Friday, December 13, 2019

How to Take Stream Criticism

One day you open Twitch and notice a whisper from someone who watches your streams. This person has been watching your shows for a long time, and you know they always want the best for the community. But instead of chatting with you about life, or complimenting you about your shows, they're telling you that they've thought for a while that your camera setup looks strange. Or that your audio is hard to hear. Or that on a recent episode, you may have offended another chatter without realizing it. This blindsides you- how could this person, who you've always trusted, be joining all those other negative people who say you aren't good enough? So you get offended. You explain why the issue wasn't an issue at all, despite knowing full well that it needs to be fixed. You compare your stream to others, saying, "at least I don't do this or that." You might even lash out at that person for bringing it up. On paper this all sounds ridiculous, but it's unfortunately how most creative people respond when put on the spot. Graciously accepting criticism is one of the hardest disciplines to master in any field. But learning to properly accept the negatives with the positives will help you to be a better streamer, and bring your community closer together in the process.

Don't put on blinders.
Most people on Earth would rather be 'right' than be successful. It's just the way our brains are wired. I spoke in the previous entry On Twitch, Failure is Your Friend, about how failing actually makes you more likely to succeed. And receiving criticism from viewers is one of the surest ways to find out which things about your shows are failing. But despite how useful it is, most of us would rather never hear that feedback in the first place. If we can only put on blinders, tune out the warning signs, and explain to this viewer why their problem actually wasn't a problem after all, then we can keep on living in the failure-free fantasy world we've created. This mindset shields us from getting hurt, but it also shields us from becoming truly great at what we do. Criticism is necessary if you're going to improve.


The number one reason most people have so much trouble with this kind of feedback is they mistake 'receiving criticism' for 'being criticized.' On paper, these two terms mean the exact same thing. But in practice, the connotations are very different. Criticism involves being constructive- someone tells you about a problem they've been having with your content, in the hopes that it will help you to get better. Criticizing is not constructive- someone tells you that you're stupid, or that your content is bad, with no intention of helping. We all hate being criticized, but most of us are so guarded against being criticized that we overcorrect, and can't stand genuine criticism either.

In Dark Souls you never know. Someone might be
trying to help.
When someone gives you criticism or offers a suggestion, don't start explaining, or firing back, or offering any counter at all. If that person had criticism, that means they had an issue with their viewing experience on your streams. This is an objective fact. There's no explaining away their feelings or experiences while watching. Your place is in deciding whether or not you're going to fix whatever problem they're describing. You certainly can't and shouldn't implement every change someone suggests, nor should you be attempting to cater your stream to the whim of every person who watches- but despite this, the criticism brought up was still real from this person's perspective. Whether or not you plan to do anything about their problem, it's definitely not your place to explain to them why their experience wasn't valid in the first place.

This person is offering you a golden opportunity to hear a firsthand account of a problem on your stream. As the streamer, it can be very difficult to understand what the moment-to-moment experience is like for the viewer. But by identifying a problem, this person is essentially lighting a pathway toward what you should do to fix it. You just have to put your ego aside long enough to see that. So what do you say when someone points out that your camera angle looks strange, or that one of your alerts doesn't play correctly?

Thank them.

Ask more questions about the problem they're having. Listen to their concerns. But don't try to defend yourself. This person is your ally- they aren't attacking you. You should be immensely grateful, not only that this person is helping you see your shows from their perspective, but that they came forward with their account. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and you can safely assume that if one person had this problem with your stream, then they're only the tip of the iceberg. Others are almost certainly having the same problem, simply without mentioning it to you.


Try to encourage people to give you suggestions and criticism. Let them send you private messages or whispers with their concerns, where you can pick their brain about the issue one-on-one and learn from their experience. Making it a private conversation also creates a safe space for them to point out much more personal issues with your streams, without fear of being judged by anyone else who may not have the same concern.

Sometimes people feel they can't truly share
when they're in front of everyone.
What I DON'T recommend doing is creating a large, open forum for discussion of your stream's faults, like a 'suggestions' channel on Discord. In my community, even if people try to post stream criticism in a public place, I'll direct them toward a whisper or DM instead. When someone is posting in front of others, it taints the authenticity of their account, and makes them less likely to share personal stories or experiences. Nobody wants to post an idea that everyone on a public forum will shoot down, so this makes most people avoid sharing their more unique thoughts, or causes them to get upset and defensive when they do post those thoughts and others don't agree. Plus, having a big public place where everyone is suggesting things and building on ideas makes it harder to not implement something that won't work for your channel. If everyone has spent dozens of chat lines thinking up and refining an idea they they think could improve your stream, it becomes much more awkward for you not to go ahead with it. Even if it doesn't fit your channel at all, the community is already attached to the idea and it creates a lose-lose scenario for you.

You're the only one who knows the inner workings of your streams, and you're also the only one who knows the direction you're interested in taking them. People watching can identify what's causing them problems, but they don't always know the best way to fix those problems. Your audience would have no way of knowing about most behind-the-scenes factors, and it's not their job to know about them. If someone gives you an idea, it's more important to identify the problem they were having that caused them to come up with this idea, and build on that. Most of the time when someone sends me a suggestion, I will reverse-engineer their problem, go back to the drawing board, and completely reinvent that aspect of the stream. I don't necessarily use the idea they sent, but I use the implicit criticism behind it to come up with an idea of my own. Make sure you're thinking outside the box when you use criticism, don't just latch onto whatever ideas are provided to you.


Taking criticism well is incredibly important, but after it's all said and done, don't forget to give credit where credit is due. Whether or not someone suggested the exact idea I implement, I will always make a big event on stream to thank them for inspiring that change. This is very important in my opinion, because it not only shows that person that I appreciate them, but conveys to everyone else watching that I care enough to take criticism to heart. This creates a positive loop which encourages others to share their thoughts as well. So the next time someone sends criticism of your streams, don't immediately start explaining yourself. Just listen, learn, and ask questions. When you're inspired by your viewers' real experiences, you'll start improving faster than you could have ever expected!

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