AlWALEED OSMAN : Thank you for listening to EMCEE cast. The podcast that talks to people who talk for living. I’m your host, Alwaleed Osman. And today my guest is someone that I have looked up to throughout my career as an MC. She has over 17 years of hosting live events, that’s almost 2 decades. She’s done workshops, team building sessions, celebrity interviews, product launches, conventions and galas. She has worked with some of the biggest clients in Dubai like GITEX, Henkel, Porsche, Nissan, Etisalat, EMAAR, Dubai Holding, Unilever, Huawei, FIFA, MOBIL, Dubai Airports, Acer, Carolina Herrera and many others. She’s also the first Mistress of ceremonies to be on the show. So we’re kinda making history here. May Ali Good morning, and welcome to the show.
MAY ALI : Sabah Alkhir, Good morning Alwaleed. First of all, thank you so much for the great introduction, I felt very important and I love it. So Thanks for that.
AlWALEED OSMAN : You are very welcome. I like to start the day with gratitude, I feel like it makes the day better, so today I’m grateful for again having access to a studio like this, for the ability to create useful content for our listeners. I’m also grateful for you giving up an hour of your valuable time to come to the show. I’m grateful for our photographer Marah, for joining us. On such a short notice, so thank you for coming. Mai, what are you grateful for today ?
MAY ALI : I’m grateful for, first of all, this opportunity as absolutely amazing. I’ve never heard of a podcaster or interviewer who talks about EMCEE EMCEEs. Usually EMCEEs are interviewing everybody else, right ?. So, I’m grateful for this opportunity because I would love to share my expertise. I’m grateful for our health, I’m grateful for my children. I’m grateful for being able to meet you today and Corona still allowing us to meet each other, you know what i mean?, it didn’t stop this podcast. So, I’m grateful for that too.
AlWALEED OSMAN : That’s amazing, I remember lockdown…. Honestly, I’m grateful to be able just to drive my car these days. So I’m very happy about that. So let’s talk about you. Where are you from? , How long have you been in Dubai ?. Tell us about yourself.
MAY ALI : Okay, so I am from lebanon born in canada. So you know how lebanese are so whenever we are born somewhere we get any other passport we call ourselves Lebanese-Canadian or Lebanese-American. So to tell you I’m Lebanese Canadian, it just gives me the. You know ?
AlWALEED OSMAN : Yeah, You’re both.
MAY ALI : No, I’m actually lebanese but I was literally born in Canada and that’s it. So I hold the Canadian Passport that I take as a privilege, and I say I’m Lebanese Canadian.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But, did you grow up there ?
MAY ALI : No, I was just born there.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Where did you grow up ?
MAY ALI : In Lebanon and Dubai.
AlWALEED OSMAN : How long have you been in Dubai for ?
MAY ALI : Almost as long as I was EMCEE-ing, so it’s been almost 18 years now.
AlWALEED OSMAN : How did you end up in Dubai from Lebanon ?
MAY ALI : Okay, oh my gosh! that’s a very interesting story. Okay, so basically my father was living here, He was a trader, is it called “tajir”?… It’s trader exactly.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Now, they have fancy terms like entrepreneur, but it’s essentially the same as trading.
MAY ALI : No, he was a trader. He had his own business, and after a while he got bankrupt and we were 6 children, five girls and one boy am the third, in the ranking childs am the third child my sister my brother then me. So I decided that I’m going to be the hero of the family, and I’m like you know what I’m coming to Dubai, and I’m gonna be supporting my family. I was like 17 years old. And people were like okay she’s a child, there’s no way she can come to Dubai. I didn’t even finish my education back then, I finished only grade eleven. So, I came because I had the canadian passport. By the way Alwaleed, I’m the only one who had the Canadian passport in the family. Dad knew that I’m the best daughter, so this is the reason.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Did he fly specifically there ?
MAY ALI : No he didn’t. It’s just something like his instinct told him that this baby, and by the way back they don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy. So thank god he didn’t know I was a girl. He took me to Canada, took my mom to Canada basically. And he was like okay we’re gonna give this child the Canadian passport. So I came without a Visa because, you know Europeans Americans Canadians, they can come here without Visa. My dad thought I’m gonna come here for a visit and leave. He was like you’re coming here, you’ll see me for a while, we’ll have a vacation together, and you’ll go back to Lebanon to live with your family. But I was like No no no, I’m staying here. And this was my plan, so I decided to stay and my first job was a red bull girl… Do you remember the red bull girls?
