October 18th 2014
I’ve always found myself organizing events. From planning the dance to helping with concerts in college to the dozens of CreativeMornings lectures in the past few years, I gravitate towards the magic of the live show.
I landed in New York on July 4th, 2011. Based on a hasty calculation, I’ve had a hand in 50 events for about 15,000 attendees since my arrival, of course with the help and guidance of many fine folks. These events were mostly talks, a couple multi-day conferences, and a sprinkling of parties, with anywhere between 150-600 participants each.
Here are a few (potentially) less obvious lessons I’ve learned that have helped me keep my head on straight, survive the stress, and make the most of the experience.
1. Eat beforehand
When I’m hungry, I’m irritable. When I’m busy, I forget to eat. Poor combo. Do yourself a favor and make time beforehand to grab a bite. For the morning events, I wake up early to make breakfast. If you’re running late, I suggest assigning a friend the single responsibility of making sure you eat amidst the chaos.
A pro-tip I learned from Ryan who produces events at BAM: pack apple juice. Those slow, sugary calories will keep you standing.
2. If something’s wrong on the stage, fix it
Speaker not holding the mic to his mouth? Say something. Confusion about how to use the clicker? Get up there and demonstrate. Weird object obstructing the camera’s view? Get that sh*t out of there. You don’t get any points for timidly sitting by, hoping a situation will remedy itself.
Nobody wants to see you cautiously approaching the stage in a moment of need. The audience would rather watch you quickly and confidently fix the issue. You must never hesitate. I learned that from Nickey who runs Preview Events and has handled over five years of production at the Times Center. She had no fear when it came to addressing a problem. Even if a speaker is mid-soliloquy, I say get up there and fix the lapel mic. The audience is begging for you to save the day.
3. Test the media. Test all of it.
I don’t care if every animated gif, Keynote sparkle animation and This Is Spinal Tap movie clip worked last night. This’ll be the best six minutes you spend before showtime. If there’s some sort of presentation or media involved, test all of it once the tech is setup. Better yet, test it with the speaker watching too.
Trust me, fumbling through your email in front of an audience while searching for that original .mov file is no fun.
4. If you forget someone’s name, own up to it.
You’re going to meet a lot of people, and you’re going to forget some names. That’s okay. Unless it’s a VIP (you should have done your homework), I say own up to it. “I’m so sorry, I’m blanking on your name,” is a great go-to. There are plenty of other tricks including the classic I’ll-intro-you-to-someone-else-and-listen-closely play but if all else fails, just be honest. In my experience, people will actually respect you if you’re genuine about it.
On the flip side, when approaching someone you’ve met a few times, make it easy for them. My boss loves it when people kick off a convo with their name and company (e.g. “Hey! I’m so-and-so from where-and-where”).
5. Dress up
“We’ve been working long nights for months all leading up to the next three days. There’s no way we’re gonna look like crap.”
Those were Devin’s poignant words when we were producing The Feast Conference in 2012. Dress up, buy new shoes, wear your favorite shirt. Whatever makes you feel unbeatable. Part of holding everything together is making sure you’re put together. You don’t want to be running around on game day looking ragged. You’ve worked so hard, make the moment count.
In my case, Devin literally took me shopping. I have to say, we looked great…even if we wore the same clothes two days in a row because we slept in the venue.
6. The best thing you can do at your event is participate
It’s not always possible, but if you can muster the free time, I believe a perfectly executed event means you’ve distributed responsibilities well enough to allow you (or whoever is heading the show) to meet, mingle, and participate in what’s going on. Ask questions to attendees, welcome sponsors, and nurture new relationships. That was something Bonnie, who’s produced TED and more, said when we worked together in 2012 that always stuck with me. Doesn’t that sound better than freaking out about every little detail until the room is empty again?
I like to think about the planning process like an asymptote. No matter how hard you work, you can never achieve “complete preparedness.” Eventually, further preparation leads to diminishing returns. You’re better off getting a good night’s rest to stock up some brain resources for the big day.
7. Make a habit of celebrating with your team
Honestly, I’m not a great celebrator. When I’m left to my devices, it ends up being work work work work work. However, I’ve learned a bit about the importance of celebrating a job well done. A team deserves to decompress, debrief, and enjoy each other’s company outside of a stressful showtime environment. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Maybe just start with a regular meal or drinks following an event. Together, you’ve completed a goal. Mark that moment, and make some time to be proud of what was accomplished.
