■ 23:38 (UTC+08:00), 18 MAY 2014 | CHN BEIJING
Being a seasoned host, there was one thing I was missing from last year’s event: the live stage where you could actually record and broadcast, live, a show. But having done that last, year, I was always ready for something totally new.
Or, if you must be so Monty Python-inclined, something that is just simply completely different…
The highlight of the festival for me this time was nearly 20 minutes of the main stage to myself, which I considered an extremely bad idea (because I had been through more than enough 90-minute lectures with the lecturer simply going yadda yadda yadda). The only way to stop people from leaving the main stage is if you glued them. (Ideally, without resorting to superglue.) Boom — the potentially 20-minute long academic sermon was quickly switched to an event where I didn’t have the mic, but kids did.
Here’s the thing: the entire event was about plugging the all-new Handbook of English for Beijing, which matters little for English-savvy expats but is a great help for locals. But there were two issues:
- Everyone wanted a copy;
- Nobody wanted to read this from the book.
I made sure the organisers were happy with my approach (I tripled-checked with the crew):
- Do handouts;
- Do competitions;
- Get as many people talking as humanly possible;
- Reward participants that stand out with a copy of the handbook.
This worked out great. They announced me shortly before 15:00 and on I went.
Of course, to help plug the book, I did two phrases from the book, and immediately switched next to my handouts, which contained 20 extra phrases not in the book.
The best way to glue the audience, though, was simply to let the kids get mic access. My experience tells that there is nothing more natural to kids than the will or want to perform. Fully aware of that, I invited members of the audience onstage — everyone was to read out loud a phrase before they got a copy of the handbook. Kids made up probably three-quarters of all participants. It was great, since their parents would undoubtably be pleased about how great these kids were. It was also a delight for the kids, since they’d have a chance to perform onstage.
We were having so much fun that crew had to remind us we had only a few minutes left. I instantly continued zipping through, but every kid was given time to read their bit out loud. I guided them patience — much like a teacher since 2000. At the very end, there was markedly audible applause as I left. It was great, because this was clearly a win-win situation.
(In the interests of privacy and info security, I’m not posting pictures of kids onstage. All who are under 18 have their rights protected my end.)
This was the first time I was granted the main stage to myself, and I thought it’d be a great time to share the love and learning.
I was around for two days, so I did a lot of other events, too.
The rest of the event had some really memorable moments as well.
- I met a guy who worked at Shuangqiao railway station in the first roundtable discussions, hosted by Radio Beijing’s bilingual channel, AM 774;
- For the group appearance with other radio hosts, me and Alison, who hosted Wider World Waves last year, we exchanged both onstage and with the audience further insight into what we were up to lately, handbook work inclusive;
- As part of the sole public event on Sunday (Day 2), I was joined by a co-host from the US in wowing the audience for an hour long of English song and dance. Our favourites were The Fox (#OMG did I have a Siri moment) and talent from even seniors in the crowd. We were able to be very flexible in getting folks interested people (who just “turned up”) onstage with the minimal wait and least hassle.
- I also was around to sign copies of the handbook, to answer questions, and to even get an arrangement to visit another English-savvy community around the city.
Like many events I have loved before, my mantra re: the whole event remains: I loved every moment of it, and if I could do it again, I’m up for it. ■ ■ ■