AlWALEED OSMAN : You had these mini Coopers with a red bull emblem.
MAY ALI : Yeah. So Alwaleed I felt like I was the coolest person in the world.
AlWALEED OSMAN : It is a cool job.
MAY ALI : It was a very cool job, and back then so we’re talking about 18 years. Imagine at 17 years old, and my salary was 4500 dirhams, That was big. So, all that money was going back to Lebanon, but I was still feeling good that I’m making all this money.
AlWALEED OSMAN : So you were 17 working for Red bull, and sending all your money back home. How did you get that sense of responsibility at such a young age ?
MAY ALI : I don’t know AlWaleed, it’s always been me. So I was even 16 years old working in a toys shop after school. Even when I was thirteen I used to teach children So, it’s something that I’ve always had. I enjoyed working, at the same time whenever I used to feel like my mom was not well or she had to go through a lot of financial problems, I would feel so bad and I would feel guilty about it. This is called “The Middle Eastern guilt”. It was mainly, only me in the family feeling that way back then. Because they were children, my brother was so busy with his life as also a young teenager, my sister was married back then. So, and also on top of that I was so attached to my dad. My childhood memories with my dad were so beautiful. And he was very loving, and I missed him so much. So i wanted to come here and help my dad, and I’m gonna live with him. So it’s a combination of love, guilt-feeling and also the confidence that I can do something. You know when you’re a child or when you are young you feel like you can do anything, You dream big, and you don’t have the sabotage that I can’t do it, and you don’t put all these layers and blockages that it can or it’s not possible. That’s why I never understood why the older people or even my friends “May you’re seventeen” “You want to support your family are you crazy?, just go back home”. Even my dad was like “May you’re gonna come here for a vacation and leave”. And it wasn’t even an option for my dad. But it was something I decided. Alwaleed imagine I took pictures of my family and my friends. I took all these small memories, because I decided that I’m not going back to Lebanon. This is a very emotional memory for me. It’s always something when I talk about it I feel very emotional. Especially that I knew I wouldn’t come back so I need to take all the pictures with me.
AlWALEED OSMAN : And there was no Facebook in that time.
MAY ALI : No Facebook, No Instagram. I didn’t even have an email back then.
AlWALEED OSMAN : So when you started working for Redbull, is that how you got into an event or how did you start EMCEEing ?. At what point did that happen ?
MAY ALI : Okay, Well Redbull was a great opportunity because I went around the seven Emirates. Imagine, in six months I saw the seven Emirates, People live here all their life and they don’t see. I even went to Khorfakkan. It was a syrian show, what’s his name Jamila and Hana, where an old lady says “My son is in Khorfakkan”. Do you remember this ?
AlWALEED OSMAN : Yeah, Yeah it is like the end of nowhere.
MAY ALI : Exactly, I never thought that Khor fakkan exists in real life. We even went to Khor fakkan with Redbull.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Did you drive the car ?
MAY ALI : No I was seventeen back then, I took my license when I was nineteen. So I used to be next to the driver. So after Redbull, after 6 months it wasn’t an easy job. Because you have to hold 24 cans in your bag, and go around.
AlWALEED OSMAN : It’s heavy there’s a backpack, It’s like an Icebox that you need to carry.
MAY ALI : Exactly, I mean they never told us to do that. I was super excited to go back and talk to people, it was the energy in me, they used to tell me don’t hold this much bags but I was No no i wanna work. And people used to make fun of me, because I was so skinny skinnier than this like half. I’m now 57 I was 48, so 10 kilos less. So I would go to them and say “Red Bull gives you Energy”. Imagine half of the size of the hand.. of the Biceps. And people used to make fun of me. So back then I used to enjoy the whole presentation of RedBull. After 6 months I was like you know what,I’m done I wanna be in an office job my dream is to be behind a desk. And this is when I became a Receptionist at Dubai Media City. It was such a scary job for me. I swear AlWaleed I still remember that they have to give me a paper to read from, like “Good morning My name is May Welcome to Dubai Media City, How can I help you?”. This was written, and I practiced it for 2 weeks to be able to do it without looking at the paper. They created my email, I didn’t even know how to write an email. So I would be shivering just to type on the computer, and of course with two fingers. So this is was my first official job, I used to live in Sharjah. And I don’t know if you remember that sharjah traffic, but you’re younger than me… I would have to drive or go by bus, or my dad would drop me to work. It would take two hours to reach my office. And two hours or two hours and a half to go back. I’m talking to you, I think this was in 2003 or 2004 I can’t remember now, back then this was a long time ago.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Yeah I remember that it was like one hour to commute or something.
