Ted Talks: Party Hosting Tips

Welcome back to the second installment of Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes tackles topics that are near and dear to his heart.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

YOU LOST!!!

YOU LOST!!! Artwork by polywen

Have you ever entered an on-line building contest, and then thought afterwards, “Hey. I think I’d like to host one myself someday”?  First off, “God Bless You”, you masochist of a human being. Secondly, did you read Rutherford’s “Fire for Effect” article “Give me the prize!” , and the comment section too?  And you STILL want to proceed?  YOU FOOL!!!  I’ll offer a few suggestions on running a contest … but honestly, TURN BACK NOW!!!

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Legohaulic: “Tea Party Time.”

Setting the Table

Deciding the LEGO building genre itself is the easy part (Space, Castle, Licensed Sets, Architecture, etc.).  Setting the actual sub-theme, scope, and build requirements for the contest are the tricky parts.  You want an interesting contest idea that excites people, and that has simple requirements that won’t bog things down.  Contest ideas tend to fall along a spectrum between:

  • A very specific contest idea that requires putting a lot of thought into building it (as well as into creating backgrounds and backstories) – These contests usually result in only one entry per person, and in fewer entries Some entrants even abandon midway (no matter how much extra time you give them).
  • A general contest idea that sparks so many building ideas that the entrants don’t know which to start first – These contests typically result in a ton of entries, with some entrants who will not be up-to-par, since the level of time/parts investment is far lower.

I’ve hosted contests near both ends of the spectrum.  The ‘general contest idea’ (a.k.a. the “kegger”), is the most gratifying for all involved, and draws in the most contest newbies.  ‘Specific contests’ (a.k.a. the “dinner parties”) are O.K., but just plan to have a more intimate affair.  The required build size can also play a part in the number of guest that show up; the bigger the MOC size requirement, the fewer entries you may get.  Having no size restriction at all seems to have the opposite effect…

“I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day!” – KISS

That’s a worthy life-goal, coming from men dressed in platform boots, but the K.I.S.S. I am referring to is “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”  This means YOU.  Think back to all of the really fun contests you’ve participated in.  I’ll bet they K.I.S.S.ed it just right; Steampunk – Rock and Roll, FBTB – MOC Madness (the Original), Speederbike Contests, Clue-Redux Vignettes… These weren’t sloppy, wet kisses with too much tongue up the nose.  These were simple, clearly defined ideas that captured the open-ended imagination of all involved.

My Lady...?

Agaethon29 – “My lady! Wherefore dost thou kiss a frog?!”…

“Forced Fun” is the WORST!

“O.K. everybody! It’s time to play charades!” – Ugh.  When setting the theme, don’t let your ego get in the way.  Don’t pick a restrictive sub-theme, or make the contest restrictions too elaborate, in an effort to get the MOC’s that YOU want to see.  If you decide to “force the fun” in this way, don’t expect a large turn-out.  Your first priority is entertaining YOUR GUESTS, not the other way around. “Sir, step away from the karaoke machine!” (… unless your DR. Church. I hear that guy can belt out a tune that’ll make the dolls swoon).

To some degree, I made the “forced fun” mistake with the “Steampunk: Bricks & Boilers Exposition” contest.  I tried to force the steampunk theme into places where the steampunk masses didn’t want to go (Give me back my brown!”).  I wanted to see steampunk from cultures other than the merry old Victorian Englishmen.  I wanted to see steam power applied in ways beyond just vehicles and weapons.  I bounced my ideas off of Guy and Rod, and we honed it down into that final KISS concept.  Despite that, I literally forced fun onto my guests, as I had them build us steampunk carnival rides.  As a result, we didn’t get a massive amount of entries… then again, maybe the interest in Steampunk had simply run out of steam by then…

“Dance for me, dammit!  Dance! DANCE!”

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The Clockwork Show (Video)

Charis Stella – The Clockwork Show

Party Favors / Door Prizes

Q: What is a contest without prizes?  A: The sound of one hand clapping… across Boy Wonder’s face! 

