Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Class 1: Presentation

Goal: to improve DM presentation skills in order to better communicate ideas, concepts and narration to participants (the party); to use presentation to create a more focused, immersive campaign.


  • Read Chapter Six of How to Run: an Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games.
  • Read those blog entries from my blog pertaining to classes on the internet (list pending).
  • Be sure to arrange our Skype talk so that you are alone and free of distractions; turn off your phone and reduce your internet availability.
  • Come prepared to run your world.  DMs should be prepared to run a player who has never participated in their campaign before.
  • Have room to move about on camera; don't be in a very tight enclosed space.  You will be asked to communicate on camera from a standing position.

Here are the bare bones of where I would start as a tutor - and as I write this, I am already thinking of at least one difficult conversation that would come about.  It is cruel and abusive, but for the purpose of this post I'm going to refer to the pupil/student as the 'payer' - I want this to be firmly in the reader's mind.

(Camera comes on; greetings and pleasantries are exchanged, I encourage the payer to feel free to be honest and direct, to ask questions, to ask for a rest if they are feeling pressured, to not worry about the clock and to feel that we have plenty of time to address the issues at hand.  Then I explain that, just to be sure we get to all those issues, we will occasionally have to drop a discussion, even if it's interesting, to ensure we can get through the lesson.
Payer is wearing a ratty, Star Wars shirt and is slumped comfortably in their chair)

Me: Do you feel ready to begin?

Payer:  Sure.

Me: I'd like to start with what you're wearing.

Payer:  Sorry?

Me: The shirt you're wearing.  I'd like to talk about it.  Can you tell me why you chose to wear that particular shirt.

Payer:  Uh, it's comfortable.

Me:  Of course.  I understand.  My point would be, what is the message it gives to your players when you wear that shirt?

Payer (annoyed):  That I like Star Wars.

Me:  That's fair.  But the purpose in learning how to better present is to convey a sense that your privilege as DM is deserved.  That is not to say you are not a great DM - you may very well be.  But the communication between us and other people is not based on what you are but upon what you are perceived to be.  When someone sees you in that shirt, what message does that send?

Payer:  I don't see how that matters.  I'm me.  I don't want to pretend to be someone else.

Me:  It isn't a matter of pretending.  It is a question of presentation.  In a sense, you are already adopting a pretense.  You're conveying a message with your clothing that says you're a friendly fellow, pleasant, easy to get along with and so on.  The question is, does that help you DM your players.  Players who think the DM is "easy to get along with" also think that the DM is "easy to get around" or "won't hassle me if I goof off."  Which is precisely the sort of relationship you'd want to have with your friends at the bar, since you wouldn't hassle them and you wouldn't mind being gotten around because these are your friends and its fun.  The problem is that as a DM, you're adopting a role of authority and that role means you have to make judgments and give instructions and be obeyed when you ask for silence and such.  That shirt doesn't send the message, "Listen to me, I have something to say."  That shirt sends the message, "I don't really care what's happening.  We're just goofing off here."  You may not be aware of that message; I presume you're not because you're here to better learn how to get control over your group and impress them.  If you want to impress people, you have to dress in a way that people identify with someone that is impressive.  That's not pretending: that's taking advantage of a pre-made stereotype that people obey and using it to help them obey YOU.


The question remains, how well will this approach succeed?  I fully expect that some people will be highly resistant to this sort of analysis.  Some readers will feel very strongly that I'm arguing from the position of an old man with an old man's prejudices.  However, it remains true that, despite the gross inaccuracy that results from trying to judge someone by their appearance, we continue to judge others by their appearance.  And this, disappointing as it is to believe, applies just as much to our friends as it does to strangers.  If Jonathan, who has been a notorious slob since high school, suddenly starts wearing dress pants and a button shirt everyday to his new job, his friends will applaud him.  If Jonathan then starts showing up at the bar in the evening still in his fine shirt and pants, because he hasn't had time to go home and dress in a sweatshirt and stretch pants, his friends will remark on how 'respectable' and 'responsible' he's become since the "Old Jonathan."  If this continues to the point where Jonathan starts coming to the cook-outs and camping trips in polo shirts and nylon gear, because can afford these now, his friends will joke and laugh about how Jonathan "used to be," with a distinct tone that the New Jonathan is much more pleasant now that he's using deodorant.  The New Jonathan may hate it; he may wish he could quit his lousy job and go back to those relaxed days in the old apartment that didn't cost him $1500 a month - but he doesn't because he likes the respect.