MAY ALI : No, two hours. Yes two hours everyday, so 4 hours of the day. Lucky if it was one hour and a half. It was miserable, and back then I didn’t know that podcast existed or reading or whatever…
AlWALEED OSMAN : I think Podcasts did not exist, Podcasts are very new.
MAY ALI : So it wasn’t an easy journey back then, but i moved to Dubai. Then while I was being a receptionist, one of the clients in the business center you know entrepreneurs that are just starting companies and stuff, I think he was stuck, maybe an EMCEE cancelled on him or something. And he was like “Mai would you like to present an event?”, and I was like Okay what is it, he was like “it’s a small mall of several mothers and their children and you just have to introduce them, and I will pay you 3000 dirhams for this one hour”. So Imagine, I’m working for a month everyday commuting for 4 hours, spending 8 to 10 hours in my job and I was getting paid 4070 dirhams, I still remember the seventy dirhams, and then this guy comes and tells me in one hour you’re getting 3 thousands. And back then, everything was really Booming .So I was like Yeah I’ll take it, I don’t know what it’s about but I’m just gonna take the job, and I took it. So this is how my EMCEEing journey started.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Did you know what the job is ?
MAY ALI : No, I knew I’m going to hold a mic and be on the stage. I had no clue what i’m going to do.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Was it your first time to be on the stage and with a mic?
MAY ALI : It was my first time ever to be on the stage.
AlWALEED OSMAN : And you’re brave enough to just go like fine.
MAY ALI : No, I was brave but the fear and I was so scared. I still remember how I felt on the stage. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. Alwaleed I held the mic and I still remember my hand was doing like this. And my feets and my legs were like literally dancing, You know how the Belly dancer’s are. And I’m trying to act normal, I was blushing, Flushing all kinds of feelings came along. It was literally like 10 mothers with their children in a very small mall no judgement. I don’t think they will judge me. But this whole fear of being on the stage and there’s a cameraman. Okay but, being scared and all the shivering this feeling vulnerable. By the way, being brave has nothing to do with the fear, you’re scared but you still make it. So this was my first step into EMCEEing, it was a coincidence.
AlWALEED OSMAN : I like what you said because I read somewhere that they say “Courage is not the absence of fear”, it’s “feeling the fear but going ahead anyway”.
MAY ALI : And this is 100% in everything in life when you just start doing it. As soon as you get out of your comfort zone there’s fear in anything you do, even going and meeting new people there could be this kind of fear “what are they gonna do?”, “are they gonna judge me?” or whatever the consequences are for doing anything in life, you have the fear this is how the human brain is made.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But you must have had some serious courage to do that because you know that statistically speaking in public is ranked number one fear for both men and women, and the number two for men is death. So people would rather die than speaking in Public. So just accepting this job is very brave.
MAY ALI : I also loved it, basically it sounds like a huge opportunity, I love being on the stage and I love kids. Back in Lebanon whenever we used to have big gatherings with families, I would bring all the kids and I’d make them a show, so it was within me, when I was studying I put teddy bears and I started teaching them. So it’s always been something that I would love to do, and I grabbed that opportunity. I didn’t say no because of my fear.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Okay so this is how you started. My question to you is, What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you first began your career as an EMCEE?
MAY ALI : Honestly there’s many things I wished I had known, but back then there was a lot of things i wasn’t aware of, like I wouldn’t know how to handle a client, I wouldn’t know if it’s important to study the whole concept of the brand before you go and meet the client and be on the stage. So back then if I understood before meeting any client for a job the background and asked the right questions, I would’ve performed much better. Oh my god this one for sure just reminded me now. In the beginning of my career as an EMCEE, I used to lots of events in the malls I used to shout on the mic, and I think all the shops hated me, I was like “Hello Everyone” not like that, much much louder I will be screaming thinking that the mic isn’t the powerful thing it’s my voice and all the shops used to complain to the management that this girl just shut her off, she’s annoying, she’s disturbing our clients. So everytime i recall this instant I was like I just wish I knew how to use my voice in the right way but I wasn’t like training. I just did it along the way.
AlWALEED OSMAN : You learned by doing which I think is the best way to learn sometimes. So, the first event was that mall event with the mothers, and how did you feel after you went off the stage?
