First time ever working as a host

I’m not sure how system works in other parts of the world, but in China, we usually throw a company-wide “party” near the end of the year. By “party” I don’t mean that people got hammered and play silly. The “party” is sponsored by the company as a thank-you event for all the employees. During the “party”, we usually do multiple rounds of lucky draws for the prizes and we also produce some shows – dancing, solo, rap, and so on. That is what we called “年会” in Chinese. Even for international companies like IBM, there is no exception to this convention.

Probably due to the really early spring festival (in January), we put off our “party” until today (Feb. 18th). However, I have to say that the preparation of this event starts long time ago. The audition for the host is on Jan. 14th and I’m guessing the preparation for this event really starts near the end of 2016. The reason I want to participate this event this year is that I want to make full out of the IBM experience. Usually, I’m not a huge fan of participating a big crowded entertaining event as an audience. I want to be in it and try to learn or have unique fun from my participation if possible. In addition, I have joined Toastmasters club for more than a year now and I want to see if I can really make some progress on the public speaking. One day when I actually receive the email calling for host audition, I make no doubt and click the “signup” button.

Boy, I have to say that show business can be quite energy consuming. Unlike working as a programmer dealing with physical or virtual devices, the central task in show business is around people. You need to try really hard to get people like you and enjoy the whatever stuff (i.e. voice, words, sentences, gestures) you deliver. The first big checkpoint for me is to pass the audition. When I actually get agenda for the audition, I realize the competition is somewhat fiercer than I thought. There are around 15 people competing for the hosts – two boys and two girls. Someone even tells me that the returning hosts from the previous year are also in this game. The task for audition is to read part of the script from previous year while staring at the camera. This makes me super nervous because camera is really like a black hole: you never get the feedback from the stuff you send to it. I have to push all my energy out and make myself super hype for this job even though that’s really not who I am in the daily life. I raise my voice super loud and weave my over-dramatic gestures in between. I walk around the stage like some rap star and try to make myself the owner of the stage. At some point, I feel blackout. I don’t care what lines I’m reading and I just push my boundary to make the whole atmosphere super hot. On my way to home, my brain couldn’t function properly and I fall deep asleep in the cab. Luckily, after almost two weeks, I get the callback from the casting director.

The next huge part of the task is working on the lines and repeatedly rehearsal with the other three hosts. Just like those documentary or footage showing what actors do in set on TV, we need to sit around and go through the script line by line to make sure we are working as a cohesive group to make the actual event go as smoothly as possible. Also, another big reason for this grinding is to get to know your partner. What he is comfortable with and what he is not. Probably unlike actors, we have almost full control on what we can say on the stage. Usually, we sit together and come up with a draft and then we send them to the review and then we repeat the same cycle for another draft. By the time we on the stage, the draft number is 21. The hardest part for me is that you need to separate the role from the actual yourself. In other words, I have to repeatedly tell myself that what you play on the stage is really not who you are in your daily life. People will not judge you by any means. This can be super hard and I can sense that actors may need to repeatedly tell themselves about this point specifically when they are really into the part they are playing. In my situation, since my partner and I are really the rookie to the hosting, we are in charge of the pre-show warmup and the transitions between different programs. Director definitely do not want to leave the lucky draw part for us because in that part, you need to deal with many big bosses who will be the guest to actually draw the number on the stage. You cannot say their titles wrong, you cannot say their names wrong and there are no script for bosses, so you have to act smart to handle any unexpected incidents. In order to make the atmosphere warm before the show, the casting crew’s idea is to play games. One of the game is that the audience needs to make the facial expression based upon the host description and I’m the one who makes the demo, which is a trademark facial expression of a famous Chinese comedian “小岳岳”:

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I have to say it is a big challenge for me because I don’t use weibo, which is the major repository for those GIFs and I’m not really into this meme style setting. But I somehow still make it and with some self-loathing mindset.

Rehearsal is really time consuming and frustrating. We do rehearsal yesterday from 1pm to 10pm and this morning from 9am to 12pm. The major part of time has nothing to do with hosting but with the program itself. The reason we stuck in there partly due to we need to work on the actual transition and keep refining lines. Some problems about the lines can hardly be observed by reading off the stage. For example, originally, my partner should make a gesture by putting her arms in parallel to make me look like I’m doing the facial expression in TV. However, we realize that this is impossible to do on the stage because she is holding a microphone on one of her hands and the distance between she and me is beyond her reach. Another example is from the other group. Since they are majorly in charge of the lucky draw part, there are lots of gadgets need to be put onto the stage. For instance, the box contains all the numbers that the guest should pick from. We don’t really consider there is a time chunk we need to say something to avoid the awkward silence while the staff try to put the box on to the stage. There are many examples like this when we do rehearsal and to my surprise, new problems happen no matter how many times we have rehearsed on the stage.

1:30pm today is when we need to actually get the job done. Without doubt, problems happen. My partner has really slim body and the address she choose is a little bigger. It takes almost 20 minutes for her to somewhat fix the address on her body and we are supposed to be on the stage to do pre-show warmup at 1:30pm. In the end, the warmup is cut into only one game and the order of lines are messed up. I don’t blame my partner because things always happen for a live show. This makes me realize there is really a lot of stuff need to practice and to learn as a professional host and experience for this profession is really really important. One thing in this scenario is that you need to be smart and keep your rhythms  on the stage even the procedure doesn’t meet with your expectation.

Overall this is really a unique experience for me and I actually learn something from it. The following is some notes I take when we have a training with a professor from Communication University of China. The session is conducted in Chinese and I don’t know the corresponding term in English. So bear with me:

  • 视线一般瞄准主机位。若紧张可以斜向上25度。
  • 视线一般要照顾到每位观众。以主机位为轴,左右45度形成的扇形为实现覆盖区域。
  • 视线一般要照顾全场,即左手区域,中间区域,右手区域,每个区域视线停留5秒左右
  • 上台四点一线:头,肩,臀,脚后跟。站直。不可以有小动作,乱晃
  • 男士那麦克风的手自然下垂。上台时也保持这样姿势即可。
  • 话筒离下嘴唇两只手距离,保证收音效果。

Lastly, let me post some photos from the event as a good memory for this incredible journey.

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