Physical prizes are the perfect enticement to bring in the party guests.  They draw new builders out from the woodwork, and the veteran builders will then go where the action is.  Prizes can transform even the limpest of wallflowers into dancing machines!  However, prizes can’t overcome any miscalculations you’ve already made in “setting the table”.  All you’ll get then are uninspired MOC’s that meet the minimum requirements, and the submitters counting down the days until the prize winners are announced… tick… tick… tick… “So, when will the winners be announced?”

You can certainly pay for the prizes yourself, but you shouldn’t have to.  Ask around to see if any mainstream blogs, vendors, stores, etc. are interested in sponsoring them.  Even though we made MOC trophies for the speederbike contest, we still reached out for sponsors.  Their responses back exceeded our modest expectations (YOU GUYS ROCK!!!).  If/when you do ask, it helps to already have some street-cred in the FOL Community, or at least be able to name drop a few folks who do.  Otherwise, you are just another random moocher looking for MOAR BrickArms protos PLZ!

Uncle Rico – “We gotta look legit, mayn.”

“Pimpin’ Made Easy”

It helps to have a good party flyer to make your grand contest announcement.  You might be able to get by without making one, but think of it as your own MOC for the contest.  This poster is your chance to get in on the action, as well as an awesome way to promote your sponsors at the same time.   _zenn went through a lot of iterations in creating our Speederbike Contest Poster, and I did as well when making the Steampunk Bricks & Boilers poster (version 10 was the winner).

“Save the date”

Contest timing can be tricky.  Hopefully no one else will be launching a contest at the same time as you, and there isn’t some special building month going on too (or people prepping for a CON).  Since it is an unwritten rule not to announce a contest prior to its start date, you probably won’t know until after you pull the trigger.

As for contest duration, a month-long contest should provide ample time to build, and even to order some parts from BrickLink if needed.  Anything longer is not that entertaining.  Many people will eventually forget that your contest is even going on… tick… tick…tick… “So, when will the winners be announced?”

If you still want to offer a longer build time, try scheduling a 1-month run time, but announce the contest 2-weeks before the start.  That way, it will still give the perception of keeping a shorter time frame and that you have your act together (vs. giving a 2-week extension at the end that looks desperate).

 “It’s finally Party Time!” – Let meet your guests…

26524239915_36ed6534e6_o.jpgMike Dung: Characters from Love Live! School Idol Project

Guest #1: The Ice Breaker – The “Ice Breaker” is the personal hero of every contest host.  They enter the contest first, and now you can breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Their entries offer you an early gauge of how the contest will go, and if you need to course correct if they are way off the mark.  Allowing people to swap entries until the deadline also relieves much of the risk of being the “Ice Breaker”.  It lets them rework their entry if a better idea happens to comes along…like one from…

Guest #2: The Tone Setter – These people “throw down the gauntlet” in the contest, and grab the attention of the rest of the community.  Many times the “Ice Breaker’s” entry is what is expected, and the “Tone Setter” raises the bar with that unexpected twist…  More people take notice, and if the “Tone Setter” has a huge on-line following then hold on tight. Their entourage now knows where the party’s at, and they are on the way to crash it… the REAL fun is about to start…

Guest #3: The Closer – “Closers” are the folks that enter the contest during the final week, having picked up that earlier thrown-down gauntlet of the “Tone Setter” and slapped them back.   9 times out of 10, “The Closer” in any sci-fi contest is none other than Tyler Clites. There are many theories as to why the “Closer” waits until the last week of the contest to enter their MOC:

  1. The “Tone Setter” drew them into the contest, so naturally they’d enter later,
  2. They want to keep their ideas fresh in the minds of judges,
  3. They don’t want to give their competition enough time to catch up,
  4. They are holding back so they don’t scare off the competition.

It could be any combination of the above, or none of the above.  Whatever their motives, don’t make the mistake of confusing the “Closer” with the “just made it by the deadline” builders.  These “Closers” are proven veterans, and those last-minute people need to “PUT… THAT COFFEE… DOWN…”

“Coffee’s for closers only.”

