ng16 tagalong trap shadow puppeteer marianne lerdahl

How to turn your development blog post into an engaging talk

Marianne travelled to the Nordic Game Conference in Malmö last month to give a talk. The talk, “Avoiding the Tagalong Trap” was going to be based on the blog posts previously written by her and Catharina. In this article Marianne will share her experience and insight while working on turning a written piece into a 20 minute presentation.

When you begin work on adapting source material, it’s crucial that you get an overview and take into account the restrictions and possibilities in your new delivery form.

I knew the presentation would be limited to 20 minutes plus five minutes for questions. It would require that I got up on a stage and talked. It would also be expected that I had a PowerPoint presentation (or similar).

Reducing Scope

Starting from the top I worked to make an outline of the talk.While the source material easily could have filled at least one hour, I knew I would need to make this a lot shorter. That meant looking at the text we had and choosing what I thought would be most valuable for the audience to hear. Some examples and lessons can be very title or genre specific, whereas others can be applicable to several types of games. Identifying how broad your lessons are will also help you adapt the content of your talk to the level of your audience, i.e., if certain lessons require much technical insight to understand, they shouldn’t be included in a talk for beginners.

ng16 tagalong trap shadow puppeteer marianne lerdahl

if you have a lot of material, you have to scale it down for a shorter talk.

When I create a talk I try to find an angle that will bring my topics and lessons together to a natural whole. That will make it easier for me to create a flow through my presentation and hopefully make it easier for the audience to remember.I chose to focus my talk on the early stages of development and maintain a big-picture perspective that would be accessible to beginners. That meant excluding sections like the process of identifying what makes a “true co-op game” where we looked at examples of other co-op titles to learn from the design choices they made, as well as detailed descriptions of how we balanced our level design.

Transforming Text into Speech

Reading and listening a two different functions. When you read you can usually do this at your own pace. You can re-read passages that are unclear and ponder the meaning of a specific phrase or sentence. Information conveyed through speech is  there in the moment, but if you didn’t hear or understand it, it’s gone. Listening to someone talk requires less effort. You are passively receiving the message. Additional layers of meaning and nuance can also be added through the tone of voice or body language.

When I turn a written passage into a spoken one, I move away from carefully constructed sentences. They work well on paper, but don’t flow naturally when I speak. Instead I try to simplify the language for easy listening. I add more examples and repeat key points. I believe this gives roughly the same effect as re-reading or pondering written text and helps the audience to remember.

Visual Elements

If you’re reading a blog post or an article, your eyes will normally alternate between the text and a few selected illustrations underlining specific points. During presentations, there is an expectation to fill up a screen with a slide show.

Common practise is to have a headline related to your current topic, and an illustration or figure. Some also include short sentences or keywords on their slide. You should always be mindful of the amount of text on your slides. If the audience is busy reading the text on your slide, they are not actively listening to what you are saying.

If your presentation focuses on facts, I believe these facts should be shown on the slide. Graphs, diagrams, percentages should always be visually represented, especially if you talk about development over time or compare these numbers. You can compare scenario A with a 47 percent success rate and scenario B with a 76 percent success rate, but unless we see this represented visually, chances are half your audience didn’t think there was much of a difference.

ng16 tagalong trap shadow puppeteer marianne lerdahl

Always represent facts like these visually.

But what if you’re not presenting facts? What if you aim to convey more abstract concepts to the audience? Here opinions differ as there are several options. You can “wow” your audience with inspiring images more or less related to the topic at hand. Alternatively, you can have a minimalist approach with just the headline and maybe a question underneath to start off what you’re going to say. Or you can have a simple image that represents your topic and helps the audience create a visual association to your spoken word. There are countless possibilities and variations.

Regardless of the approach you choose I would advise on consistency. Keep placement of your headline consistent throughout all slides, as well as the same size and font style. Selecting and sticking to a set colour scheme is another way to stay consistent and create a unified presentation.

With my talk, I decided to have the slides be the modest backdrop setting the tone for what I presented. I created simple hand drawn illustrations that were meant to function as representations of the topic, but keep the focus primarily on me.

ng16 tagalong trap shadow puppeteer marianne lerdahl

Examples of my hand-drawn illustrations for the presentation.

I strayed away from this approach in a few instances: When introducing myself and my company, and Shadow Puppeteer as the game that had formed the basis for the talk, as well as when presenting a tool called a “Skill Chart.”

I wanted to use use the regular company logo and a picture of my face to ensure proper brand representation and recognition. I wanted people to know my face to better recognise me later, to enable conversations. Much in the same way as our company logo Shadow Puppeteer has its own visual style and identity, and I wanted to use that when presenting the game. That would enable the audience to either recognise the title, or gain familiarity with its appearance.

When presenting the Skill Chart, I wanted the audience to understand the tool. And the most effective way of doing that was to show an example chart while I talked and explained how to make one.

ng16 tagalong trap shadow puppeteer marianne lerdahl

Concrete tools should be represented in a plain manner.

Finishing Touches

After you’ve given your talk, members of the audience might like to talk with you. However, some of them might not have the time, or decide later that they want to get it touch. To help them find me, I always include a footer on each of my slides. The footer includes my name, company name (Sarepta studio) and the event name. So if they have taken a picture of any of my slides, they will know who made it and when. If I don’t have a separate slide with my contact information I will usually include my email or Twitter handle in the footer as well.

ng16 tagalong trap shadow puppeteer marianne lerdahl

It’s good to include information in the footer.

Creating a talk from a blog post is a challenge, but something that can be equally daunting is actually presenting it. To ensure that I am confident in my delivery, I practise giving my talk. I will stand alone, usually in my hotel room, and give the talk to an empty room. I know some like to practise in front of a mirror to consider their pose and body language, but I find it too distracting. During this process I will make small adjustments to the talk as I realise what doesn’t flow, or needs to be better explained. I keep practising until I am satisfied with the content and know the talking points for each slide by heart. After that I do test presentations while timing myself, to see whether I am staying within the set time. In my experience you will speak a little faster when presenting in front of an audience, so you may want to take that into consideration when timing your talk.

In Conclusion

To me, sharing knowledge is both a duty and a privilege. By learning from one another we are able to create a community and continue forward together. Writing a blog and giving a talk are both great ways of teaching, but require a different approach in order to utilize the unique strengths of each form.

ng16 tagalong trap shadow puppeteer marianne lerdahl

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