstances would mean I’d have to skip it. Maybe I could at least go say hi to friends who were in town in the evenings.

Then, on the final morning of January, out of the blue, I received this message:

Natasha is the organiser of try! Swift and I’m still unsure of how she manages to move the mountains that she does to run these things (I’m assuming she calls herself @NatashaTheRobot because she doesn’t actually sleep. Like some sort of robot. 😝 )

I was absolutely floored! I’d always wanted to try being an emcee, but usually in my line of work, it rarely comes up. I was so amazingly over-the-moon that Natasha had considered little old me.

There wasn’t a lot I could say. I knew I’d regret it to my grave if I said no, so I said yes. I said yes knowing I had no idea if I would be able to even make it. But dang it all, I would move heaven and hell to make it happen.

I went back to Mercari HR and asked if there was any chance of bringing my starting date forward. Thankfully they were really awesome about it and found a way! Thanks to the fact that I had worked in Japan before, I could actually join one of the smaller on-boarding sessions happening in mid-February instead, freeing up March 1 for try! Swift!

So that was that! I was committed! There was just one problem.

… what do emcees actually do exactly? πŸ€”

I mean. Sure they’re the folks at conferences who introduce the speakers, but is that really it? I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d have to do in order to prepare for this.

Thankfully, I know two awesome fellow Perth blokes who have a very impressive track record for hosting events in Perth. The legendary John Robertson, an absolute master of stages worldwide, originally emcee at WAI-CON, and Mike Browner, presently doing laps of Australia emceeing at Madman Anime Festival, who also ran WAI-CON. (I guess the takeaway there was that I got to meet a lot of excellent people at WAI-CON. I hope it comes back one day.)

John and Mike both had very interesting takes on what it takes to be an emcee:

“The role of the emcee is to get on stage, do all the necessary housekeeping, and then get off as quickly as possible. Your demeanour is very important. If you look like you’re having a good time, then the audience will have a good time.”
– John

 

“Trying to rehearse what to say as an emcee is good and all, but you can never really prepare for what will actually end up happening. Make sure to be flexible, and go with the flow.”
– Mike

Fast forward to the day of the conference. I was so incredibly nervous, but so excited! Thankfully, as it turned out, everything went down without a hitch.

One of my coworkers, Hideyuki “jollyjoester” Nanashima had also volunteered to emcee for everything in Japanese. This ended up being a fantastic combo, not just on stage, but also since we would receive information from various sources (ie from Natasha in English, or from conference volunteers in Japanese) and translate them across languages accordingly.

For the most part, thankfully, our roles ended up being far less than I had originally expected. With the conference organisers handling the initial introducing words, our main responsibility actually was to just introduce new speakers while they were setting up (in English and Japanese), mention house rules (like the wi-fi setup, and how to grab lunch etc), and to make any last second announcements about conference changes that happened (Which were sent to us by Natasha in a private emcee Slack channel.). In that regard, compared to the normal types of public speaking I do (ie, just tech talks), this ended up being waaayyy easier, making it possible to have way more fun. :)

The quality of the speakers were absolutely unreal, with a lot of friends I’d made when I was living in SF making the journey over to Japan. By far, the most absolutely amazing speaker was someone from, AND REPRESENTING Apple on stage, where they announced a new library from Apple for Swift, and then promptly open-sourced it ON STAGE. That one had me trembling from nervousness. Apple normally doesn’t DO that kind of thing, so it was an absolutely amazing privilege to be able to witness that.

Overall, it was an amazing and profound experience to be an emcee for try! Swift. I had a fantastic time and hopefully everyone found my combo with jollyjoester to be entertaining. The feedback on our borderline manzai performance was great. 🀣

That being said, I learned a LOT of lessons from the experience that I thought I’d share here.

  1. Try and get to know the speakers
    It’s very easy to just introduce speakers by going “And next up we have <name> who <insert profile from booklet>”, but this is incredibly boring. For the speakers I had managed to meet and talk to beforehand, I was able to inject a lot more personal info about them. For speakers who I hadn’t talked to, I tried to add my own spin on their content matter (“Woah! A talk on a comic book app! What a coincidence! XD” etc)
  2. Get good at preparing/reading text on stage
    A LOT of the time I spent speaking was from reading passages, whether it was speaker talks, sponsor messages, or general announcements. Since I usually never ‘read’ things verbatim out loud, I discovered I’m actually crazy rusty at it. This is something I’d say that everyone needs to keep practicing.
  3. Be ready at the drop of a hat
    While jollyjoester had his laptop, I had my iPad to read off announcements. I think in hindsight, the laptop was way better. iPads have a nasty habit of scrolling around if you accidentally brush the screen (Which is easy when juggling it with a microphone), and I had a few moments where I had to pause to get back to the spot I was reading from. Making everything look natural is a very interesting art form.
  4. Make notes of things you should mention
    Sometimes certain things need to be said, but literally everyone can forget to mention them. One thing I really wanted to emphasise was that everyone should share on social media their experiences with try! Swift to spread the word. I remembered at the last second and gave it a very quick shout, but it should have gotten more. It’s definitely worth making a checklist in tandem with the organisers to make sure everything that needs to be said, is said. :)
  5. Look after your throat
    By the end of the first day, my voice was already failing from all of the talking/shouting/screaming I was doing. Thankfully, on the way home, I stopped at a convenience store and bought a minty spray that I could squirt into my mouth to soothe it. Never forget to look after your voice.

But in any case, I had a fantastic time at try! Swift Tokyo 2018. It was amazing fun being an emcee, and the conference itself was incredibly valuable in terms of the new friends I made, and the knowledge gained. 10/10 would come back again. Thanks again so much to Natasha for giving me this opportunity. What a fantastic way to start off my new career in Japan. 😊

P.S Oh yeah. And there was more karaoke again. :D