Guest #4: The Pleader –There are always folks that procrastinate, that have upload issues, that say their dog ate their bricks, etc. etc.  You can accommodate them if you wish.  However, the more you do, the more you disrespect all of the people who got their SHIP together. You’ll also find that wherever you draw the line, there will still be ONE more entrant with sad puppy eyes staring back at you from across the other side of it… Sorry – deadlines are deadlines, and the gates are closed to Wally World.

Guest #5: The Helpless Finally, these people are the ones dancing by themselves, like dirty neo-hippies at an outdoor Phish concert… except they are actually at a Civil War Reenactment.  Lord only knows what they are thinking.  We had a few “Helpless” entrants during the speederbike contest that colored waaay outside the lines, but we didn’t call them out.  They were having fun, so why harsh their buzz?  It was on them if they couldn’t learn by example from the other entrants.  When you have very few prize winners per category, and a lot of entrants, you can do that.  The cream will always rise to the top.

34129614833_ea0259c3c6_o.jpg…I may have finally found Keith’s speederbike inspiration!!!

RSVP’s and Sending out Personal Invites

So let’s say that the “Ice Breaker” still hasn’t shown up to the party and you’re getting nervous.  Well then, it’s time to call around to get people to show up. I’m sure there were a few people that you expected to enter based on the contest theme.  Reach out to them and say “Hey. In case you missed it…”  You can also trawl the flickr photo streams for recent MOC’s that fit whatever it is your contest is about.  If you find some, reach out to the builder and say “Hey. If this is for the contest, you need to enter it -=place link here=-…”    I openly admit that I trawled for a few entrants like this for the Steampunk B&B contest.  Desperate times…

The Rager

At the other extreme, if your contest really catches fire, then you just sit back and hang on tight.  Imagine scenes from basically any out-of-control “Party Movie” ever made.  That’s what you’ve got on your hands.  During the speederbike contest, there were even people building speederbikes just because they saw everyone else building them.  They didn’t even know there was a contest going on, or enter them.

When your party turns into a “Rager”, you can either a) run around with drink coasters to keep water rings from F’ing up the furniture, or b) crank the music, let the good times roll, and worry about the clean-up when the party (and your hangover) is over.  You better know the answer to this one…  Les seBon Ton’ Roulet!

4914013030_2643cb6395_o.jpgDR.Church – Party like its Twenty-Ninety-Nine!

Judging, Results, and Sending out Prizes 

As a judge, you are usually looking for high creativity (with NPU), a nice presentation, and technically clean designs. The more judges you have involved the better, but don’t drag out the process by waiting too long to gather their inputs.  Taking 1-2 weeks to judge and announce the results is typical.

For contests hosted in flickr groups, a common judging approach is for each judge to create a Top-10 list, and then each rank is worth a certain number of points.  You then add them up, and compare notes.

Alternatively, there is the mass-voting approach.  In my opinion, FBTB run the best contests around, and their contests are decided in this way.  Their current forum members determine the winner.  “But what about people trying to stuff the ballot box using multiple accounts”, you ask?  Well, a few years back, FBTB caught some chump trying to do exactly that from the same computer (despite that entrant’s “Good Intentions”… cough…. cough…).  Kudos to FBTB for catching him in the act, and bouncing him from the party… Now if they could only remedy their notoriously delayed prize shipping.

There is nothing worse than having to wait 1-2 months to get your prizes… and it’s bad karma if you ever want to host a party again.  The quicker you can announce the winners, and get the prizes into their hands, the better.  Be prepared to ship off those prizes as soon as you get the addresses from the winners.

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Winter Village Post Office

Personalized “Thank You” Notes

Take the time to leave comments on a MOC from each person who entered the contest.  Focus first on the newbies who created brand new flickr accounts to enter the contest, and encourage them (sage advice from Keith).  For many, your contest may have been their first building contest ever, maybe even their first MOC.  It is great for them to receive that personalized feedback, and hopefully you’ll get some great feedback in return:

  • “-Wow….Thanks a lot. Maybe it’s just a comment for you… but this really means a lot to me 🙂
    This is really building me up to build more!”
  • “Thanks again for stirring up the building community with a rousing contest! Most fun I’ve had for a while in this virtual space”
  • “Thank you so much! It’s the first time in too long that I’ve really sat down and just built. I had an enjoyable experience and look forward to building more for the fun of it… My thanks to you and the others for hosting such a great contest!”
  • “Thank you very much for the kind words on all my builds, you’ve made me feel very proud of them regardless of the outcome”
  • etc…

Commenting on the MOC’s of the winners and runners-up can wait ….and when you finally do…..

