for me, self-promotion and anxiety don’t mix. I’m chatty. Opinionated. Sometimes loud. If you met me you’d possibly think I was super confident. But by then the difficult bit has happened: we’ve met.
It’s hard for some to grasp there’s a big difference between having the confidence to dominate conversation, and the initial hump of meeting new people. Or even thinking about meeting them. Or thinking about the fact you might have to meet some people in a few day’s time.
Recently I went to HandyCon, a board game convention just outside London. I hadn’t been before, but new it was a few hundred people – not too big. So I thought I’d take along some of my published designs, just in case people wanted to take a look. Just the recent ones. So I could have them on the table, just in case. Or maybe in my bag. Or I could just leave them in the hotel room, and bring them the next day if anyone asked…
The day before it starts, I get asked to help judge a competition at the con. Someone has dropped out – can I stand in? It’ll only be an hour. Sure, why not? It’s nice to be asked. And it’s only an hour. An hour I have no control over, in a few days time, where I don’t really know what is going to happen or with who. Will it be on a stage? Is my name going to be read out? Will people be staring at me? Why on earth did I agree to this…
Increased heart rate. Difficulty breathing. Headaches and hot flushes. Dry mouth and feeling sick. Why not have a few drinks? I’ll feel like I’ve got a hangover either way.
Then and now
What’s really annoying is knowing how much I would’ve taken this in my stride 10 years ago. I was brash, confident; loved being the centre of attention. As a youngster I had a mohican, crazy clothes. I did national radio interviews as part of my job. Now I can’t sleep for three days before running a course for a few colleagues I already know. Even going to the office and staying all day can be hard sometimes.
I’m OK walking into most cons (see previous cons and anxiety post). The anonymity works in my favour. They’re largely filled with people who know each other; who just like the idea of getting together to game. Most don’t aim to play with strangers. They’re happy to just meet a few more people, relax, and nerd out. And that means you can stroll around relatively ignored. But at the same time, you know these are your people.
But that all goes away if you make your face a target. Luckily, game designers are largely ignored unless they seek attention. It’s the YouTubers who get all the attention, with panels packed with v-loggers hunting for views and likes while the designers tend to skulk around awkwardly in the halls smiling nervously. But yeah, I’m a blogger too. So surely I should be doing all this self promotion stuff in double time. Gawd.
Self-promotion and anxiety sucks…
So things start OK. I send a few messages out, a few Tweets, saying I’ll be at HandyCon. Reply to a few things about the event, mention I’ll be there with a few games. But the closer we get to the con the less I message, until the social stream becomes a trickle and dries up altogether.
Others talk about demoing games, maybe hiring a table. Sitting at a table, for hours, smiling at people hoping they’ll sit down. And then hoping they like your game. And deep down, I know it would be fine. They’d be nice, polite, even if they didn’t like it. Who knows, some might even become friends or pick up a copy. But i’m getting a dry throat and shortness of breath just typing this, so it was never, ever going to happen.
I took my games to HandyCon. Day one they were on the table, day two in a friend’s room, and day three on a chair next to me, safely away from prying eyes. One even got played, with friends who had played it before. I played pretty much everything else I brought except my own games.
Thankfully the judging was low key, my name was never mentioned and it went without a hitch. A skinful the night before meant I did get some sleep. It was either booze or tablets; and a few beers has a more desired effect.
…but it’s really fun to make stuff
One mental faculty I still have intact is a thick skin. You need it as a journalist, and others deserve to give what I’ve been giving my whole life. If you don’t like my game, and give it a shitty review because you hated it, that’s your right. I’ll walk away. Yeah, sure – it might rile me for a few minutes. Especially if the negatives are based on arguments I find ridiculous. But 99 times in 100 I’ll quickly get over it and move on.
And it’s brilliant to meet people that like your games. Or that just want to talk design. Or that have enjoyed something I wrote here – or want to argue with me about something. If you’ve ever loved/enjoyed/been perplexed by/disagreed with anything I’ve done, I’d love to have a chat with you at a con. I just probably won’t radiate it much. If at all.
Because all these things make it worthwhile. But they don’t make it easy.