MAY ALI : I felt empowered, the shiverings stayed with me at least maybe 20 minutes. It wasn’t something that was gone after I left the stage. But then the client was very happy with my work, and he was like Okay… I think it was a festival or something. And he mentioned to me that we will be having other events in different malls. Do you remember Hamar Ain mall, not Wafi the other one, Burjuman, Mercato there wasn’t in Emirates Mall and Dubai Mall these big malls, these were the ones we knew about. So these are the ones I did their events. Every single time I do an event I get much better at. And it was very natural for me, because I love people. In my nature I love people, and that helped me a lot being on the stage.
AlWALEED OSMAN : And I feel that what makes EMCEEs successful loving people, but I could also tell that at a very young age you wanted to help, so you had that giving nature to you. And I feel like this is very successful. EMCEEs who are successful , they want to entertain the crowd, they want people to be happy. They want them to enjoy their time.
MAY ALI : Actually, mentioning that there’s two kinds of EMCEEs, the One who’s like “Look at me, Look at me “I am beautiful, I am handsome, I am the Master of Ceremony”. And there’s another kind who is like “I am here to serve you. I am here to entertain you or to provide you with information” and all the ones who are presenting, not the EMCEE, the management on the stage or the entertainers. They are the story. so I’m here to facilitate for them, and people can sense your humbleness when you are on the stage. So this is very important to differentiate between these two things.
AlWALEED OSMAN : One of the people that I talked to told me that great EMCEEs are both grand and humble. So you have to be humble, You know how they call servant leadership nowadays it’s the trend, being a servant leader.
MAY ALI : Ah I didn’t know that !.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Yeah, so you’re serving your team it’s the same you’re serving the speakers, the act, the shows. But at the same time you’re still grand in a way, I mean you’re both you’re the perfect balance between being the EMCEE but you’re also there to make others shine, which makes you even better.
MAY ALI : Exactly !
AlWALEED OSMAN : You’re the guy who makes everyone look great, or the girl who makes everyone look great. So, how did you start getting more events then?, after this first one, through the same client who invited you to do other events ?.
MAY ALI : No, basically this was my beginning where I was just doing events for this client. But then I realized that prior to being an EMCEE I used to do promotion on the side, when I left Red Bull it took me a while to find a job so I did promotion work, so to be able to be a promoter or hostess, you have to go through an agency. So the same agencies I approached, I’m like I can present events for you I’m gonna provide you my Portfolio as a presenter. And I started off with one agency, so they started getting me a job as a presenter and started spreading the word like other agencies would know me through an event, and they would approach me. This was the way back then, there was no Social Media. So it’s a word of mouth and you introduce yourself to the agencies.
AlWALEED OSMAN : What was your second event?
MAY ALI : The second event, I think it was Panasonic and Gitex.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Okay. Were you still afraid?, did you still have these nerves?
MAY ALI : Yes.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But you actually actively went to look for that event.
MAY ALI : Yes, so the beginning was by chance, it was a coincidence when this guy approached me and he didn’t even know that I would love to be an EMCEE. But afterwards, I was like Okay this is definitely good money why not have a part time not as a promoter or actually have both being a promoter and presenter. But I still remember at the Gitex Panasonic event they gave me a script and I wasn’t prepared for it, I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to present back then. I’m talking about when I was like nineteen, I remember going on the stage, and going blackout I don’t even see the script, and I started crying on the stage.
AlWALEED OSMAN : No way, that actually happened?
MAY ALI : Yeah, You make me remember the worst moment of my life.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Okay hold on, that’s very interesting. You actually cried in front of everyone. And did people see that, or did you manage to say “Oh there’s something in my eyes guys”, the lighting is too strong”
MAY ALI : Okay these memories are like flashbacks, it hurts. So basically I went down the stage, I don’t think they noticed. I think only the management did. Thank god, it was the morning time, so you know Gitex in the morning they’re not very busy, just the First show. 10:00, And they didn’t have any other EMCEEs, they had to deal with me. Well “you want water, chocolate, how can we help you?”. They didn’t have an option, they were nice, but I don’t think it was an option to get an EMCEE on the spot and they need the show to go on. So after that I was able to go back to the stage and act normal and eventually I got better at every single day. But I think back then Panasonic regrets having me as an EMCEE.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Did they never hire you again ?
MAY ALI : Yeah, I don’t think they did. I don’t remember having Panasonic again in my resume. I don’t think you see it in my Portfolio either right?
AlWALEED OSMAN : Yeah, No It’s not there., and then on the next couple of days you did better, but when you get over the stage nerves? At what point, or what event where you were like Okay this is natural I’m just going up on the stage and start talking?