6071241592_9d42b1e5e6_o.jpgFigbarf…Legohaulic style.

Don’t get drunk at your own party and puke all over the guests…

If at some point the guests at the party are talking more about you than the contest, then you’ve overstepped your bounds.  Your job is simply to set the stage for your party guests to have fun, and let them do their thing. It’s easy to get drawn in by the euphoria, but don’t do it. Know your role, as both host and judge.

In my case, I tried too hard on keeping my speederbike contest guests entertained, and I got sloppy drunk on it during my comments/critiques.  I even puked on many frequent readers of this fair blog (including the maestro himself); I spilled a drink on one MOC’s comment page, then puked up words all over another one… it was such a mess, they couldn’t make out anything “Is that a compliment, an insult, or some kind of accusation?… Oh wait. It’s just a piece of corn.”  The last straw was spilling another drink on a broh’s bro.  At that point, it was “party’s over, pal!”  I got dropped with the verbal equivalent of a pile driver… “Mea culpa”. I owned it.  I apologized to the offended directly, hat in hand, and made the walk of shame… Live and learn; Learn and live…

…And finally, don’t host it alone.

253055698_eed9077e5f_o.jpgDunechaser – Teamwork

After that debacle, Coleblaq eloquently brought the party back under control as my “wingman”.  My two contest-hosting compadres picked me up, wiped the crud off my chin, and we closed out the party together.  Running a good contest can take a lot of effort, and in turns we all carried the load.  I acted as the front-man most of the time, since I was the “native English speaker”.  I was also able to check the contest forums the most frequently.  But Cole and _zenn honestly did just as much behind the scenes, if not more, as I did up front.  We were truly a contest hosting triumvirate.  When we all work together, everybody wins!

With that, this party of an article is now officially over!  

The lights have been turned back on, and the clean-up crew has arrived with the sawdust and mop buckets. 

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apocalust – Janitor

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay up here.  Move on down to the “After Party” in the comments section below and chat awhile (BYO-cookies and fruit punch).

Ted Talks: “Squidman LIVES!”

It’s a banner week here in the home offices of the Manifesto because it marks the second full week without Rutherford (Mr. gasbag will return next week) and the second written contribution by one of our valued constant readers.  This time it’s friend of the blog and master of the speeder-bike Ted Andes, who will be sharing his recent experiences at the biggest convention in the United States.  The series is titled “Ted Talks” but that’s a little optimistic on my part, Ted has not committed to anything more than this one-shot essay, but after reading these anecdotes I hope he considers it.  You may remember Ted from  his many popular models such as “Intrepid”Trail Blazer and my personal favorite, “Hammerhead”.  Without any further ado, take it away Ted!

“Over the hills, and far away…”

I’m guessing most of you at this stage have read an article or two about attending a LEGO Con, or perhaps you have been to one yourself.  I just got back from BrickWorld Chicago 2017, and I thought I’d share some interesting anecdotes of my own… from the perspective of a middle-aged AFOL.

35395528156_fef777d77c_o.jpg(“World of Lights” Photo courtesy of Patty )

“You’ll always remember your first time.”

BrickWorld 2016 was the first LEGO Con I ever attended.  I always thought that BrickCon would be my first someday, but once my eyes became locked into BrickWorld’s “come hither” gaze, it was destiny.  She was only a short-ish 5-hour’s drive away, and holding out for a cross-country romance with BrickCon was just living in a dream world…  sorry to leave you “Sleepless in Seattle”, BC.

