On the desire to give talks
I want to give talks.
To stand behind that podium, with your laptop open in front of you, and speak into the mic as tens or hundreds of people listen to you share your story. To me, giving talks was always something that the people I wanted to be like did. As I work towards the things I want to do, it’s natural that I find myself itching to give talks too. What a wonderful way to terrify yourself, grow and give back to the community all at the same time.
The battle begins in my mind. My mind creates very compelling arguments for me to not do a talk.
‘You have nothing to talk about, Zhi’
Of course! How could I possibly think of giving talks at this stage of my career? I’m better off focusing on my work and gathering the experience, the stories. That’s what people want, right?
It’s so easy to tell myself that. It takes no effort to leave the matter there and feel like I’m making the right decision. It is something I do way too much.
For that reason, I’m lucky to have been inspired by the people I’ve crossed paths with. My good friend, Daum Park, recently gave a talk about the rapid development process we experimented with recently. These experiences inspired me enough to have this nagging feeling that just sitting on this can’t be the right decision. Now my takeaway from this, on top of being spurred into action, is how much more aware I have become to things I may be denying myself, without giving it the consideration it deserves. How many more things do I take the easy way out of without even weighing my options? Is it sensible or is it just holding me back?
This learning is aptly summed up by Mary Schmich,
“ Do one thing every day that scares you.”
The argument from earlier was that I could spend the time doing other things. It’s pointless to say what one thing is better to spend time on. It’s all contextual. But, I do want to put focus on one benefit that giving talks can give and it’s something you gain before you even give the talk.
There are obvious benefits to giving a talk, such as practicing your presentation skills, and putting yourself out and into the industry. On top of that, what I appreciate about giving a talk is the need to bring what you know into reality in one form or another. The process leading up to the talk, when you’re compiling, stream lining and designing the presentation, will almost always create valuable insights.
It may be an insight that reinforces your understanding of the topic, or maybe it challenges you and reveals gaps in what you know. I find these insights to be similar to the ones you gain when actually practicing your craft. You naturally have to be internalizing and acting on the knowledge you have. But, you don’t always get a chance to practice what you know. For example, if you gained an insight about the end of production from a post mortem, the next time you get to exercise this insight is the at the end of production for the next game, which could be months, for some years, away. That’s where talks (or articles) can be a great way to revisit such knowledge and create an environment that is close to practicing it.
By being forced to bring what you know into reality, be it dot points or graphics on some slides, you will almost always gain an insight and grow from it.
I do believe that giving a talk is a great way to give back to the community. A lot of people do it for different reasons, but the bottom line is, we speak because you are listening. The talks are given for the audience and they are our community.
I have had the privilege of attending a number of conventions and from each of them a fair share of talks. Over time I started to develop an idea for what I felt like made a good talk. This came from one particularly unengaging talk. It made me realise that one of the worst things you could do in a talk is only have content that anyone can google. Despite how vast google is today, there is one thing that we can all talk about that can’t be found on google. We can talk about our personal story.
It makes for a far more engaging talk when we put our experiences front and center. This harks back to earlier when I was talking about being fearful about having nothing to talk about. We all come from different walks of life, culture and have unique personalities. When we express this in our work, interactions or the talks we give, only then will our community and industry grow in diversity and be richer for it.
We can talk about our personal story.
I am only beginning to become a part of the game development community, but I’m already so amazed and appreciative for welcoming it is and the kind of change it is trying to bring about. If there ever a one reason for me to give a talk, it would be to do my part in growing and inspiring the community, just as it is doing for me.
So that’s it, my fears and inspiration for giving talks. But what’s next? It really is practice. There’s nothing stopping me from taking down ideas, writing and designing more talks. As with so many things in life, there are things we can do today to work towards what we want. Sometimes, all you need to spur you into action is some time to write down and reflect on your fears and inspirations.