MAY ALI : Do you want the honest answer or the fake answer ?
AlWALEED OSMAN : The honest answer, please.
MAY ALI : Never, I never did. The fear of the stage has always been with me and nobody believes like “There’s no way May you have fear”, and everytime I have an event, I take it as serious as if it was my first event. So, this gives me the feeling of being humble and taking the job very seriously and don’t take things for granted. So, I’m not gonna say the fear is like shivering and being scared not that no. It’s a controlled kind of fear where you have inside you, and it has a rush of adrenaline. And this adrenaline makes me do a much better job that I wouldn’t if I didn’t have this kind of fear.
AlWALEED OSMAN : I mean a little bit of fear is always healthy because it ensures that you always do your best. It’s that kind of fear, I mean you’re not as afraid as you were in the past.
MAY ALI : No, but that also took time with practice. It’s practice doing an event after an event and then getting all these compliments from people, so it helps when you get feedback.
AlWALEED OSMAN : My question to you is, How were you still actively seeking EMCEE jobs while being afraid of it?. So it’s like both, you’re not afraid but I mean you still having to deal with the nerves, so you actually kept going after something that kept making you, like you didn’t just give up You were not like “No It’s enough I’m done with Panasonic, I don’t want to repeat this embarrassing situation again”. How did you get that grit to keep pushing through, until getting better and better at it?
MAY ALI : You know AlWaleed, I understood this part only a couple of months ago, I didn’t know why I was doing this, and what was in me. I was reading, or actually listening to a Podcast for Brené Brown. She talks about vulnerability, and she mentioned that this is the paradox of life: you’re brave but you’re scared. You have this fear but you still go toward your dreams. So regardless of my fear, and scare of being a failure. I still kept going, and this is how I came to Dubai in the first place. I worked in Redbull then Receptionist and I took this job. I always take chances, I also had another failure, a huge failure that I did with a big Company maybe I shouldn’t mention the name. Otherwise, they won’t hire me again. That also back in the day, so in the beginning I was failing because I didn’t have the awareness, or how to get things done. Even YouTube wasn’t famous back then by the way. So there were no tips on how to approach things, but I always felt I needed to keep going to get better. And it was a natural kind of.. It was a natural thing in me. It wasn’t something that I planned for, or Yes I’m brave let me do this. It was something realizing that Okay you know what this is a great income I can even support myself and my family better and I’m gonna keep going.
AlWALEED OSMAN : So that other big failure with an anonymous company, what was it?, and what did you learn from it?.
MAY ALI : Let’s talk about success stories. What do you think of that? . I’m just joking No, no it’s fine.
AlWALEED OSMAN : That’s the next question actually.
MAY ALI : That one was a disaster. Should I mention the name or not?
AlWALEED OSMAN : I think keep it anonymous, but it’s up to you.
MAY ALI : It was a big big car company not Porsche.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Because I love Porsche, I would’ve been really heartbroken.
MAY ALI : I’ll tell you, No I won’t tell you I won’t say. So basically this company, they were opening their showroom in Oman, and they hired me as a presenter, and the guy who was writing the script for me, he gave me at the last minutes, at the stage I couldn’t see the script the lighting was very strong, and they have invited Sheikh, VIPs, they have invited everybody to the opening of this showroom I could not see the script, and I got so scared and that somebody had to take over. So this was the biggest embarrassment of my life.
AlWALEED OSMAN : And what was the lesson learned?
MAY ALI : The lesson learned here it was realizing that you need to speak up, you need to speak up to these things. Even when you’re starting at an EMCEE job, or beginning of being a presenter or Public Speaker you need to speak up to things that are not working well. Like “You know what guys you’re giving me the script at the last minute”. That’s okay for me now. I mean now, I can create the script while I’m going on the stage. But that’s always experience and practice. But when you’re at the beginning of your journey, you need to be fully prepared, and ask as many questions as possible. And do rehearsal on the stage with the right lighting. So rehearsal, preparing, asking questions, not being scared of the clients. Actually, we need to say no this is not okay, we need to do it that way. Otherwise, the event will fail. You need to speak up, it’s very important. But again, as a nineteen years old girl, I didn’t know how to handle this situation back then.
AlWALEED OSMAN : I don’t think at this age, I think most people wouldn’t know what to ask for, or how to set boundaries, or be assertive. You know I need a script in advance, I need to know who’s coming, I need the agenda. Some of the events they don’t even give you the agenda.
