Talk Amongst Yourselves – or Not So Much?
I recently attended SlideRocket’s webinar where Cliff Atkinson presented “The Backchannel: A Presenter’s Nightmare or Dream Come True?“. The session addressed:
- Yes, this is happening: people are Tweeting at conferences
- Specific examples of Twitter revolts during talks
- The value of engaging the backchannel (i.e. Twitter conversations during a talk) and how to do so more.
I’ve given, and attended, a number of talks and I have conflicting sentiments about the Twitter stream during presentations.
As a speaker, I am excited by the immediate feedback. Seeing a number of comments about a talk right after giving it is a wild and, oddly, comforting feeling. (I did something today, I think, and this proves it!) It is interesting to see which points, topics or stories particularly resonated with the audience. On the flip-side, I sometimes feel a bit dismayed when seeing something I said out of context. The context is often necessary to comprehend that what I said was meant in jest, or in order to render the statement “sensical”.
As a participant, the desire to connect with others in the session, to share the information with those not there, or to simply covey, “I am here in this session, doing something today”. (If you’re getting the sense that I may need to really prove to myself and others that I am accomplishing something, you may be on the right track.) At times, the information being broadcast helps those paying attention on Twitter get a sense of the presentation and its overriding points and message. But the conversation also takes away from the content of the talk, and from actually listening.
Here are just some of the pros and cons as I see them. Please feel free to contribute what you see as pluses or minuses.
Tremendous Oversimplification. 140 characters is not enough to tell a story, and sometimes not even enough to explain a point made.
Out of Context. As stated above, jokes or flip statement are the easiest for those not present to read and misinterpret. (“She thinks slaughterhouses are sexy?!”)
Missed information. The focus can become not on learning – but on sharing what you just learnt. And it’s easy to miss what the speaker is saying next while attempting to truncate their last statement. And, as Chris Pirillo put it so well: “The problem with people using Twitter during a presentation is that they are paying more attention to the voice that is in their head than they are to the voice on the stage.”
Distraction. An embarrassing story of my spaciness here (but we’re friends right?) : While at TEDxVancouver I tried to tweet occasionally, to mention that I like a talk or to put out a quick point. The conference had a few technical difficulties where some videos took a few moments to play etc. And so, after coming back from one of the breaks, I got on the Twitter and tweeted happily away. I heard some music play, and assumed they had switched it on while they got organized. When, after a few moments, I heard clapping the realization dawned on me in a painful way. The music had been a performance. Live. And I had missed it.
Noise/Randomness. Ah, yes, noise. The internet, and social media by extension, has that in fair supply. While watching (or capturing) comments on a particular talk, you will see information and notes about the talk, but you might also see things like “Trying to get to #BobSmith’s session, but stuck in transit. Wow, BCTransit bites!”. While this message might be (arguably) relevant and (certainly) true, it contributes nothing to the discourse/feed.
Too Easy to Criticize. It’s been said that “Everyone’s a critic”. And Twitter makes that all too easy. It’s there, it’s a channel to the public, and some don’t censor themselves enough. While these people are in the minority, the notion that everyone has a relevant opinion gives voice, quite literally to unnecessary and impulsive comments (“How could he be wearing that ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ shirt to a talk?!” or “I knew about the experiment he just referred to. Next.”)
Interactivity. If properly integrated into the talk, as Cliff Atkinson was mentioning, the result can (in some capacity) be a more engaged talk, and hence a more engaging talk. The questions, concerns and audience viewpoints taken into account might result in a stronger presentation – and one that really speaks to the people present. At the very least, you, as a presenter, can be aware of the concerns of the audience (this might work especially well if the session is one that breaks off – i.e. perhaps has a workshop and you can see what the audience is needing, missing.)
Stimulation. A good talk – like an insightful book – should occasionally take your brain on tangents. You should sometimes think about 1) is this true? I agree/disagree. 2) that reminds me of this experience I had/ heard about. There are times a speaker’s points will inspire trains of thought. This means notes and sometimes dialogue (easily accessed through Twitter/Backchannel. (Now, this may well be selfish of me: Talking time away from speaker to extrapolate a blog post. But I take my moments of inspiration where I can get them).
And, least I be misunderstood, I do love that there are people who tweet and, especially, take notes. Their hard work allows me to really listen to the talk – and be assured that there will be a place to find the important points when I later (without fail) forget 90% of what was said.
Share your rants and raves below, if so inclined.