LARP at Play: The Importance of Communication

I’d like to start this article with a shout-out to the people at Diatribe. Thanks for the post about my articles. It’s fun to see who all find these and what people think of them.

This article covers a topic that I’ve touched on many times (Setting Game/Player Expectations, Recruitment and Retention and The “Business” of LARP in particular) but have never really written about: the importance of communication. A comment by an individual named Captain Jimmy on the RPG.net forums really sparked the thought of discussing this particular topic in an article all its own.

I can see plenty of people looking at this and going “does this topic really apply to me?” It applies to anyone who LARPs. Communication between players, between players and staff or between staff; it doesn’t matter as it’s all important to the health and success of a game. I’ve often seen that a LARP group that has communication problems starts experiencing other negative issues and the quality of the game quickly degrades. The reverse is also true: a group that utilizes good communication practices often thrives and becomes a game that attracts players.

What needs to be communicated
One of the biggest questions I see people ask is “What do I need to tell people?” Much of this depends on your role in the game you’re playing in. What the staff need to share with the playership is different from what the playership need to communicate back to the staff.

Staff
Much of what needs to be communicated falls into your hands as the players look to you for the information they need in order to participate in the game you help run. What do you need to make your players aware of? Game dates, policy and procedure changes or updates, non-game events, news and announcements (and not just in-game ones), your game’s player expectations, packing lists or what players should bring to game with them, the kind or style of game that will be run and any manner of information you feel your players need to know or they’ve expressed a desire to know.

Exactly what needs communicating when depends on your game and your game’s timeline as well as what your players expect. Announcing game dates should happen as soon as they’re set so players can start penciling those date onto their calendars. Individual games should be announced at least a month before with repeat announcements a couple of weeks out, a week out and then a few days before.

Policy and procedural changes should be announced as soon as the staff decide to make the change with some form of permanent announcement available for anyone to read and reference while an informal, fun social gathers might only need a single announcement a week or two out with a reminder a few days before. In the end it depends on the culture and expectations your group has cultivated. What do your players expect from you in the way of communication and when do they expect various forms of communication from you as game/group staff? What standards and expectations have you as staff set for your players when it comes to communication within your game or group?

You also need to be communicating with other staff members regarding your ongoing projects, problems you’ve run up against, what help you’re needing with your projects and anything else that other staff should be made aware of.

Players
Just as it’s important for the staff to communicate to you, the players, their expectations and needs for the game to function, the staff also need to hear from you. You should make sure your game’s staff is aware of what you as a player expect from the staff and game, the kind of game you’re looking for as well as what you liked or didn’t like about a game. If something isn’t clear or you don’t know what is going on you need to let the staff know. If you have a question, make sure you communicate it to the appropriate staff member(s).

You also need to be in communication with your fellow players, even if it’s just shooting the bull about the last game. It’s important to keep those communication channels open since the best way to prevent unnecessary assumptions and in some cases bad feelings is to make sure you talk over things with your fellow players (and staff if it’s needed).

Remember, communication is a two way street and it requires all parties to share information in order for it to be successful. Communication doesn’t end when a game ends either. Communication should be constantly happening between all parties before a game, during the game (and not just in-game communication) and after a game.

Communication channels
There are several different communication channels available to a group and each carries its own pros and cons. The best communication also occurs when a group utilizes a few (two or three) different communication channels to get information out to their players on a continual basis. Exactly what channels you’ll want to use will depend on your group and what is most appropriate and preferred by them. Ask your players how they would prefer to get information on your game and use those methods to reach them. Likewise, as players if you prefer to receive information in a particular way make sure your staff know.

Mailing lists – This can be either software run on your own server space or utilizing a Yahoo! Group or Google Group. This can be an easy way to get information out to a wide group of people by utilizing a single email address or interface (Yahoo or Google groups), however it can be easy to lose track of a thread if it gets buried in a blizzard of posts or emails.

Forums – This is a very common form of communication within a group and an easy way to see what threads have new posts and engage everyone in discussions, but like a mailing list unless important stuff is stickied to the top of a forum an important thread or post can easily be lost in the sea of forum replies. It’s a good idea to have a forum that only staff can post to for important announcements.

Newsletters (print or electronic) – These can be good for getting information out to members, but its a one way communication medium, the good thing is that players will have at hand all the information for a given time period in one location that they can then print a hard copy of (if it didn’t already arrive in a hard copy format).

Phone calls – These are great for one-on-one communication with a person, but it doesn’t do well for recording everything that was discussed or for large group communication. It’s a good idea to follow up a phone call with an email to recap the discussion if any action items were discussed.

Instant messengers (IMs) – Instant messengers can be a great way of communicating between two people (or sometimes a small group), however you might not be able to log your conversation and it doesn’t do well for large group communication. If for some reason you’re unable to log your conversation, like a phone call, follow up with an email to recap the discussion if any action items were discussed.