MAY ALI : Exactly. And sometimes the clients don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not their job. So the Mcs job here is to guide the client.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Yes, especially when it comes to technical things that only the EMCEE would know, I mean the client just wants the event to be successful.
MAY ALI : Exactly, so EMCEEs job is to ask these questions to support and to give them guidelines, and guidance at the event, but of course it depends on how much the client is giving you the opportunity to do that. You can’t just go and you know what to do . Many clients know what they’re doing, but if they ask for your opinion, voice it out.
AlWALEED OSMAN : I agree. What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in EMCEEing?
MAY ALI : Basically, you have a different kind of EMCEEing, sometimes you could be passionate about a specific topic, start with that first. So let’s say if you’re into technology or fashion or cars, whatever something that you’re very passionate about start with that first, because it will give you a drive, you’re excited to talk about it, you would love to learn more information so this will be a good push for you to have the confidence. Second, join these clubs ,for example Toastmasters, join clubs that you will be able to train yourself in if you can’t then try to do some mini groups of friends and host for them, do the training continuously so you can get better at it, and take the chance. So even if it means in the beginning doing an event that you were talking to not to do it. Even if it means to do charity events or CSR events free of charge. This is a great opportunity to be on the stage and see if this is what you love or not.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But you know what May, even if you do offer EMCEE services for free to a charity or non-profit organizations, they still wanna see your showreel, and if you have never done it before, it’s very hard to get on the stage for the first time.
MAY ALI : Well this is what I’m trying to say, is that when you have companies that would take it. Especially in the beginning when it’s like children’s shows or things that are not very critical, you don’t have cameras on, or VIPs or huge launches. Start with the small events. And also, as I told you, being in ToastMasters, or doing CSR initiatives, or doing charity initiatives, you can create videos out of these events, just like myself I was a hostess and I shifted from being a hostess to an EMCEE.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Like existing in the event ecosystem.
MAY ALI : Exactly, existing, talking to people, networking, joining network groups, trying to promote your service, maybe opening a YouTube channel and talking about your passion, so people can see you, and start approaching you, getting your name into agencies with your portfolio and your background. You gotta take the first step, sometimes when you give a budget that is very minimal clients could possibly hire you or agencies.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Okay so, do you believe great EMCEEs are born or made?, like anyone can be an EMCEE or born to be an EMCEE.
MAY ALI : I always believed for a very long time you are born to be an EMCEE, I did not think that you can become an EMCEE, it has to be something within you, because you know how they say some people have a presence and some people don’t have a presence, I still do believe that do exists, some people they just show up in any event or any gathering, they have this vibe, they have that thing that you can sense that they actually exist. And some people pass by, and they would maybe talk forever but you forget about them, maybe they don’t even see them. So I always always felt, you are born to be an EMCEE. However, I believe now with the training with the guidance, with your passion, with all the practice you can be, you can be made, maybe even better than the ones who are born, because you will even put more effort to make it happen.
AlWALEED OSMAN : And they always say that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
MAY ALI : I 100% agree with what they’re saying.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But I feel like, You said passion, passion is very important because I don’t think it’s something that anyone would do who’s not passionate about it. Why would he do it? What makes him up to go on the stage?. Okay so, What are the best resources that have helped you along with your career?, whether it’s books, audio books, people, movies, quotes, things that have helped you along your career as an EMCEE.
MAY ALI : Honestly, what has helped me being an EMCEE is not books or audios, I did watch a lot of Ted talks, but it was mainly a lot of practice one. Most of the companies that I worked for, for example, Dubai Holding, Dubai Media City, Dubai properties, Huawei, they used to always utilize me as a presenter at the event free of charge, because they know I have this background. So the practice helps me a lot, practicing I think is the right thing for EMCEEing, the more you do it, the more you get better at it. Also, another thing is that my background is in the event industry so I was heading the events in different organizations. And because of that, I would understand what’s happening behind the scenes. So for the EMCEE you need to know what’s happening behind the scenes what are the pressure points, what are the things that could happen out of nowhere and could actually ruin the event, or the way you’re presenting, sometimes electricity got cut off, it happened before on the mic how do you handle it, so all these surprises you learn how events work, and that would help you to get much better at being an EMCEE.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Because you can anticipate all the problems that could happen, and you kind of know what could happen and what to do in every situation.
MAY ALI : And even if you don’t anticipate, you know that something is gonna happen, that something will happen. I’ve never been to an event that was 100% perfect. so this is something that… I had an event for a president of a country, they gave me the script half an hour before the event but with experience, I was able to do a great job and people thought I was from that country.
