Whether you’re a professional speaker, company representative, or panelist at a conference, you must develop a social strategy during your speaking.
The Audience Continues To Gain Power Over Speakers
A few years ago, the first major eruption occurred from the audience hijacking the attention at SXSW during an ill-fated interview on the main stage. Even weeks ago, Kanye’s debacle was commented on by Twittering attendees despite them not even having the mic. (Update, a speaker gives her first hand story of an audience revolt on Twitter)
This week, an audience revolt happened at the Higher Education Conference, you can read about it here, here, here and here. Although I was miles away, I was watching it unfold in real time on Twitter search –I felt horrible for that speaker who likely didn’t even know what was happening till someone posted his phone number on Twitter and people were texting him how horrible he had done. Ouch, the audience was vindictive and felt injured and wanted to get back.
Savvy Speakers Will Engage With Audience In Real World –and In Digital
Critics would suggest that monitoring the backchannel is counter intuitive to what a speaker should be doing: focused on presenting. Yet, I’d argue that some power has shifted to the audience –and with that comes responsibility of the speaker to respond to the power shift. As a speaker (I’m now represented by Monitor Talent), I feel empathy and at the same time am scared this doesn’t happen to me. The best way for speakers to avoid this revolt is to make sure that they be aware of the changes in power shifts and develop a plan to integrate social.
How Speakers Should Integrate Social Into Their Presentation:
Prepare More Than Ever. This is baseline. I could give a long list of speaking dos and don’t but there’s been books, classes, and private coaches that provide that (something I’m going to continue to invest in as I grow). It boils down to: know your audience, have strong content, practice, repeat. The change here is that the audience will scrutinize you, grade you, for all to see.
Know Your Audience’s Social Technology Adoption. While the first audience revolt was at SXSW, a new media tech conference, where adoption of new communication tools is likely. The Higher Education conference wasn’t focused solely on technology (update: in the comments, I learned this was a technology conference), so this revolt has moved out of the technology scene. You’ll need to pay attention to this more at conferences where social is active, first gauge the discussion in chat rooms or twitter using search tools. Find the conference hashtag (if there is one) to determine level of activity.
Monitor the Backchannel While Speaking. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Guy Kawasaki keynote a large conference, he monitors the body actions from the crowd and commands attention of the audience, he’s making micro-tweeks to his presentation to engage and react. Just as speakers do this in the real world, they must be monitoring the verbal, explicit reactions in the backchannel like Twitter or a chat room. Ask coordinators to display a monitor on stage facing you to see hashtags, use your mobile phone, or have your computer on stage to quickly see the stream.
Develop Backup Resources to Monitor. Some speakers have told me this is nearly impossible for them to do as they are focused on presenting content, here’s two tips for you. Speakers who are unable to monitor the backchannel should have a buddy attend the speech, sit in the front row, or off stage, and indicate if there’s something out of the ordinary they need to respond to. If your speaker content is rehearsed –it should be second nature to present it. Scoble is known for taking “Twitter breaks” during his presentation every 15 minutes to gauge the audience feedback.
Interact with the Audience: If your speech is going well, a majority of the tweets will be echos of what you’re saying then retweets. However, some speakers should monitor and look for questions, comments, or interesting new information that would add to the presentation. For example, at the Web 2.0 expo, I saw an audience member say my panel was boring on twitter, so I immediately shifted to Q&A which kept the audience interest.
Practice Two-Fisted Speaking. In the future, we may start to see presenters with two devices in hand: the presentation clicker in right hand, and cell phone in right hand, monitoring the flow of conversation. Despite the presenter having great control with the clicker controlling the flow of conversation, ultimately the audience has more control as they scrutinize, talk to each other, and shape a complete other conversation. Speakers should practice integrating input as they output in real-time first in private, then integrate into their performance.
I’d love to hear from you how speakers should respond to the power shifting to the audience, I know there’s a lot I can continue to learn in the craft of speaking. What should speakers do?
- How to Successfully Moderate a Conference Panel.
- Web Strategy: How To Integrate Social Technologies with Virtual Events
- BusinessWeek’s Larry Chiang has extended the conversation and has republished this blog post with my permission
- A powerpoint plugin allows tweets to be seen right on the screen in presentation mode, link via Charlene Li
- Econsultancy weighs in, and agrees with about 80% of my suggestions.
- Joseph Jaffe has a video podcast in response to the 6 points I suggest, really excellent.