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