AlWALEED OSMAN : That’s amazing.
MAY ALI : Exactly, but that’s again with experience, I will practice experience.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But for you EMCEEs starting out they might not have that opportunity to practice, I like what you said about joining Public Speaking Clubs like ToastMasters club, it’s kind of similar to what i’m saying maybe not exactly the same, but at least it gives them everything they need to do as a Public Speaker, because Public speaking and EMCEEing are too different arts. Some people think that they’re the same thing. What do you think ?
MAY ALI : They’re not the same thing, but when you combine it gets so much better. In the sense, of course you have to have this emotional intelligence to know when to do Public speaking while you’re EMCEEing. EMCEEing is basically connecting the dots, and making sure things are going smoothly. If the presenter is going out of his time then you support until okay it’s time for One, two, three, four, five…you need to move to the next presenter. So it’s all about liaising and assuring the event is going smoothly. Sometimes an EMCEE is an entertainer, so the event is 100% depending on the EMCEE. And this is where you use the tweak of the Public speaking. You use these elements. Sometimes an EMCEE is a panel moderator, you can also combine these two things. How can you behave like an EMCEE, and then change your mindset and your behavior and become a moderator. So, if you have the element under the EMCEE as a Public Speaker, as a Moderator, as a good Speaker this will help a lot with the EMCEEing, and will take you to the next level. Because eventually, maybe you don’t wanna be an EMCEE for the rest of your life, you wanna shift to Public speaking. So, I believe it’s very much connected but an EMCEE needs to be careful with what the client wants. And you have to stick to this kind of thing, because if you act like a Public Speaker while being an EMCEE, the client won’t be happy. Do your job as an EMCEE why are you… ?
AlWALEED OSMAN : Or people, or the Public Speakers because there are Public speakers in the event for a reason.
MAY ALI : Don’t take the lights from the rest of the speakers, again depending on the client requirements, always go back to what your clients want. And give them their requirements, and live the brand.
AlWALEED OSMAN : What is the best way to prepare for an event, or before an event?. What should an EMCEE do?
MAY ALI : First of all, you meet with the client, before you meet with the client, if you can understand their backgrounds, read about the website, check online for events that they have done before. So try your best to understand the backgrounds of the clients, and their brands. Understand the brands. Then you meet the client usually, I mean depends on the requirements. Make sure you go to the client as if you’re going on stage. I’m not saying dress up like a gala, depends on the event. But go with the same perception, like I wouldn’t go to a client who is in the government ? with my curly hair. I change my style, I have my hair straight, I go with the vibe that the clients need. When I meet there, I understand everything, I understand the inquiry, and I ask questions. And sometimes the clients say “Oh thank you for asking this question!”, “Oh that makes sense”, but again back to experience you need to really be prepared to ask the right questions. So, when you get the script from the client, or right to the script you get the approval on the script. It’s important to practice. I don’t practice as much, but again based on the seventeen years, but practicing always makes things much much better. That’s one always drink water before your event, not a lot of water so you don’t have a lot of trips to the bathroom.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Because sometimes you don’t get any time to go.
MAY ALI : Yeah exactly, just like a sip of water, have vitamin C to keep your energy up. And dress up , make sure to dress up for the occasion, be prepared, have the cards, have a backup plan, have two sets of cards or ipads just to be on the safe side. And remember, on the spot on the stage clients could change the last minutes, they would change the wording, content, be ready for that, and don’t shake like “Oh my god what’s gonna happen now”, I lost focus. This happens many times, and then EMCEEs go on stage and they’re completely lost with their documents, and that used to happen to me also. So be prepared that this is live and this will change.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Did you ever, have you ever declined an event or refused to do an event ?
MAY ALI : Yeah, I did.
AlWALEED OSMAN : And what were your reasons?
MAY ALI : My reasons were… at the beginning, I wouldn’t refuse anything as I don’t know, but afterwards I would refuse if it doesn’t go with my brand, I am not saying like I’m somebody who’s very important. But let’s say like I have international clients now, I’ve been in Germany, Singapore, Turkey, and other middle east countries. And I do like high caliber event corporate etc… So when they ask me for events that are completely different than my caliber, I don’t do it anymore, I actually don’t refuse, “I reject your event because you’re not up to my caliber” No, it’s not like that. But I offer the right people, I provide the EMCEE that I feel would fit the ceremony.
AlWALEED OSMAN : So it’s about personal branding ?