I didn’t think I’d actually ever attend a LEGO Con in reality.  As a married dude, I always try to sync my vacation days with my wife’s so we can take those fun trips together to faraway lands (I hear Matango Island is beautiful in the spring…).  She’s not into the hobby, so dragging her with me to a LEGO Con would always be an impossible sell.

When she took a new job last year, all of a sudden I had a ton of extra vacation days piled up compared to her (I had been saving some in case we needed to relocate).  I had days to burn.  The one week that she said would be best for me to take a solo vacation coincided with BrickWorld 2016.  Wait, what!? Once I made that realization, just 6-weeks before BW and on the last day you could request a display table, it was crunch time.  After some prodding from Simon Liu, I pulled together an impromptu speederbike collab for BrickWorld. Christopher Hoffmann and others joined the cause, and fun was had by all…

“She let you come back!?”

When you finally do get to the Con, and meet so many people that you had only known through the various on-line LEGO social networks, it is just like seeing some old friends again.  You cast aside your better judgement and stay up until at least 3am each “night”, chatting, drinking (if you’re of drinking age), and eventually partaking in general mischief.  I won’t divulge all of the BrickWorld shenanigans that go on, because there are just some things you “dear readers” are not allowed to live vicariously through (get your butt to a Con!)…

…and also, because I’d like to be allowed to go back again.  At BW16, I accidentally “butt-dialed” my wife at 4am after one of “those nights”.  I was trying to set my phone alarm so I wouldn’t sleep through hotel check out (which I did anyway).  Through some 1-in-a-million chance, I hit the option to dial back the most recent number.  Ugh.  I really am surprised she let me come back again this year.  Lessons definitely learned, and I was a saint at BW17… honest. I even joined the Pub Scouts…

“Psst… Is he your son?”

BW17 was my second Con in a row where someone had innocently inquired “Is he your son?” about an AFOL builder standing next to me.  As a married dude with no kids, it’s a harsh reality check (dude, you’re soooo old now!).  Christopher was my “son #1” at BW16, and then Rocco Buttliere became “son #2” this year… At least when I hang out with Tyler Halliwell at BrickWorld, our height difference doesn’t beg that question…

Workshops and Presentations

I didn’t get around to attending many workshops or presentations this year, but I did make it a point to “Paint with Mel” Finelli.  Why?  Well, why not?  … P.S.  SQUIDMAN LIVES!!!

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 “FEED THAT MONSTER!”

Awards… oh my.  First off – go back and read the “Fire for Effect” article “Give me the prize!” “Give me the Prize”.  Here’s what I said in the comments: “Guess what? I am also for the poorly defined, WTF-judged competitions too, as long as you know that it’s WTF up-front…”  Well, BW17 awards nominations delivered in the “WTF?” category once again.

The elephant in the room is that I had TWO MOC nominations in the “Best Land Vehicle” category; One for “Mr. Mechtorian’s Mobile Menagerie” which was voted as the eventual winner, and the other for “The Aerie” Mobile Launch Tower.  The first nomination was the one I had hoped to get.  The 2nd build I was certainly proud of (the thing is oozing SNOT), but lord knows which category it really belonged in, if any. I just mounted the tower onto tank treads because I thought it looked cool, and prepared for another “N-4-N” year (Nominated 4 Nuthin’).

Usually at BW, it is one nomination per category, per person.  So why did this “space oddity” of two nominations happen?  From what I hear, the nomination process for BrickWorld is as unnecessarily complex as one of Rube Goldberg’s machines , so who can say?  I chalk it up to it being the first-time BW used electronic balloting. The voting pages for most categories only showed MOC pictures at the top, then the MOC names with voting buttons at the bottom; No builder’s names. Perhaps if they included them, they would have caught the double-dip and things wouldn’t have gone down that way.

Gil Chagas  and Caleb Wagoner’s vehicles were both certainly worthy of nomination…Gil’s MOC was old-ish but it was still new to BW.

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Caleb’s Honda Civic (I mean Subaru WRX) has yet to be uploaded to his photo-stream, but here is a shot courtesy of Nick Brick.

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There were also some other mysterious nominations in the both the replica and group display categories as well… but I wasn’t involved, and who cares at this stage, right?… well….