Social media (Facebook or Twitter for examples) – With the increasing popularity of social media networks and more and more LARPers joining up on them it might be a good idea to utilize these as one form of communication within your group. Don’t rely solely on it, but work it in with your other forms of communication.

In person meetings – These can be the hardest to organize, but can also be the most productive. There are also times when topics are easier discussed in person rather than over a non-verbal communications medium, plus it’s good and healthy for a group to get together for social time outside of game. If any important topics or action items are discussed or brought up it’s a good idea to follow up the meeting with an email, forum posting or other written communication about what was discussed.

Website – With the way that technology has become incorporated into our lives and the ability to access the Internet with ease, having a website has all but become a necessity. Not only can you place key information in an easy to find location (policies, procedures and other persistent information) and provide important files, but often you can link to if not include right within your site itself some form of interactive communications such as forums, a mailing list or important email addresses. The key with a web site is to make sure it’s constantly updated as information changes, make sure its well designed and easy to navigate. Visitors shouldn’t have to hunt and peck for information (particularly important information).

Email – This is a great communications medium that works well for individuals as well as groups because of the flexibility that email offers. This is also great because you can attach files to the email so you can send other data and information along with your message. The key with email is to keep things brief and to the point.

Communication best practices
Most of a group’s communication will be written be it on a mailing list, forum, via email or etc. There are some best practices when utilizing written communication mediums. Some of these won’t apply to every medium out there, so utilize what makes sense for the medium you’re using.

  • Think on things for a bit. It’s okay to wait a day or two to craft your answer, particularly if the topic is a sensitive or potentially explosive one. If it’ll be more than a day or two before you respond, you should at least let people know you saw the post or email and that you will respond. Likewise, you might want to ask another person to proofread your reply just to make sure your answer is well presented.
  • Make sure your replies are timely. If you can’t answer the inquiry in full, at least let them know you got their message and a full response will be forthcoming by a particular date and then make sure you get your reply out to them by then.
  • Make sure you address all points and questions that were brought up. Nothing is more frusterating than receiving a reply to less than half of the questions or issues brought up.
  • Be aware of how you word things, particularly when your communication is 100% non-verbal (email, forum post, etc.). How you phrase something carries its own message beyond just the words you use. Sarcasm or inappropriate humor can be easily misinterpreted, so its best to avoid these. It’s also a good idea to avoid “text shorthand” or abbreviate words like you were writing a text message. You are should be spelled out, not abbreviated as ur. You should also utilize spelling and gramar checkers if you lack strong spelling and grammar skills. It’s hard to take a letter or post seriously when it’s full of glaring errors.
  • Understand when an issue should be addressed in private vs. in public. When in doubt, keep things private amongst the parties involved. If you need to take something public, be as diplomatic as you can when addressing the issue (i.e. if you don’t need to name names, then don’t).
  • Never commit anything to writing that makes you feel uneasy. If you feel uneasy, there’s probably a good enough reason you shouldn’t send it. This also goes for written agreements, don’t promise something in a letter, post or other communication and not follow through with it or try to back out of it.
  • If your email or post has a topic or subject line, be specific and informative with it. Many people will judge weather to open or look at a message based on the subject or topic line.

And should you actually be talking to people face-to-face, here are some best practices for verbal communication:

  • Listen. Listen to what the other person has to say and give them a chance to finish their entire thought before jumping in to say something. Listening is important for communication as we need to know what we’re being asked to respond to and that can’t happen if your not paying attention to the person or people talking to you.
  • Only 7% of the impact you make comes from the words you speak. The rest is visual – your appearance, the sound of your voice and your body language. You can break that 7% further down into sections: the type of words you use, the sort of sentences you use and how you phrase them.
  • If you’re going to be doing some manner of presentation or public speaking or in some kind of meeting, jot down notes about points you’d like to bring up.
  • Make eye contact with the person or people you’re speaking to. It encourages interest and encourages those you’re speaking to, to be interested in what you have to say in return.
  • Speak loudly and clearly enough to be heard without straining to do so. Make sure the volume of your voice is appropriate for your audience and make sure to enunciate your words. If needed you might need to utilize a microphone or other amplification device. It’s also better to slow down your speaking pace so that everyone can understand what you’re saying than jumble all your words together.

Here are a few resources for those who want to see what other people have had to say about effective communication:
Effective Business Communication
Best Practices in Communication for Community Banks The points it makes are valid regardless of where you work or what group you belong to.
Internal communications best practice
The Importance of Communication Skills in Your Organization And Life

I’d like to hear from you. What do you feel are the important things that should be communicated and when? Do you have any best practices not listed that you feel others should know about? What are your thoughts on communication within a LARP group?

The next column will be on supporting the good within the hobby. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at the Mortalis Games site, write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or once this goes live on RPG.net, visit the article’s forum thread (there should be a link below the article to it) to see what else has been shared or to leave a comment there

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