MAY ALI : Personal branding, Yes.
AlWALEED OSMAN : So if you were to step in my shoes now, what question would you ask yourself that I haven’t asked you ?
MAY ALI : You asked me all questions, I didn’t even think you would cover all these questions. You covered many things. Let me see, let me check, what would it be… Maybe I would ask “If you go back to when you first started. Do you feel that you could’ve done something better to be in a better position now?”
AlWALEED OSMAN : And would you?
MAY ALI : Yeah, there would be.
AlWALEED OSMAN : What would you change?
MAY ALI : I would change the fact when I was so scared to leave the corporate world and follow my dreams. I stayed in the corporate world for a very long time, for security purposes. And I regret that. If I have started earlier, I would’ve been in a much, much even better position right now.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But, did the corporate world prevent you from EMCEEing?
MAY ALI : It was very hard, I mean I would have to reject events because I would have a full time job, and you have to give priority to your full time job. When I used to go for my EMCEEing, I would be stressed, worried because I have other things that I have to work on.
AlWALEED OSMAN : But, Couldn’t you take a day off ?
MAY ALI : I used to take a day off, but again I mean I have a family, I have two kids, I have this I have that. So it was a lot of pressure so focusing, I’m not saying leave the corporate world if you can do both at the same time, but I had other responsibilities, and I really truly feel, if I had focused on presenting and public speaking earlier it would’ve been better. But there’s always a chance too…
AlWALEED OSMAN : Yeah, It’s never too late.
MAY ALI : It’s never too late, but if you ask me this is something that I will say like Yes it should’ve been a little bit earlier.
AlWALEED OSMAN : You know, I wanted to start another Podcast and call it “Quit your Job”. So many people, entrepreneurs and people I talked to have told me the craziest stories of how they quit their jobs, and start to doing something that made them ten to a hundred to a thousand times more successful, so yeah that’s very interesting you said something like that, I think a lot of listeners wanna hear about that, be brave enough to follow your dreams and don’t box yourself into a job. If you have an alternative way to make money.
MAY ALI : 100%, and on the top of that, I was just listening to a podcast today for Oprah and Brene Brown, sorry this is like my two idols. And they were talking about, how to follow your heart I forgot the exact name, but it tells you that always find a way to cultivate your energy, your passion, and do it, if you have a job that you love then it’s perfect , but if it doesn’t try other than your job, do something you love. Be it art, any job sports, anything that you love. And the reason behind it tells you to suppress creativity, it heats you with rage, anger, frustration, depression, so you need to find a way to do what you’re passionate about. Even, it’s in the meantime it’s not yet your time to quit your job if you can’t afford to.
AlWALEED OSMAN : You know what they say “Don’t work so that you can be able to do something that you love. Do something that you love so you’ll be able to make money out of it”.
MAY ALI : It’s very true for me, but for many people it’s not the case. So we don’t want people “you know what quit your job and do your thing”, especially in these hard times. But definitely do something on the side at least, and grow it gradually. You know, sometimes people quit their job and they’re like “I’m gonna follow my dream”. Where’s your plan?. Have a plan.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Or at least figure out something that could potentially be income-generating. I wanna say that one more time to the camera. “Don’t make money so you could do something that you love, Do something that you love so you can make money”.
MAY ALI : A nice one AlWaleed, nice one .
AlWALEED OSMAN : And now the last question of the show, which is the second , and it’s a deep question kind of. What is EMCEEing to you? or what does EMCEEing mean to you May ?
MAY ALI : EMCEEing means to me , it’s living a brand. EMCEEing is enjoying being on the stage by providing the best energy you could. EMCEEing for me is seeing people smiling and happy. EMCEEing is leaving the stage with something memorable to the audience to yourself and to the client. EMCEEing is my world, EMCEEing for me is what makes me truly happy.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Thank you very much, where can our listeners connect with you online ?.
MAY ALI : I am on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, on YouTube very soon. It’s about time right ?. I can’t stay away from the online world. But mainly I’m active on Instagram at @maysayedali .
AlWALEED OSMAN : May sayed Ali thank you very much for being on the show today, it was a pleasure having you in the EMCEE cast. Thank you very much for coming.
MAY ALI : Alwaleed you gave me such a beautiful opportunity, I don’t know where this is going, but I really enjoyed it. And it kind of reminds me of so many memories, that I have suppressed for a long time, like the client I did bad with, but you also reminded me of my journey. Thank you so much for such a beautiful opportunity.
AlWALEED OSMAN : Thank you for coming.