Anyway, I spent the last Saturday in April emceeing the main stage at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Overall, it was mostly fun, but there were a few annoyances. One was a guy who showed up claiming to be one of the emcees who was really supposed to be at a different stage. That just meant some quick reshuffling. Another was that the sound system was set up in a way that limited the emcees to using the podium microphone, rather than handhelds which would have let us go out into the audience. One big problem was crowd control. There were huge crowds for the big name performers on the stage (e.g. The Mythbusters and Bill Nye, the Science Guy) and people filled the aisles and every inch of available space. Frankly, I believe this was a real safety problem. Another problem was keeping people on time. The Mythbusters arrived late, but finished close to on-time, since they were mostly doing a Q&A. Bill Nye, however, had a complicated set-up and tear down and ran about a half hour over his time. The person who followed him (Science Comedian Brian Malow) very graciously cut his presentation down to about 10 minutes, but it really wasn’t fair to him. I understand that the big names draw people in, but there needs to be a better way to manage both them and the crowds that come to see them.
I should explain why the inability to use a handheld microphone was an issue. We had various things to give away – periodic table posters, candy, and a few t-shirts. The other emcee opted to use trivia questions for these. My brilliant inspiration (which worked very well) was to print out slips of paper with various child-suitable science jokes and have volunteers draw a slip from a bag to determine which joke I would tell. I then gave posters to all the volunteers. This would obviously have been easier if I could have gone out into the audience to do it, instead of having kids come up to the edge of the stage (which also meant I had to go back to the podium to read the joke they’d chosen).
Overall, I’d say the event was a success. The glitches didn’t seem to have a serious impact on anyone’s enjoyment of the event.
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