“Ride the Tiger”

Some BW parents would tell you (repeatedly) that all of their kid’s creations were worthy of nomination.  I had to listen to so many stories about last year’s injustices, then the primping and preening of their kids for when the judges came by to pick the nominations this year, then the pimping of their kids for face time with the various YouTube podcasters (you’re a saint for putting up with that, Mr. Hanlon)…  Newsflash! The parents are hella serious about their kid’s builds, and the nominations!  Otherwise, their special snowflakes might melt!

I took my chances this year, and let random fate determine my display table locations… and I was surrounded by some great examples of this Little-League, helicopter-parent dynamic.   Just wish they would have had the courtesy to bring some orange slices…

“The kids are alright…”

“Tiger Moms” aside, the great thing about this hobby is that as builders, we are all peers regardless of our ages.  There are some really great, unsung teen builders out there (and with great parents).  I ended up chatting with a lot with them, and chatting with their parents too… most of which were my age anyway.  Damn, I really AM old!  Shout outs to #1 Nomad  Kingdomviewbricks and  John Imp , and their cool parents that offered me some pizza slices and spicy beef sticks.  Who needs orange slices?…  Respect.

Also, a shout out to Digger, my #1 BrickWorld fan. I met him last year, as he really loved the speeder-bike rally. I took the time to hang out, and show him how I put together some of the different models.  When I ran into him again this year, he had a big smile on his face. “Mr. Andes! I hoped you’d be back again this year. Can I show you the speeder-bikes I built?”…  Heck yeah!… but please. Call me Ted.

“I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone….”

“There was no train station. There was no downtown… My city had been pulled down, reduced to parking spaces”.  So my primary co-collaborator on the Great Steambug Migration had to leave early Sunday morning, and to my surprise took their town backdrop with them. I’ll just say that I didn’t need any caffeine to wake up.  That woke me up just fine.

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It was their 1st con, and they weren’t aware of the rule that you can’t take down displays before the end of public hours.  For my collabs, I always come prepared just in case something happens or someone backs out last-minute, so “no-harm, no foul”. I bring this story up not to vilify, as I have much love for my co-collaborator, but just to say “stuff happens” at a con… and that “stuff” provides the perfect fertilizer in which things can grow….

“We can rebuild! We have the technology.”

I had brought enough spare brick to build an impromptu backdrop.  No reason to get distraught.  I got started “building that wall”, and then Gil comes over to say good-morning.  He sees the situation, and offers to help out… then comes Tyler H. … and then Michael (aka Kingdomviewbricks).  Soon we had four people doing a speed-build backdrop of a ruined ant-farm wall.  Crisis averted, and friendships built ever stronger…

In fact, if you aren’t helping someone else rebuild/improve their MOC’s at a LEGO Con, then you are really missing the point. I helped at least 5 people myself this year, at least that I can recall.  Sometimes it’s providing those few extra technic pins to snap together display sections (which also repairs your personal relations with a LUG).  Sometimes it’s helping a person rebuild a MOC that was completely obliterated on the trip there (yes, I’m talking about you, Sci-fi Dude).  Sometimes it is helping the displayer you are sharing ½ a table with, who is jamming plates onto his MOC so hard that it topples over your own builds time and again.  Turns out that the guy only had the use of one of his arms due to an accident, so rather than get mad I lent him the two of mine…  If building is fun for you, then there should be no hesitation in helping the people around you build anyway (and no hesitation to accept that help when offered to you).  Dig in!

“Duplo green” is people!

As much as a LEGO Con may seem like it’s about the brick connections, it’s really about the personal connections we make.  That is what you will remember most in the aftermath.  Our ubiquitous friend Simon Liu gets that.  He lives that.  That’s why he is involved in seemingly every sci-fi collab project at BrickWorld, and countless more at other Cons and on Flickr.  That’s also why the green DUPLO of ToroLUG always has such a hive of activity buzzing around it… and like most people there, they will always make room to add one more connection (i.e. you) to the pile…Leg Godt!

(…and shout-outs to all of those people I didn’t call out by name – a person should only do so much name dropping in one article…)