Public Speaking: the undervalued game dev skillset

Public Speaking: the undervalued game dev skillset

I often see at community game dev events that the vast majority of game devs seem to lack basic public speaking skills.  This is generally exacerbated by the fact that most of us in game dev lean towards the introverted part of the personality spectrum.

To be fair, it’s not just game devs – it is a known fact that public speaking to many people is one of the top fears.  Just google top fears and you’ll find public speaking is right up there with “death by fire”!

As a result most of us game devs avoid it like the plague until something really important comes up, e.g. a game launch.  Then we’re suddenly forced to talk about it in front of a lot of people and it’s terrifying.  So why wait until those critical moments to fail/learn?  We can all build up skills gradually right from today!

It’s an uncomfortable activity when you start out, that’s for sure, but the benefits of becoming competent far outweigh the perceived pain you get at the beginning.  Like a lot of things, including going to the gym, it just takes a couple of weeks of perseverance and the vast bulk of discomfort fades away.  Give it another 3-6 months and it can even become enjoyable!

There’s nothing better than being able to connect and communicate with a crowd of people as you would with just a single person.  It’s super fun, and when done effectively it can be entertaining for your listeners too!

From my own experience, I was horrible when I started.  I remember I was always way too shy to speak up at meetings or to ask questions even during lectures at university.  I could always feel my stomach knotting up in fear whenever I had to talk to more than 3-4 people.

After I graduated, I knew I had to get better – I couldn’t let it become a limiting factor in my career.  I was always wildly ambitious, and I knew to climb the corporate ladder, I’d need to be confident in every situation.

I looked into what I could do, and Toastmasters came up.  Toastmasters is an international public speaking club that has many clubs all over the world.  In Auckland alone there were dozens of clubs.  Naturally being a recent grad, I went to the University of Auckland’s club.

I can remember the first day I went along.  They invited me up to do a “table topic” which is an impromptu mini speech.  I recall my throat constricting in fear, and a squeak coming out of my mouth: “Hello…. I’m … Joe…”.  There were only 5 or 6 people but it was mortifying.

However, I was determined to overcome my panic, and I kept going and putting my hand up for roles.  After a few weeks, I felt like I was getting into the swing of things and started enjoying talking.  

I noticed that simple things like speaking up at team meetings at work got a lot easier.  A lot of other regular interactions with other work mates also became a lot smoother.

Over the years, a lot of opportunities opened up to me in my career because of public speaking.  Even in my early indie days, it really helped – I had chances to do interviews, I recorded videos for youtube, and even did many presentations for NZGDC and our local meetups.  

Just to be clear, videos are another skill set that needs to be learned.  I was pretty awkward and weird for the first half a dozen or so videos I did as well, but having public speaking skills really helped.

Presentations were great for getting exposure for what I was doing at a local community level.  Additionally, the communication skills I honed helped massively during expos like PAX and Armageddon.  Being able to relate to the general public and convey my ideas was crucial in those situations.   

At PAX other opportunities to connect to major corporations opened up to us as well, e.g. we got on to the XBOX ID programme that way and spoke to reps at Oculus and Sony.

As with anything else in indie dev, getting any additional exposure is essential to doing well.  Rami Ismail is an excellent example of a huge success in the indie space.  As well as making great games, Rami is a regular on speaking circuits throughout the world, and is prolific in youtube/twitch.  His presentations skills are strong from constant use, and this undoubtedly contributes to his studio’s success.

rami

Public speaking is useful in many situations, but I believe it’s absolutely essential if you’re an indie.   A rare few can make a killer app without any marketing, but for most of us we will need to get all the publicity we can get.

If you are interested in developing your skills in this area, you can do a talk at a local NZGDA meetup or join Toastmasters.  They have a full development programme which covers all the basics.
There are dozens of Toastmasters clubs around the country.  Feel free to take a look at a few and see which one clicks!  

Here at the Arcade Auckland, we will be reviving our weekly Show and Tell events soon too.

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