I was two days into Game Developer Conference when I went mute.

It came out of nowhere early Wednesday evening. Somehow, my vocal chords had become fried, leaving me whispering and whimpering – especially when I thought about the two days of meetings I still had left on my schedule.

The Game Developer Conference can be one of the most important shows of the year in this industry. It lets us connect with industry colleagues face-to-face, share knowledge, debate opinions and theories on where the industry is headed – and most importantly conduct business. Yet here I was, unable to communicate with clients and partners, some of whom had traveled from other countries.

Should I cancel those meetings, some of which were scheduled more than two weeks ago? No. These were industry colleagues and friends and I didn’t want to let them down. That meant I had to come up with a plan – and fast. Here’s how I managed to survive (and thrive) for the rest of the show.

 

1. Hit the Clinic.

It’s important to note that I am what I term a “pacer” at conventions. I don’t booze it up or party or stay out all night. Instead, I pace myself to ensure I am able to get through the full week, typically loosening up on the very last night. Heck, I even hydrate myself periodically throughout the day.

So it would have been all too easy to think there was nothing wrong and put the problem off until I got home. But since  you never know what’s brewing in your body, it was important to deal with the problem head on.  I felt fine, so wasn’t too concerned that I might infect others, but decided to find the nearest Urgent Care to my hotel to get checked out – and hopefully get my voice back. 

 

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Urgent Care facility located at 26 California Street.

 

2. Take the Red Pill.

My blood pressure was fine.  Temperature? Normal. Strep test? Not even a trace of infection.

After a few more breathing tests and a peek down my throat, the doctor said the cause of my sudden laryngitis was likely due to allergies – and suggested I drink water, rest and give it time.

“When will my voice come back,” I asked.

My doctor, a kind but very practical man replied: “It could be later today or three days from now, I don’t know.” It was not, as you might expect, what I wanted to hear.

He offered a prescription for antibiotics. And while I’m normally not the person who takes medicine unless it’s absolutely essential, I ran to the Walgreens around the corner and filled it quickly. Better to have it handy and not need it than have things get worse and not have it available.

 

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Technician tests for Strep Throat. It came out negative.

 

3. Lower Your Profile.

Ordinarily at an industry show like GDC you want to talk to as many people as possible, since you don’t know when you’ll get the chance to do so again. I had previously set up appointments with people from Tel Aviv, New York, Minnesota, Atlanta, and Helsinki – and I didn’t want to call off any of them. However, you’re better calling off a meeting than showing up and being perceived as ineffective.

I canceled all meetings except for those where I was able to meet with a colleague who did most of the talking. That lowered my role to someone who essentially initiated the get-together and provided as much context as I could – given the situation.

 

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GDC main floor at Moscone Center. Courtesy Official GDC photostream.

 

4. Be Creative and Use Humor.

When you find yourself in a predicament like the one I was in, you’ve got two options: Give up or make the best of a bad situation. I chose the latter.

While there’s no way to make up for losing one’s voice, I adapted by downloading an Android text-to-voice app called “Talk – Text to Voice” that not only gave me a chance to rejoin the conversation, albeit in a limited fashion, but let me do an uncanny Stephen Hawking impression as well.

It not only diffused the awkwardness of the situation, it was a great conversation starter.

I’d tell folks I lost my voice by motioning with my hand over my throat, and immediately follow it up with the robotic voice of the app, which quickly drew a smile from everyone I came across. “Hi, how are you?” the computerized voice would say for me. “I apologize but I lost my voice at the conference and now all I have is this robotic recording to represent me, ha ha ha ha ha”.  Folks laughed immediately and shared instances where they too were at a conference and lost their voice.

To me, this ability to turn self-conscious moments into smiles was like the little falling suns in Plants Vs. Zombies allowing me to harvest the moment to its fullest potential. Zombies beware! I was ready to fight back. 

It also let me take part in that reduced meeting schedule. The text-to-voice app allowed me to voice pertinent questions like “What are your plans in mobile?” or “How can we grow the product offering from your standpoint?”  Open-ended questions like this enabled me to take extensive notes for later follow up on action items – and more importantly, not talk.

 

5. Type Like Hell. 

By Friday, the last day of GDC, I had became something of an expert at using my Talk app. I had pre-selected phrases ready for every potential interaction, including cabbies, hotel concierges and coffee shops. (“Non-fat latte please, not too much foam. Thank you,” said the robotic voice, which I’d follow up by raising my eyebrows and waiting for the smile.)

Regardless of losing my voice, I was able to see and touch some great products at GDC.  NVIDIA showcased its Project SHIELD with amazing gaming graphics, defining cloud-gaming experience and enabling new Android games tohandheld controllers. A startup by the name of Virtual Piggy is providing a safe and private way for parents to enable online content and service purchasing for kids. I also saw and played some amazing games such as Super Chicken Boy by Funtomic which takes clever and creative use of smartphone’s accelerometer mechanics.  In hindsight, I’m glad I stayed at GDC rather than hopping on the first flight home.  By openly sharing my ailment with my clients and partners (in some cases canceling meetings so their time wasn’t wasted) and not letting my condition get me down, I managed to have not only a fun show, but a productive one.

 

Ross Avner is the former Head of Yahoo! Games where he oversaw P&L responsibilities, product, staff/resources, and the overall strategic and business direction for the web property.  He’s been part of the Games Industry for over 12 years in both startup and corporate roles.  Ross is currently working for several companies as Digital Media and Games Consultant.  You can write him directly at rossavner@yahoo.com