I recently had the honor of emceeing the Innovation Stage at the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Frontiers in Development conference. This unique conference brings together a host of thought leaders in the development space who share a commitment to the idea that science, technology, innovation, and partnership can accelerate development in the world’s neediest regions and help bring an end to extreme poverty in the near future.

Pierce McManus emcees the Innovation Stage at USAID's Frontiers in Development conference.

As event emcee, my role was fairly straightforward — introduce speakers, make announcements, and interact with the audience during the interludes in-between presentations. As a storyteller, experienced host, and former lead singer of a rock band, I was fairly confident that I could ably fulfill those responsibilities. 

There was one additional duty, however, that I was a bit uneasy about — I was also responsible for giving “the hook” to any speaker who failed to wrap up his or her presentation in their allotted time. As a storyteller, I’m usually on the other side of “the hook.” I’m all too familiar with time limits and the challenge of conveying complex and engaging subject matter in ten minutes or less, at the risk of being booted off the stage. 

For many of the speakers at the USAID Frontiers in Development conference, this event was the first time they’d be delivering talks on their groundbreaking work within extremely limited time restraints. And in the moments before their presentations, standing next to me by the stairs leading up to the stage, many expressed their worst fears about not finishing their presentations in time and getting cut off by me. 

I was supportive. But firm in my resolve.

Two days and over sixty speakers later, I am pleased to say that I didn’t have to usher anyone off the stage. All the speakers finished in their allotted time or came close enough not to merit the appearance of my giant hook. And in the end, even the most skeptical speakers expressed how much they valued the experience.

It was also apparent that those attending loved the amazing variety of subject matter that had been had shared via this format — just enough information to lead to new connections, new insights, and engaging conversations among conference attendees that weren’t restricted by time.

In the midst of my hosting gig, I was asked to tell a story at Better Said Than Done’s "Fall for the Book" storytelling event. The story I chose to tell is admittedly still a work in progress. It's a complicated tale involving a road trip, some soul searching, and a chance encounter in the most unlikeliest of places. At rehearsal, the event organizer urged me to get my story down to ten minutes. When I performed the story at the event, I finished in twelve. Admittedly, the story still needs some work.

I am just grateful that the host didn’t give me the hook.