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Stage fright: Talking to an audience

01 February 2014 | Blog post

On Thursday, 30th January 2014, I decided, last-minute, to stand up and talk about my game, Red Forest.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an introvert. This is not a bad thing. I do not dislike socialising, in fact as two months worth of living alone without any entertainment in Manchester proved that I am quite fond of it. I merely like my time to recharge to be alone in my own mind, thinking about whatever interesting things popped up that day. Usually, it’s a GUI bug, or a new way of managing systems.

Introversion naturally causes me to feel uncomfortable in large crowds. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just how I am wired. However, it does pose a problem when it comes to attempting to market a product. I should be out there, showing it off, and comfortably giving talks saying, Hey, this is what it is, this is how it works. Instead, I typically stick to my safe zone and keep quiet.

On Thursday, this changed.

You see, at Manchester Unity Users Group, the theme was Procedural Generation. This very theme was very, very relevant seeing that Red Forest is a procedurally generated game. I forced myself to talk to the organisers, and then I did not let myself back down. At this point, I knew it was going to go wrong, but I didn’t care.

Maybe to everyone else in the room this wasn’t a big thing. Anyone reading this who remembers their first talk knows what I am talking about – You have a room full of people staring, judging, waiting patiently to hear what you have to say. This turns your nerves into jelly – and not the wibbly wobbly nice-with-custard jelly, but cat food jelly. It’s still wibbly wobbly, but it’s not nice. and you really don’t appreciate getting it on yourself.

Normally, the first thing you would say would be “Hello, I am Damien Sturdy from Sturdy Games, and I am here to talk about Red Forest.”

What I said: “Ummmm…. So I’m showing off my racer. It’s kind of like Wipe.. I was going to say F-Zero but Wipeout works”.  About 5 minutes of me talking about how it procedurally extrudes a solid mesh along a spline and textures it, I say, “Now, this is actually available for free whilst I develop it”. Then, someone asked the first question: “What’s the site address?”.

Internally I panicked. I think I hid this well actually. I realised I had failed to give the website and that these people had no idea who the rambling fool in front of them was. I’m not particularly ashamed of embarrassment. If someone dared me to wear a dress, I would probably do it. At this point, I said, “Oh, yes! I suppose that would be really helpful for you to know! It’s DamienSturdy.co.uk, and I am Damien Sturdy. Nice to see you all”. A few people giggled. Moment saved? It didn’t feel like it.

Mistake 2, although nobody would have noticed, was that my site is SturdyGames.co.uk, not DamienSturdy.co.uk, which simply points here. It didn’t matter, because at some point that day, something funny happened with the server and I just this morning restored it. It was offline.

After around 5 minutes of internal panic, I had enough, and said, “And well, that’s my game, and it’s procedurally generated. Thank you!”

Something very bizarre happened at this very moment. Everyone there received applause, so that didn’t surprise me, but the audience seemed to pick up on my severe nerves and I got an absolutely massive applause. I walked off buzzing. People told me it was really good, and although I had decided I didn’t care if I was judged up there, it was really nice to know that it was enjoyed.

 

So, what advice would I give to other first time talkers?

Firstly, if you have stage fright, this is going to be hard no matter how you look at it. I found that although the fact someone I knew was there initially caused more anxiety, their indirect support made me feel more at home front of house. Take a friend for support if possible.

Secondly, you’re going to be nervous. Don’t try not to be. The audience is far more forgiving than you think, so just be as comfortable as you can be with those nerves. This may sound daft, but it is true. I sat at the back before I stood up and instead of thinking “Cack cack cack cack cack! I’m going up! Oh no, Oh no!”, I successfully forgot about the audience and thought about the content. The audience came back to mind when I realised the room was staring at me, by which time it was too late to back down! Also, be comfortable knowing that it will not be perfect. Your nerves are going to show. You will overuse “errr, umm….” but it is far more important to get this one task done.

Then, introduce yourself first. I didn’t. It was silly, and I recovered t later. My talk would have been far, far more professional had I introduced myself calmly at the start. So much so that it is likely the slip ups in the rest of the talk would not have been noticed!

Thirdly, since you are reading this, you have time to plan. If you are talking about a game, try to keep some form of dialogue going as if you were to talk about the game. Get used to talking about its positive traits. I did not know I was going to be up there until 5 minutes before it happened. Hopefully you have more preparation time.

I’ll talk again, and since stage fright doesn’t vanish overnight, I am likely to have the same nerves.

I will, however, be better prepared!

 


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