Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kevin Hinkle is Awesome

By Bryan Bonahoom

Kevin Hinkle is the LEGO Community Manager for the Americas.  What does this mean and is Kevin the right man for the job?  Well, obviously we think he is the right man for the job (note the title of this post if there is any doubt what we think).

If you haven't met Kevin Hinkle at a LEGO fan event in the Americas, then you really need to go to more fan events.  Kevin attends 6 or so events a year.  One in Canada.  One in South America (well, there is only one in South America).  And, four in the US.  This may sound disproportionate.  But it is not.  Most of the events in the Americas take place in the US (Brickworld has 4).

Kevin has a job with The LEGO Group that is very unique among jobs in general.  In fact, LEGO is the only company we are aware of that actually has team members like Kevin on what they call "The Community Team".  Their only purpose is to be the liaison between the company and the fan base.

Is his job to answer all of our questions?  No, not really.  In fact, at Brickworld we stopped even having a Q&A session with Kevin during large group gatherings because we were tired of the phrase "I can't discuss future sets" (or something to that effect).  That phrase was uttered countless times by Kevin and his predecessors (whom we also liked).  So, if he can't answer all of our questions, then what can he do for us?

Kevin can answer some of your questions.  Ask him about LEGO User Groups, how LEGO supports user groups, he can answer process questions, and he might even be able to help guide you toward a way to apply for discounted parts to support a special project.

Kevin is usually listening.  And, he is a good listener.  He strives to take messages from the community and consolidate them into something coherent and actionable for the company.  Does this mean he takes our messages to the company and we always get exactly what we want/ask for?  No, it does not mean this at all.  If that was the case, I think I would ask for unlimited free parts with a delivery lead time of 4 hours and the ability to send back parts I am not using.  What the heck, if they are free, then why should I bother storing anything?  It would eliminate my least favorite activity:  Sorting.

Kevin is fair and even.  Or, at least he tries to be whenever it is possible.  Kevin has to work within a set of constraints.  He is doing this as a job, not a hobby like most of us.  So, he has to watch out for the rules and procedures set forth by his boss and the company.

Kevin is responsive.  One of Kevin's roles is to provide support to the multitude of events that occur all over the Americas whether he is attending personally or not.  This means he is getting sets shipped, monitoring bulk orders of parts, working with store managers from the Brand Retail side of the business, addressing the concerns of people running events, and keeping his sanity through it all.

Do the simple math on Kevin's time:  About 3 weeks a year visiting Denmark for team meetings, a week in South America (because it would be pointless to go for a shorter period of time), probably 3 weeks of vacation, maybe he is sick for a week total (he does not have conthrax immunity), and about 2 weeks of holidays throughout the year.

This leaves 42 weeks or 210 days to do the rest of his job.  Attending 5 other events eats up 15 of those days.  There are another 12 conventions and probably 200 RLUG events that he supports throughout the year.  If he spends just 4 hours on an RLUG event then he is spending 800 hours or 100 days of time there.  If he spends 24 hours doing all the prep, approvals, and followup for each convention, there went another 51 days.  If he spends 2 hours per RLUG for their annual needs (eg - LUGBulk order) and there are about 80 RLUGs then there went another 20 days.

Now he is down to just 24 days to do all the other interaction (both internal and external), planning, and executing.  Take away department weekly meetings (1 hour per week) and report writing (1 hour per week) and there went about another 13 days and he is down to 45 days a year - less than 1/2 day per week to keep up with everything LEGO is doing and everything the community is doing.

So, just to keep his sanity requires a lot of effort.

Kevin Hinkle is awesome because none of this ever shows.  When you are with Kevin, you are the only thing that matters.  And, he doesn't forget to follow up with you if he promises to check on something (well, not often at least).


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Doing a presentation at an AFOL Convention?

Written by: Bryan Bonahoom

At every AFOL convention there are presentations made by the fans attending the event. Why? Because one of the major points of AFOL conventions is to share what you know with your fellow hobbyists. And, let's be honest. It is cool when other people adopt your techniques. It kind of gives you a sense of pride. It is cool when other people admire your creation. It kind of gives you a sense of pride.

Anyone doing a presentation wants it to be a success. But, a lot of people making the presentations don't have a lot (if any) experience speaking to a group of people. So, here are some tips and some straight talk for you to consider.

First - and I don't include this in the list below because this one point is so very important to remember - you are doing a presentation in front of a group of people that has chosen of their own free will to be there. They ARE INTERESTED in what you have to say. They WANT TO LEARN. So, you can be confident in your topic of discussion. This one element of fear can lead you to making a presentation that comes across as scattered because you might jump through multiple topics for fear someone might not like your focus. Don't be afraid. Embrace your topic. Focus on your topic. Stick to your topic.

Some pointers:
  1. Introduce yourself. And, don't just give your name. Tell the audience enough about you and your interests so they understand why you chose to volunteer to make this presentation or lead this discussion.
  2. Maybe you are an expert on this topic. Maybe you aren't. Tell them who you are and why you are there. Don't embellish. Be straight. And, be prepared for someone else in the room to know as much (if not more) than you. Don't argue with them. Embrace their input. They are engaging in your discussion. There is usually no one right way to do things. Of course, if they are trying to take over and redirect, you can politely ask that you have that discussion after your official time is up. There are always places where you can talk to people at conventions.
  3. Organize yourself before the presentation. Maybe you have slides. Maybe you have notes. Maybe you have example creations. Just make sure that whatever you are doing, it is organized. Nothing ruins a presentation quicker than the presenter wasting time trying to find things or figure out what they were going to say.
  4. Have a goal and make the goal clear to the audience. I want to teach you how to....I want to show you how I....I want to give you an understanding of....I want us all to discuss xyz and broaden our knowledge....whatever it is, make sure the goal is clear. It will help keep the presentation/discussion focused.
  5. Have fun!! This is a hobby convention. If you have fun, the audience is a lot more likely to have fun. Stories about things you had to do over and self-deprecating humor usually work well.
  6. If someone gets up and leaves, that is okay. There are many reasons people will leave that have nothing to do with whether you are doing a good job. So, don't panic about this if it happens.
  7. Ask for feedback at the end. Invite the audience members to stop and talk in the hallway to hear how you did. A few will actually do it. Listen to what they say. Don't argue. Don't make excuses. Just say thank you for the feedback and give it consideration. If they perceived something wrong, there was a reason. And, if you think about it, you will figure out why they had that perception. Perception is reality. You can't back track them into your mind afterwards. And, arguing with them will only cause friction.

There is a growing need at all conventions for new people to step up and talk about things. Old things...new things. Whatever!! The possibilities for topics are endless. I hope you find this information useful!!!

Play well, Bryan