A different side of the mic: being a conference MC

January 31, 2016 | speaking, conferences, MC

Last year I was lucky enough to be an MC for a conference in Barcelona, Spain - Full Stack Fest, a combination of Barcelona Ruby Conf and Future JS. While I have hosted single-day events before, this was my first time being an MC for such a big event across so many days. It’s a very different experience than attending a single-track conference as a speaker or regular attendee.

Before I dive into my experience, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people I’ve told about the gig, so I’ll cover those first.

How did you swing that sweet gig?

This is probably the most common question I’ve received! Short version: I was invited because of a previous talk I gave.

Long version: The guys at Codegram were looking for an MC, and my name came up somewhere in the conversation because they had seen a video of a talk I had given previous at Madison Ruby. I’m a pretty energentic speaker and I’m really active online, so it’s really easy to get a feel for my personality without having actually met me. They knew I hadn’t been an MC at such a large event before, but they liked my energy and felt that it would mesh well with the experience they wanted attendees to have at the conference.

After asking a few questions (not many), I accepted and starting planning my trip to Barcelona!

What does being an MC entail?

It’s probably a bit different for every conference, but my duties included:

Whew. Lots! And four days!

So, how did it go?

First thing first: this was the first year they had combined the two conferences for a four day event. There were two days of Ruby, one workshop day (that I was not required to attend, but could if I wished), and two days of JavaScript. They were hesitant to have one MC overseeing the entire event, as that’s a lot of days and a lot of work, but they had faith that I could pull it off.

And holy shit, 4 days is a really long time.

I was feeling some pretty intense jet lag on the first day (despite having been in Europe for 4 days…), but I pulled through and I don’t think anyone in the audience would use the word “exhausted” to describe my demeanor.

I loved getting to talk to each speaker during the speaker dinners, and again before they went out on stage. They were all so incredibly different and had such great things to talk about. I had a super intense conversation about Rails and Ember conventions and what directions Ember was heading in with Yehuda, I got to cheer one of my friends on before her very first conference talk, and I got to talk about pizza, toddlers, and music with Aaron Quint. I remember every conversation with every speaker and had a great time back stage.

I had an awesome setup back stage so I didn’t miss any of the talks, and it was kind of nice to be one of two or three people back stage watching a talk. I could laugh and exclaim just like I would if I was watching the talk individually. I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything with the talks being back stage.

The organizers were fantastic. I had such a great time that Full Stack Fest will always be on my list of conferences to attend or speak at if I’m able.

The biggest differences

What I did miss out on was meeting the cool people attending the conference. Outside of lunches and the final party, I didn’t get to meet many attendees.

MC'ing is no different from doing your 8-hour day job at 100% capacity… except that it’s not just the 8 hours you work. It’s also socializing at lunch, and after parties.

Full Stack Fest was really awesome for a lot of reaosns, but one of the things that I was really looking forward to were the after conference events. Over the course of four days, there was a hackathon, two meetups, and two parties. I wanted to attend all of them, partly because they sounded fun and also because I wanted to meet more folks attending the conference. Guess how many I went to?

One.

I went to the final closing party after the last day of Future JS. Which, if I’m honest, was probably the best one to go to! It was a private party on the beach where I finally got to say hi to people.

Being a public face

The other big difference was that I was a public face for the conference. I wasn’t just there for me or even there for my company, I was there to help Codegram put on an awesome conference. I think I did (and had a great time doing it), but other parts were difficult; like when a speaker had slides that violated the code of conduct. The organizers quickly formed a plan of action and promptly addressed the violation on Twitter, then asked me to mention something to the attendees before they left for lunch. We had a plan: while I was giving my speech to the audience, the organizers would discuss it 1:1 with the speaker.

The pre-lunch announcements are always brief - we’re all hungry - but the moment I opened my mouth and said “we want to apologize…” it was crickets. Everyone stopped moving, and they were completely silent. Every single head rotated to face me and there was just… stillness.

I have to tell you, I’m not really a nervous public speaker, but that was fucking terrifying.

After spending the better part of my professional career as a software engineer campaigning for codes of conducts, I was now standing on stage in front of a few hunred people discussing a code of conduct violation. I could not fuck it up, there was a lot on the line (at least, it felt like it). I don’t even remember what I said, but I do remember I was rambling on as long as I could without getting to the point because the speaker was still on stage breaking down his set up. The organizers hadn’t talked to him yet, and I was blind siding him with this on a stage in front of the auidence he just delievered his talk to.

And, actually, everything went ok. No one boo’d at me or said anything terrible to me or the speaker. The organizers discussed it with the speaker as soon as he stepped off stage. It turned out that because of the acoustics, he had no idea what I was talking about.

Would I recommend it to others?

Only if you are a top notch, high energy, super social person who can turn it on at the drop of a hat.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely, in a heart beat.

Especially if I had the opportunity to do it at a conference that was run as well as Full Stack Fest. Great organizers, amazing production quality, fantastic talks, fun after-conference activities… Full Stack Fest is what a tech conference should be.

By the way, Full Stack Fest is scheduled for September 5-9, 2016 in Barcelona. Mark your calendars :)