Events can get a bit hectic, no doubt. But that’s part of the thrill. There will always be a crunch time and eventually it will be all over. Finished, fineto, cold stop.
Work your tail off, get some sleep, and enjoy the ride. If all else fails, at least you’ll learn some valuables lessons along the way.
August 6th 2014
My late grandfather wrote poems throughout his life. I remember my mother showing me dozens of these sheets of paper filled with his handwriting that mom had kept safe and started to transcribe, even translate. She has often said, “The arts run in your blood” (while my father would say, “You get that stuff from your mom’s side.”)
The following is a poem I wrote in the 8th grade in its original form. For the sake of artistic integrity, I’ve resisted the urge to change a few puzzling word choices and correct the grammar. I’m proud to present to you the poetic stylings of my middle school self.
The Monk, the Monkeys, and the Moo-moo Tree
By Kevin Huynh, February 2002
Good day today my merry friends
It seems that I am mandate to tell you a story from beginning to end
So please mellow out and minder around as I tell you for free
The story of The Monk, The Monkeys, and the Moo-moo Tree
It was a murky Monday in the month of May
A muster of monks were to migrate to their dismay
The magnate of the monks was a wise old man
Who made many decisions for his loyal old clan
The journey was to take many days
Through the merciless jungles of the Mildimay
Little did they know of the many dangers that they would meet
Including the merciless band of monkeys which was a meticulous feat
So the magnate and his monks made their way
Beginning there methodical migration as some would say
At midday they would eat their meager meals
In a mere attempt to grease their wheels
The magnate had warned the monks of a mysterious Moo-moo Tree
That held much maliciousness in its treachery
The methodical magnate told of the monkeys of the Moo-moo Tree
Whose whereabouts were shrouded in mystery
The Moo-moo Tree was a mark of evil
With mouth watering fruit that seemed almost medieval
The fruit resembled a mango, a most enticing greet
But actually possessed a mephitic meat
The mephitic and poisonous Moo-moo Tree
That makes these animals monstrous murderous monkeys
That murder the men and eat their meat
Eventually burying them below their feet
After many days of arduous moving the monks came to a mangrove where they could see
And there in the middle, lying in the center was a mysterious looking mango tree
Surrounding it were many monstrous monkeys staring at the men
The monks counted, one, two, three, four…maybe up to one hundred and ten
The magnate meticulously moved near the tree and asked him self, could this really be?
Could this really be a magnificent mango tree to mitigate their hunger along with their worries?
Or could it be the Moo-moo Tree
Whose mephitic meat could kill both you and me
After a moment of mediation the magnate said,
“This is the Moo-moo Tree, if eaten you shall be dead”
The monks soon minded their magnate’s words
Is he speaking the truth? Or is he miserly stealing hors d’oeuvres?
But in a moment the monks came to
They followed their magnate’s words as they should do
For they have much manner towards their monk
And manly trust him, as a tree trusts his trunk
At about midday, a miniscule monkey made his way
To the feet of the magnate in a morose yet mundane way
He asked “What is the matter you moronic monk?
Why didn’t you eat those mesmerizing mango chunks?”
The magnate answered, “Me would think that with such a merry mango chunk
Someone would munch on the mango growing off that tree trunk
Especially with such a massive menagerie of monkeys among the mango tree
Without even a marked bite taken from this luscious mango tree
One simply must muster to one self, Could this be, Could this be the Moo-moo Tree?
The Moo-moo Tree that menacingly murdered so many for none to see?
So you see my mini, morose yet mundane monkey
There must be some kind of mischief in the milieu of this unmarred mango tree”
The mind boggled monkey was so very impressed
By the mental capacity of this monk which exceeded the rest
So the miscreant monkey confessed it was a trap
And with a respectful bow he marched off, as if it was a mishap
The magnate and his monks continued on their merry way
Completing their mission across the Mildimay
But they shall never forget what they learned for it is impossible you see,
To forget their magnate, the monkeys and the Moo-moo tree.