Presentation is not about being YOU.  It is about obtaining respect.  The respect needed to get the attention of your players and make them focus on your game.  I would be doing you a disservice, giving you the Type I lesson, if I told you the drab, ratty, cruddy clothing you're wearing is "just fine."


Maxwell Joslyn said...

There are private (group or solo) lessons for dancing, voice, acting, cooking, every musical instrument and every sport. Yet the culture surrounding this, OUR art form, does not have lessons, and actively decries trying to make one's game better as pointless and elitist.

Bring it on, Alexis, there's a gap to be filled.

Ken Filewood said...

I like that you seem to be thinking seriously about how to teach a craft here. Much is published on the internet about How to be a better GM, but little attention has been paid in preparing that material to How to better teach/ learn GMing. As a result, much that is written ends up being entertaining or 'interesting' rather than educative.

I share your view that if the payer's experience were as you describe in your example that many people might tend to 'resist' learning the lesson. I suspect they might also tend to resist attending further lessons. Learning something new can be uncomfortable, and handling that possibility is a recurring task for both teachers and learners. The specific example you chose, which includes working on personal presentation, is likely to be a sensitive topic with some people.

What I want to add to the discussion is a couple of questions about your example: How much of the 'resistance' you expect would come from the contents you were trying to teach? How much comes from the methods you used to select and introduce those contents? How much comes from the methods you chose to transmit the contents to the payer?



Alexis Smolensk said...

To be honest, Ken, I don't know how much resistance I would meet. This is one of the reasons why I'm preparing the material as I am. That which is published on the internet, as you say, is designed to be Type I education (as I defined it): to make you feel good, not to teach you something. That's because the publishers obviously don't know HOW to teach this; after 40 years, all they've learned to manage is placebo pills.

My strategy is to figure out how to handle the resistance.

Ken Filewood said...

Well, I don't know exactly how much resistance you would meet either.

It may be that publishers don't know how to teach it. I also suspect that many of them don't really care what their audience learns. Type I delivery is driven by complex motives (of producers AND consumers), many of which have little to do with education. A couple of centuries of newspapers, magazines, advertisements, self-help books, documentaries, autobiographies, popular science books, cookery books, travel guides show us this.

From the way you write, I suspect you've done some teaching. If nothing else, there are strong parallels between the problem you face as a DM managing self and players and what you are wanting to do as an instructor of DMs.

I'm glad you're exploring it, anyway.


JonathonWilder said...

I can't buy it quite yet, though I do have How to Run and How to Play a Character & Other Essays in my cart on Lulu, but once I do and read Chapter six I would very much appreciate your tutelage it if you still doing such. I would also plan on reading the rest of the book.

Honestly, I am a newbie DM having started a couple of campaigns online and once in person but because of scheduling and either myself or my players getting busy the campaigns never got anywhere. That and I admit with this, I fear, lack of organization and difficulty holding my plsyers' attention my play a large part in the campaigns' failure.

Sighs, I have a lot to learn. I am more then willing to say this, though perhaps it will also take balance my own wants or desires in a campaign with that of my players'. With this figuring out how to have everyone work together to create an interesring story, a roleplay that will be remembered.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Absolutely still doing this! I have a class the day after tomorrow.

If you haven't run before, we'll need to start with the bare essentials; creating an interesting narrative may have to wait until after you have a clear, concise idea of what you want to accomplish. Be sure you read this post about Right, Not Left:

If you can't get enough for three classes, spring for $60; then you can see what you're getting and we can make a deal for the other two classes at $45 each. Sound fair?