There are few things I like more than complimentary skillsets. There’s the obvious reason, which is that you can take something you learned one place and apply it to another without having to start from scratch. Then, there’s the secondary reason, which is the ability to look at everything as a metaphor, which I frequently find myself doing when I tell a long, rambling karate tale to a bunch of programmers about something that is clearly not programming.
I Assumed There Would Be Toast
Today, I found myself giving a speech to a room of about 20 people. It was a voluntary situation that I inflicted upon myself, as the company I work for offers a Toastmasters club and I wanted to improve my communication skills. In addition to being able to convey information effectively to other humans at work, I decided it would be a great opportunity to up my karate instruction game. I’ve been teaching the occasional class for a little over 15 years, and I can get the job done but I’ve never really been able to command the room like Sensei (now a retired high school teacher) always could. I prepared what they call an “Icebreaker” speech, an autobiographical journey by oration 5-7 minutes in length. I wasn’t all that nervous until my name was called, and it took me by surprise. I’ve been in front of a room twice this size before. I yelled at them all, made them do pushups, and kicked one or two. Why would I possibly be nervous?
In the end, it turned out OK. And by “OK”, I mean:
- I completely blacked out about halfway through, didn’t see any of the nice big colorful cue cards that let me know my time was up, and my speech clocked in at 9 minutes 55 seconds.
- We count “um”s, “uh”s, and other quirks of language that are Not Words in order to eradicate them. I believe I hold the current company record at 86. People with previously-embarassing totals like 46 were coming up to me and telling me I made them feel much better by comparison. Amateurs.
- Apparently, I fidget when I speak. A lot. And my right foot taps.
- Everyone was entertained and appeared to enjoy my presentation! Woot!
Most of these weren’t a surprise. That is, after all, why I showed up. I’ve gotten better at the “entertaining people” and “keeping their attention” part over the years, but it feels like I just crashed an experimental aircraft almost every time (with varying degrees of success).
Communication At The Gaming Table
This is also (utterly devoid of coincidence) how I feel after running a D&D game. It wasn’t long before the little combination engine in my head beeped and informed me that good communication skills would make for a vastly improved D&D game. I recently heard it said that communication is 90% of being effective at anything, and I am reminded of my years of folly during college dreaming of being so excellent at coding that people wouldn’t even have to talk to me to point, wink, and offer me lots of money. That was dumb. Nobody understands anything unless it is communicated to them in a way they can understand. That’s how it works.
Therefore, it stands to reason that the players led by a Dungeon Master who has The Best Gaming Materials In The World are still going to have an awful time if that DM sucks at delivering game information to them in a way they can process. The game can have been perfectly balanced by robot hyper-brains from the 34th century who are never wrong and if the DM presents things in a confusing way, it’s still going to be terrible. Good communication means planning and having a framework in place to know what’s coming or at least what to do if something unexpected shows up. (This fact was permanently etched into my brain after last week’s…. experiment.)
Never mind the fact that the DM is frequently the de facto leader of the gaming group, and has to settle the sticky situations that arise from playing with other sentient beings. Differences of opinion causing neverending arguments? Someone’s severe analysis paralysis grinding the game to a halt? It takes communication – and a little courage – to speak to people directly to try to work through things.
Delivering Your Informational Payload
It strikes me that there are two main things to consider when trying to communicate something effectively:
- WHAT to communicate
- HOW to communicate it
Let’s look at “what” first. If there wasn’t something to talk about, you wouldn’t be communicating! If you can deliver the information to the target, you win! It also occurs to me that if the stuff you want someone to know is buried in a whole bunch of extraneous stuff, it might get lost.
In RPG-land, I find myself needing to worry about this when I’ve concocted what I think is a genius plot with lots of hooks and ways to throw the PCs off the scent. Then I find myself all frustrated because I have to hit them with the dreaded Clue Bat…. which upon further thought might occasionally get named the Effective Communication Bat. Does it ruin the surprise sometimes? Sure. But is it better than having a table full of frustrated, unhappy players wondering what their DM (who probably thinks he is smarter than them and is a big jerk) is thinking?
- Crucial Conversations by Patterson et al.
- QBQ! The Question Behind The Question by John MIller
- Switch by Chip & Dan Heath
- Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey