I never just turn on a TV unless I’m in a hotel by myself. It’s a strange thing to experience cable when you don’t regularly have it. After this quick trip I realize that if I had cable TV I would never accomplish anything because bad cuts of ancient films that I like are always playing.
The Gods were really smiling on my San Francisco hotel cable. The night I arrived The Principal was on, followed the next afternoon with Predator, and then Predator 2. Arguably Predator 2 is the most enjoyable of the Predator movies, but that’s a post for later. The Principal is probably the best ever “rough school” film ever made, in the tradition of films like Blackboard Jungle, Lean on Me, and the disappointing Freedom Writers. I have no idea why I like this genre so much. It kept me staring long after I should have been reading, working through my notes, or doing something else more valuable than that. Still, what a great movie.
So how was Twitch? I bet you are dying to know. Judge for yourself!
The HQ is amazing – and what is more amazing is that I was told during my tour that in 6 months they are moving to a better one. I can’t imagine a better office space than what I saw. The university is really, really out of touch with crafting spaces that encourage people to work, to engage in collegiality, and to work together in unpredictable ways. The University is far too certain about what office space should look like. Let’s take a page from the tech industry and create a variety of spaces that one can move through instead.
I saw the library, several gaming rooms, several private conference rooms, all arranged to be reserved as needed. Add to it a lot of laptops (Mac seems to be the weapon of choice around there, surprised me, but perhaps my sample size is biased toward mostly design-team folks?) and a lot of space for meeting and chatting and you have the office. Oh, I found out where all the La Croix water is stored. They also have every good kind of cereal, coffee, and stronger stuff. It’s great. I stand in awe mixed with jealousy.
As for the talk, I think it went well. I have some things that I would like to tweak about it, and after I do that I’ll post the full version for the eye on Academia.edu. I think that’s a good spot for writing that’s not quite bloggy and not quite academic. It’s a middle ground for sure. The audience was a tough one as they gave nothing away: Attentive looks mixed with furious typing. I feel that having my primary space for public speaking be a classroom really makes you dependent on certain "tells" or moments in the structure of the talk that aren't present in other environments. I found myself looking for those bits of confirmation which were not there. The danger of speaking in one environment, or style, or delivery mode too long is one easily conflates it with what style is, or what presence is, or what "good speech" is. This is exceedingly dangerous. But the risks of trying something really new are worse: Total loss of the audience. Each change has to be measured carefully.
Unlike a university classroom however, there were signs that they were chatting with one another through something, which I think is great. I try to encourage that in my classroom, but I don’t think the students know one another well enough to engage in a side-chat during lecture. I wonder if they were using Slack or perhaps just the Twitch chat? Regardless, it really makes the lecture/talk environment much, much more productive, engaging, thoughtful – you name it. Peer conversations that layer on top of the talk – that’s a beautiful thing.
I wish I had the equivalent of Twitch chat in my classroom. It would really open up peer-teaching opportunities. Most of my students are on Facebook or some equivalent during class, but talking to those far away. Next time I teach online I might just open up a Twitch channel for class for certain lessons just to get access to that wonderful chat interface.
As for the rest of the talk, I tried to hit a good energy level, but it was hard to judge. Sometimes if you go into an unfamiliar audience with a very high energy level, it becomes a laughable presentation just because it’s out of place. Too low, you risk confirming the stereotype of the professor. The goal is to give the audience reasons to avoid the script – “oh, this is a college lecture, I know what to do.” We all have pre-made scripts of how to interact with various kinds of presentations and the trick is to avoid ticking the boxes that legitimize that reaction.
The other thing I did wrong was assume the audience would be all in on video games – the Twitch employees come from a number of backgrounds and perhaps I should have been a bit more imaginative with examples or sample topics. I think that the people in that audience are creative types who like challenges in terms of design and making a product for other creatives - for people who like to make content. That could have opened up a lot of different topics to engage. Also I could have made it a bit more interactive. I think that some sort of visual aid, regardless of how weak my slideware skills are, would have gone a long way as well.
Otherwise it was pretty fun to string together a lot of my ideas into a talk aimed at those who live far outside the borders of my normal discourse community. Encountering them and sharing these ideas helped me reframe them as well. Afterwards I had a couple of very good discussions with audience members who wanted to learn more about it. Sadly, I didn’t have a lot of good advice for them but maybe they are more long-term conversations.
A final thought is how I consistently underplay the value of public speaking. Even in an environment with obviously intelligent, motivated, thoughtful people, there is a pervasive fear of public speaking. I always say: Everyone fears it, everyone wants speakers to do well, everyone wants to get something out of a speech. So there’s no reason to worry – we all want it to go well and not be boring or horrible. But that’s different than workshopping a speech – something I hope that I can come up with a better method for in a week or so when I teach this first masterclass for The Motion. I have some good ideas, based on thinking and working out “what works” when sharing these ideas. A couple of people reached out to ask about public speaking tips - that should really be the foundation of every lecture we give, right? Or perhaps we could make it our practice and signature move when we present anything to do it as if it appeared effortless. "Effortless Effort" would be a good Zen-style principle of speech here.
I do feel like I won the lottery. I got to see the headquarters of one of my favorite things on the internet, got to speak about ideas I love to really smart, really engaged people, and got to eat some great seafood. What could be better? Sophistry pays in dividends what it doesn’t pay in cash, and frankly, we have the ability to name the value of anything and have it stick, don’t we?