Just before Thanksgiving I was at the KM World 2009 conference in San Jose listening to a keynote presentation by Charlene Li. Like many others, I was tweeting during her presentation and posted the following:
At just about the same time, on the right coast, danah boyd of Microsoft was delivering a keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City that didn’t go as well. Her experience and the subsequent conversation around it represent the latest installment in the evolving relationship between audience and presenter. It also contains comparable lessons for the successful adoption of social media within the enterprise.
If you ever expect to stand and deliver in front of a group, these are issues you need to think about beforehand. That can be as adrenaline inducing as boyd’s keynote or as seemingly innocuous as running a status meeting while the team focuses on their laptops, Blackberrys, and iphones.
I’ve been gathering and organizing links to some of the more useful and informative material I’ve found on this topic. For starters, here are some key pointers specific to boyd’s experience, including her own reflections and assessment:
- apophenia: Web2.0 Expo Talk: Streams of Content, Limited Attention
danah boyd’s initial reflections on her experience as a keynote presenter in the sights of a backchannel with enough trolls present to derail the experience
- apophenia: spectacle at Web2.0 Expo… from my perspective
danah boyd’s reflections on her recent experience with a Twitter backchannel and a keynote speech that fell short of her standards. A very insightful reflection. You should also take the time to read through the comments which are equally thoughtful.
- Just because it’s a crowd doesn’t make it wise .
One of several accounts of another collision between a keynote speaker and a visible backchannel. It’s an entry point to several more reflective posts on this particular case example.
- When Social Technologies Become AntiSocial – Opposable Planets
Some additional insight and commentary on danah boyd’s Web 2.0 Expo keynote experience
danah body isn’t the only one dealing with this new relationship between audience and speaker. Here are some other accounts and overviews of other less than successful encounters, both recent and not-so-recent:
- The Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009 | .eduGuru
An analysis of the interaction between a keynote presentation that missed the mark for its intended audience and provoked a hostile audience response in the back channel
- Conference Humiliation: They’re Tweeting Behind Your Back – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education
Another overview article on an educational keynote speech that went off the rails and was chronicled in real time via a twitter back channel
- confessions of a backchannel queen – mamamusings
The recent uptick in backchannel heckling via twitter doesn’t represent a new phenomenon. The same thing was happening several years ago on the conference circuit with the use of IRC channels. It was a bit harder to do given the technology but the emergent behaviors were quite similar
Fortunately, we’re also starting to see some good advice emerging on how to cope:
- How to present with Twitter and other backchannels : Speaking about Presenting
Good advice and a pretty comprehensive ebook (PDF) on dealing with the backchannel when you present. How to avoid the pitfalls and how to derive some useful advantage.
- The Art of the Backchannel at Conferences: Tips, Reflections, and Resources – Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media
An excellent collection of tips and resources for how to deal with the inevitable reality that your future presentations WILL have a backchannel
These examples are highly visible. They also take place in settings where you have the additional problems of a degree of anonymity that seems to encourage a level of boorishness more reminiscent of middle school than anything else. At the same time, they are also leading indicators of a default working environment that will be more public and transparent than we are accustomed to or comfortable with. Paying attention here and thinking through what lessons are available and how they translate into other settings is time well spent. Some of the questions on my mind include:
- Where and when can you influence the tenor of the backchannel? As a presenter? As a conference organizer? As a member of the audience?
- What can you do before the fact to set useful expectations or standards of interaction?
- What can you do in the moment?
- What can you do after the fact?
- What’s likely to differ in more private venues? What will differ for the better? For worse?