Presenting from the Dungeon Part 2
Written by Rob Clement, 2015
(Freaks and Geeks Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master, source: http://www.rpgbooster.com/)
Almost all people have some anxiety about speaking in public. The experience can range from the fluttering butterfly feeling to outright terror that threatens to have you soil your britches. Like everything else you will get better with practice and experience and eventually you will be able to handle the experience and maybe even like it. The question is how to get the experience without the potential laundry problem. In this 3 part series I would like to offer some observations on how role playing games (especially acting as Dungeon Master) can help develop presentations skills.
Running the Adventure
Running an adventure forces the Dungeon Master (DM) into many roles, much like a good presenter. It is not enough to simply build the world and design the interactions with the characters of the world; you must bring them to life! The tone of the adventure, the personality of the players, and the time available for play all effect how an adventure is presented. A presentation can be effected by the seriousness of the subject matter, the personality or demographic make-up of the audience, and the time available for both the presentation and interactions afterwards.
In a fantasy world adventures can take on many different tones. In any given session the group could be out on a serious mission to save the realm, spending a fun evening at a local tavern, impressing royalty at a tournament or quietly breaking into the royal treasury. It is paramount for the DM to understand the tone of the adventure and change the mood of the story accordingly in order to enrich the experience for the players. After all if the adventurers are out to avenge the death of Grigonish, the Gnome Illusionist, it might not be the best time to introduce them to Rolly the town drunk and palace fool. During a presentation you also have to be aware of the tone of the material or event. Some presentations are intended to be light hearted and make the audience laugh, some are meant to inspire and be tale of overcoming personal trials, and others are just about facts. Understanding the nature of the subject matter can allow a good presenter to change the tone of the presentation to match the information they want to convey. Most experienced Dungeon Masters have had to modify their delivery to reflect a change in the mood of an adventure, frequently multiple time in the same session (the scenes below are from three consecutive chapters in the Fellowship of the Ring):
- Ruckus tavern scene (the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree)
- A mysterious encounter (meeting Strider in the room above the inn)
- Fast-paced action (the fight scene on top of Weathertop Mountain where Frodo is stabbed).
This is very similar to a presentation given to students to explain an entrepreneur experience program. The present might be expected to convey:
- The seriousness of the competitive application process (have to submit a business plan)
- How cool getting grant money from the government is ($3,000 is a lot to students)
- That it is absolutely the coolest thing for young person still in school to run their own business! (this one stands alone but for continuity sake I included the bracket statement)
(Community, source: http://www.hitfix.com)
The personality of the people in the room can have a huge effect on Dungeon Master and Presenter alike. Dungeon Masters are charged with creating a rich and interactive world where player characters interact with non-player characters (NPCs), each with their own personality and agendas. NPCs are brought to life by the Dungeon Master and each encounter must be allowed to evolve based on the personality of the group and the reactions (and actions) of each character within that group. Dwarves, for example, have a general distrust of elves and a great love of ale and food, so a dwarf NPC would likely ignore or be rude to an elven wizard offering berries while responding favourably to the human warrior offering a pint of ale. Even within the players there are personality differences, some enjoy the role playing while others want to get on with the fighting. It is vital the DM is able to assess the group quickly to optimize the fun for all. Likewise it is important for presenters to understand the dynamics of the audience quickly. It is one thing to change voices and ambience as the presentation warrants but misreading an audience can be fatal to even the best presentations. Imagine making a presentation to promote a celebration event to group of children, teenagers, business professionals or city council. Each has its own level of understanding, word usage, and examples would have to change. An overly happy/silly tone you would use to excite the children would be replaced by a more reserved tone as you talked about civic pride to the politicians. Within those groups are individuals with their own interests and things that excite them and it is important to style your delivery to appeal to them as well, the ultimate goal is for the presentation to reach everyone in some way.
Finally the time available affects everything. An adventure can take place over a few hours or over several weeks of play time. A short adventure may involve a single location with a lot of role playing (tavern or village market), or a “hack and slash” adventure in a small dungeon. Other adventures (called campaigns) develop over weeks, months and in some cases years. These develop a richer, more complete life feel as the characters grow and evolve, and as the DMs understand the players and their personalities more. Players will start to develop goals and dreams for their characters and these will begin to shape other adventures as the campaign continues. It is important for a good DM to understand how to deliver both types of adventures. A presentation might be a very quick ten minutes that your audience is fitting into a larger meeting of their own or it might be part of a workshop series designed to last several weeks. A short presentation will be fact based and designed to get the information out, no messing around. Time is of the essence and going over time could lead to the audience not getting all the information or feeling like they were rushed. There isn’t much time to go in depth so you may want to hand out cheat sheets or follow up materials and definitely provide an easy way for them to follow up. The longer the presentation the more opportunity there is for the presenter to grow with their audience and discover what works with the group and the individuals. There is time to cover information in more detail, examples can be used to reinforce ideas and there might even be time for hands on experimentation. Working with the group will become more intuitive and everyone will benefit. It is vital for a presenter to be able to deliver presentations of all lengths and also to be able to adjust a presentation to account for unexpected timing changes.
During my time roleplaying I have been a Dungeon Master for several groups over long periods of time, participated as a DM in several tournaments where I had to present a similar adventure to several very different groups in a set time and run mini games for small groups and individual adventurers. Understanding the circumstances of the adventure I was about to lead helped increase the enjoyment for everyone and helped me build a skill set to present to a variety of people and settings. As a presenter today, like my days as a Dungeon Master, I am not always successful in achieving all the things I have talked about. In Part 3 of Presenting from the Dungeon I will look at what to do when it goes wrong and improving the future.