The future of trade shows and speaking events like Nordic Game, GDC, E3, or GamesIndustry.biz's Investment Summit, are in a state of evolution. Right now, most shows are virtual, for obvious reasons. Some, based on vaccine adoption rates and easing of governmental restrictions are planning to bring back in-person attendance.
I believe we're going to see a hybrid approach of virtual and in-person for some time. The hybrid model allows show organizers to expand their footprint. Virtual provides developers and publishers an opportunity to participate in events that normally they would not consider due a budgetary considerations or geographical locations.
The best way forward is the hybrid model but for now virtual is the preferred
I've heard people wonder why we should go back to in-person events. Why not stay entire virtual because technology gives us easy to use tools to competently attend and conduct virtual events?
In-person events are necessary because of an underlying factor, something that I have seen called skin hunger (which could be a great name for a horror game). The longing for human touch. A handshake. A hug from a friend. There is a biological need, programmed in us long ago, for human touch. And that is something, as of right now, technology cannot satisfy.
In my opinion, the best way forward is the hybrid model but for now virtual is the preferred. Here are things we have learned at Nordic Game over the past 15 months on how to optimize your virtual participation.
Words mean things
The language or imagery you use in your virtual booth, presentation, or when speaking may be biased. Gender, age, race, disability, ethnicity, LGBTQ biases exist in our language. But, by doing relatively simple things like researching common phrases or by asking others who are different than you to review your work, you can remove unintended biases and become more inclusionary.
The language or imagery you use in your virtual booth, presentation, or when speaking may be biased
Here are just a few examples that might read like no big deal, but they are. Take a phrase that seems innocuous at first like "cake walk," meaning easy to do, as in "we used X and it was a cake wake to create our content pipeline." Seems okay, but a quick Google search shows you "cake walk" originated from a pre-Civil War dance performed for slave owners on plantation grounds. A very common one is the use of gender catch-all pronouns (he/she), but binary pronouns don't fit all people.
Failure is an option
For each show, we receive hundreds of submissions for talks. The ones we decline most often are the thinly veiled "look how great we are." When it comes to creating and presenting interesting and compelling content, conflict is best.
The most attended talks deal with failure. The creation of games combines several forms of art, technology, science, and mathematics. That is a recipe for failure, which is also a recipe for key learnings, which is also a recipe for an interesting and well attended talk.
Don't be afraid to share your stories about failure, because they are the most interesting talks and provide the industry with real, actionable information.
Submit, SUBmit, SUBMIT
Traditionally, the big names like Gaben, Carmack, the Romeros, Sweeney, Kojima, and others get the speaking opportunities. Sometimes they don't even have to apply, they just get invited, but virtual shows have provided a unique opportunity for lesser knowns to speak.
We at Nordic Game, as well as colleagues at other great shows that I have spoken with, are looking for speakers who can transcend the virtual world and provide an entertaining, compelling, and informative 20-minute talk. We are focused in curating a diverse field of captivating speakers, regardless of your notoriety.
Because many shows are virtual right now, you should apply for as many speaking opportunities as you can. Travel and costs are no longer barriers of entry. This is a great opportunity to build up a speaking resume, as well as build awareness for your brand.
To freely talk about failure does take a bit of pride swallowing, but keep in mind everyone in the audience can relate
Once you have identified the events you'd like to speak at, now it is time to devise your submission. One of the most frequent questions we as event organizers receive from submitters is what topics will get accepted. It is a great question and though there are no fool proof topics, there I recommend a couple of things that should help you in your submission process.
Keep an eye on what topics are hot in the industry. Read games industry-focused publications to see which topics or storylines keep reappearing, which stories receive the most comments. What new technologies, platforms, consoles, and hot button topics that are generating online discussions and media coverage.
I know I am stressing this, but failure is always great topic. Something along the lines of here is how we failed, here is what we learned from our failure, and this is what you can learn from our failure. To freely talk about failure does take a bit of pride swallowing, but keep in mind everyone in the audience can relate. The more the audience can potentially relate to you and your experience, the more interested we will be in your submission.
Sorry, you're not funny
Comedians are like developers. They practice their craft. They create, test, fail, start over, tweak words, change delivery until they get a single joke right. They practice at being funny.
When you are speaking, unless you are naturally funny, skip the humor. You are more likely to create an unintentionally funny/awkward moment when you joke bombs than get actual earn laughter. Humor is subjective. What one person finds funny, another may not, or worse, may find insulting.
Be comfortable on stage
Be who you are, within reason. You wouldn't get up on stage to speak at a black-tie event wearing flipflops, shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. You'd instantly lose credibility with the audience and your intended message would be lost. But, for a developer conference, that outfit could work if that outfit is you. If you prefer a t-shirt with hoodie and your favorite broken-in jeans and Vans, then wear that ensemble.
Public speaking can feel scary, so it is vital that you create a comfortable environment -- and that includes wearing clothes that you feel comfortable in
Public speaking can feel scary, so it is vital that you create a comfortable environment -- and that includes wearing clothes that you feel comfortable in... within reason. Good judgement does apply.
Another important tactic to help you gain confidence and become more comfortable on stage is by practicing, which I'll use as a segue to my next point.
Practice, practice, practice
Even the best public speakers in the world practice. Imagine releasing a game without ever going through QA, whether your QA consists of family and friends or you have massive QA resources. You'd never blindly release without testing, yet many speakers do the equivalent of that.
They don't practice the art of public speaking and jump right in. Speaking in public is an art. Those who do it well practice. They practice in front of the mirror. They practice with friends and colleagues. They visualize themselves giving the speech. I can tell you: your audience will be able to tell if you are comfortable or not on stage, and a great way to get comfortable is to practice.
Get to the bone
The best booths, talks, and the best presentations get to the point. Here is the issue and here is what we learned. This is how we failed, and this is how we recommend solving this issue.
In-person talks have natural benefits that are challenging to recreate in the virtual. Speakers can move, gesture, call attention to things in the environment. Lights, music, and slide interaction can create more dynamic appearances. With virtual, you don't have that dynamic level of activity to support your talk, unless you are Apple and spend major resources on creating a virtual event.
Their attention span is limited, so you need to get to the point immediately, grab their attention
Also, please remember, most attendees are attending via their digitally connected device. They are watching you, but keep in mind their attention is constantly being bombarded by digital distractions like email, TikTok, Twitter, messaging platforms, not to mention their daily workflow, phone calls, meetings, deadlines, fires to put out. Their attention span is limited, so you need to get to the point immediately, grab their attention, and not let go with unimportant side stories or spend too much time talking about your history.
Death by presentation
You've heard of death by PowerPoint, same thing. I review presentations and make suggestions to presenters, but in the end, it's their presentation. Once we have accepted their submission, it is the submitter's talk.
But you should keep in mind that language, whether in a presentation or appearing on (or in) your virtual booth should be kept to a bare minimum. The maxim is true, a picture is worth a thousand words when done smartly.
When it comes to talks, there are some people who require a heavy use of text and visuals to help them communicate, but for those who can express themselves verbally or using technology to do so, I recommend fewer slides with a focus on compelling visuals instead of heavy text. Let your words and visuals do the speaking for you.
You should gravitate toward opportunities, whether you are speaking or hosting a virtual booth or just attending, to shows that provide you with actionable analytics. Information like how many attended your talk or booth, how much time was spent, where they went, contact information when possible (even if it requires an opt-in).
Otherwise, you may feel like you are just in a void. And, if you are speaking, get that content or a link to the content that you can share with your network.
Jacob Riis is the program and communications director for game developer conference Nordic Game, held annually in Malmö, Sweden. He's also the organizer and host of Nordic Game Discover Contest, a competitive challenge for game projects to get discovered by investors, publishers, and fans.