August 1st 2014
In life, you will become known for doing what you do. That sounds obvious, but it’s profound. If you want to be known as someone who does a particular thing, then you must start doing that thing immediately. Don’t wait. There is no other way. It probably won’t make you money at first, but do it anyway. Work nights. Work weekends. Sleep less. Whatever you have to do. If you’re lucky enough to know what brings you bliss, then do that thing at once. If you do it well, and for long enough, the world will find ways to repay you.
– Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris is one of those people who sticks with me as a source of inspiration. He’s just always there, Mr. 27, helping me think differently. Let’s take this Friday afternoon to memorialize a few favorite Harris-isms that I mull over from time to time.
Trends of the web & communication
In his PSFK talk from 2012, Jonathan mentions four trends he’s not a fan of.
- Compression: from the call to the fax to the email to the chat to the text to the tweet, it seems we’re reaching a terminal velocity of how compressed our communication can become.
- Disposability: the immense information churn of today means that so much of what we communicate is fleeting. It’s old news that’s swallowed up before we know it.
- Curation: a lot of the self-expression online has become assembling lists, using that sense of taste to represent who you are.
- Self-promotion: we create online personas that are an advertisement for ourselves. Look how exciting my life is.
In an article on Farmer & Farmer, Jonathan draws parallels between software and medicine. More and more, information technology affects how we think, feel, act and live our lives.
What is the ethical responsibility of designers that shape how millions of people behave each day?
In designing interventions to address particular problems, you should understand that you can never simply “fix” a problem. By adding a new element into a system, you increase the complexity of that system, which may have the effect of fixing the problem you saw, but which will also inevitably introduce new and different problems. This is how interventions work. They address one issue, and in doing so, they create new issues, and the world becomes more complex. So if you intervene, do it with humility, knowing that your well-intentioned actions will create unforeseen problems of their own.
So then why act? Why add complexity? If any intervention will create both good and bad, then why intervene at all? Why not simply sit and watch?
We should act because the world is getting crazy, and beautiful interventions are needed.
From Debbie Millman’s Design Matters interview:
Whatever you’re doing, do it as well as you can. And if you start with very small things like brushing your teeth well and making dinner well then that starts to move out in concentric circles and to bigger things in your life. Once you say, “Well I brush my teeth really well, and I make my really dinner well, but I notice that my job, I don’t like it all,” suddenly you say, “Okay, that’s the next thing that has to change.” …Very quickly it takes over your life until you’ve examined all the things in your life with this lens of quality.
This one goes out to you, JH. Keep doing what you do. I look forward to following your journey.
May 19th 2014
My girlfriend taught me to talk to my cab drivers. She would tell me stories about her taxi chats, always asking the same questions, “where did you grow up?” and “what are your favorite places eat?”
This morning, I returned to the city after celebrating my (future) sister in law’s med school graduation in Dallas and hopped a cab back to Sunset Park. There were delays on the BQE so my driver and I had plenty of time to get into it.
Meet my new friend.
We’ve known eachother for 39 minutes. He’s an Indian ex-investment banker currently residing in Forest Hills, Queens. He’s lived in New York for over twenty years, and recently ate at my new favorite Dim Sum restaurant, East Harbor Seafood Palace, with his Chinese girlfriend who was actually the old roommate of his ex-girlfriend (drama.)
As traffic eased up, we whizzed by the newly finished Brooklyn Bridge Park and chatted about how quickly BK neighborhoods were changing. In 1995 he had the opportunity to buy a Williamsburg Warehouse on Bedford Ave. and North 5th for $60,000. The owner was itching the get rid of the property, only interested in cutting his responsibilities and moving back to Puerto Rico. He was so bent on getting out of New York, that the offer was $60k “or whatever you have and you can pay me back monthly.”
But despite having all the money needed, my new friend just couldn’t pull the trigger on the dilapidated warehouse (with its numerous rat tenants.) It just didn’t compute. Instead, he would save up until 2007 and go in on a $800,000 Forest Hills home. The housing market would crash the next year and fast forward to today: the warehouse, now in the heart of hippest of the hip, has since been leveled and replaced with a shiny building listed at $10.6 Million.
With a heavy sigh he said, “That day, I think God tried to send me an angel.”