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Newbie Advice: Meeting someone famous

January 9, 2008

Sometimes, you come face to face with someone whose work you deeply respect. It happens at GDC all the time. Maybe that person was even instrumental in your career and your path in life. But a meeting is just that. It’s quick. It’s trivia to share with your friends.

But sometimes a real conversation happens. What I hope to give you here is advice I wished someone gave to me about 15 years ago when I first met the person who made me want to see behind the wizard’s curtain and say, “How are you doing that? How’s that happening?”

Here is the advice: Be quiet and listen. This is a lot harder than you may think.

Because of the work that I do and all the conferences that I go to, I get an opportunity to be around some amazing people and not just game developers either. At the Idea City Conference in Toronto (turn your speakers down), I met authors, astronauts, physicists and even spent some time off stage with Ashley MacIsaac, a Celtic fiddler whose work I’ve listened to while designing for years. Collectively, this happens to me all the time, but my individual time with these people is rare.

It is particularly important to me when I am with a game developer whose work I admire. My goal? Listen. If they are talking about their game, their design philosophy, what they like in a game and most especially, how they work, there is nothing that I want to add in that moment that will stop the train of thought from coming right on out.

Recognize that moment as something that may not occur again. Do you want to spend that 5 minutes talking about your stuff which you already know or taking in what that person has to say and expanding your horizons?

Sometimes, the internal pressure to fit in, to say something is overwhelming. I have seen so many people use this moment to a) say something b) attempt to say something profound of c) say something exceptionally memorable, and all of it sort of crashes and burns. It’s not memorable, it’s not that interesting, and the person who was previously talking about something really hip suddenly needs to go. This happens all the time.

Years ago, I used to do designer-to-designer interviews for a now defunct German magazine. The best stuff I got in these interviews always occurred when I was quiet and just let them talk and fill the empty space.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2008 1:51 pm

    From my own personal experience, I whole heartily agree with this advice. Please do not ignore this one. Surprisingly, I have actually been commended because of my desire to just listen to people, provide feedback when its necessary, and just being a person that somebody knows that will sit there and, in fact, listen to them speak.

    Sure, ask questions that you really are interested in, but find the right moment (that is not in the middle of their sentence, or thought). I’m used to listening, that’s just me, but it drives me nuts when I am talking to somebody and they split in to what I’m saying 20 times before I can finish saying it. It comes off as A) It doesn’t feel like they care to hear about what I am saying, and B) They have their own agenda that they are thinking about (which is not listening to what I am saying). And ultimately distracts me from what I am saying.

    You will be surprised how far just shutting your mouth will take you. Remember this one. Nice thought, Brenda.

  2. January 9, 2008 2:56 pm

    I got the chance to meet Jordan Mechner, as he is the sponsor of our class. He had traveled to France to see our projects, and afterwards everyone was at a cocktail, where we had a small chat (he speaks excellent french! who knew…) about our projects and his film. He even showed up at our party afterwards!

    Who knew, über-idols are normal people too, they don’t have super-strenght or shoot lasers through their eyes… They are even quite annoyed when people act all strange around them.

    What they generally are is all around cool guys (especially Jordan 😛 ) so if you can control yourself, don’t waste time trying to impress them and just try to have a normal conversation.

    And don’t follow them anywhere, that’s just lame.

  3. January 9, 2008 7:30 pm

    Darius, who just linked to this article, apparently forgot that he actually said the same thing awhile ago:

    Personally, I think there are two groups of people who will tend to have the most difficult time being quiet: students and professors.

    Students (at least in my classes) are encouraged to speak up and join in a conversation, to contribute to the class. Professors… well, we’re PAID to talk for hours at a time.

  4. January 10, 2008 2:30 pm

    I have another personal experience to add to this. I had an opportunity to meet Joss Whedon in person (it was actually in the bathroom of a comicon, and he was fighting to stay OFF his phone… mostly unsuccessfully). I was not expecting him to be there, much less to have the chance to introduce myself, but I got just that (at the sink, while we were washing our hands).

    I told him that I thought I recognized him, mentioned that Firefly was my favorite show I’ve ever seen, and was unbelievably surprised by his response. He asked ME questions, and I truly believe that he actually cared what I thought.

    What I got out of this was that letting experienced people talk about what they WANT to talk about is just as important as listening. If you try to lead the discussion toward what you want to hear about, or ask questions that aren’t directly related to what the person you’re lucky enough to talk to is immediately interested in, you’ll get an unenthusiastic response and no matter how carefully you listen, the things they tell you won’t be as profound (or useful).

    Both Plato and Socrates spent time simply talking about whatever was on their minds. Pupils would continue discussion and debate, but because the topics were of interest to the mentors, they were often directly involved in the discussion. I’ve found myself in several meetings with several of my heroes and a whole bunch of other people. If you’re expected to speak to the “other people” (meaning your peers), try to direct your questions and discussion toward something the “mentor” will want to offer information toward. I realize this may not make sense and is not especially well-worded (I’ve been losing my mind packing for my big move and planning things, so I’m a little scatter-brained), so if anything’s unclear, let me know and I’ll be happy to offer a deeper explanation of my own experiences.


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