As I type this, the 12am deadline for GDC 2012 submissions has just passed. After getting three different submissions ready for the deadline (one personal submission, and two panels), I just today realized that I had another deadline looming. This very post you are reading now. Not sure of what or if I would be able to get something together in time, with my mind swimming in three other topics, the Flarkminator, Mike Birkhead, came up with the fantastic notion that I should have my post be about the proper way to submit a GDC talk. Not being an expert at all, having never given a GDC talk, I don’t think I could speak towards anything proper about the process. But I can certainly speak to what I have learned, which has been a fair amount.

This is my second time submitting to GDC, tho the first time I’ve done it proper. Last year I quickly tossed together a submission titled “Applying the Principles of Animation to Game Design” while preparing for and moving across country. Needless to say, I wrote it in a vacuum which is about the biggest mistake you can make, while my mind was being pulled in a million different directions. When it wasn’t accepted, I was of course disappointed, but I can understand why it didn’t make the cut. The good news is that I was able to turn that topic into a series of featured Gamasutra blog posts, which then led to me having the motivation to join up #AltDev when the call went out. So I would say it all worked out fine.

But this year I was determined to do it right when it came time to submit. And this is what I learned.

Work up a solid draft and send it out for critiques to everyone you know that has gone through the process. If you are lucky, you will have some good friends that will rip it apart. That is the greatest gift you can ever receive. The best quotes I got that really stuck with me during this step were:

“Spend more time talking about specifics on this and less time with your eloquent introduction that takes words away from facts. This is not an English paper.”
“Give me an example of something you will say. Sell me the fact that you aren’t an idiot blowing smoke up my ass.”
“Give away the key spoilers to the talk”
“Honestly, this submission is probably too weak right now to get accepted.”

I love how honest that last quote is! One re-write later, removing all the flowery language and working in more specifics, I emailed out a new draft, first and foremost sending it to the people that gave me those fantastic quotes. This time, a hard hat wasn’t necessary when checking my email:

“Just make it flow sort of like a narrative and I think you’ll be good. The first paragraph was a turn off. Everything else made me interested. “
“Yeah! That pitch is very specific and gives great examples of what you want to talk about! I think that one is much stronger. If you can, maybe get more specific about how you’re going to prove your conclusion. Otherwise, it’s great!”

3rd time really is a charm. With my personal proposal on solid ground, it was time to turn my attention to the panel I’d been planning together with a couple of other animators. At this point, having just gone through the trial by fire on my personal talk, I was able to work up a stronger first draft. The benefit of a panel was that there were already two other experienced people involved which makes for an instant feedback loop, meaning that I didn’t have to bother all those helpful friends again when looking for critiques. Needless to say, this talk also took 3 revisions, much for the same reasons as before. Got the core idea plotted out on the first draft, went back to add in more specifics on the second pass, then finally went through and tied it all together into something that flowed well.

It was between the 2nd and 3rd draft of that panel that I had the opportunity to get involved on another, and this is where working up the two other submissions really paid off. The idea for this panel came about just a few days before the deadline and had a lot more cooks in the kitchen. Having written up the other panel’s proposal, and already in that mindset, I decided to just go for it and write up a rough submission proposal for the talk, even before being on it. One of the best lessons I’ve learned in life is that if you see something that needs done and you have the ability and passion to make it happen, just do it. Even if I wasn’t on the panel, it was one I wanted to see happen, so I figured it would get the ball rolling. Another two drafts later (lucky number 3!), I was fortunate enough to be on the panel which came together well in time of the deadline.

So I guess if had to answer Flarkminator’s call to write a post about how to submit a proper talk, I would say it requires the hutzpah to just go for it followed up by lots of brutal honesty from everyone you can get to read it. So in essence, it follows along the exact same lines of how to be successful in any facet of game development.

I didn’t touch on the fact that having previous speaking experience, some big name or critical success titles to your resume, or knowing the right people can also make all the difference towards getting your talk accepted or not. But that should go without saying, and I know that, especially with my personal talk, it is long shot that it will get accepted. I’m but a random animator with only a few speaking experiences under my belt stepping up to take a shot at the big leagues. But whenever these points came up, I thought back to something Jay Mohr said on David Mamet’s True and False.

“You need to be an impediment. You have to know when you walk into a room for an audition that they don’t want you. They already know who they want, and it isn’t you. So you have to do such a good job that you’ve given them a problem in which they HAVE to take you over the person they want.”

I want to give a big thanks to everyone that gave me a critique and any insight into the submission process. I’d list you all here but I don’t want to have any of you held publicly accountable for empowering me :)