Conversation is the New Attention
Issue № 326

Conversation is the New Attention

This article is adapted from their SXSW 2011 talk, Toss the Projector: Redefining the Speaker/Audience Dynamic. In the talk, Tim and Chris unveiled Donahue, a new experimental tool designed and built by Arc90 and Behavior Design which tears down the wall between audience and presenter, allowing the audience to interact directly with the presenter’s ideas to begin a conversation.

Article Continues Below

Embracing distraction#section1

You’re in a not-too-comfortable chair, in a large, slightly-darkened room. On stage, someone speaks into a microphone. Like your peers around you, you’ve come to hear someone speak about something you’re interested in. The speaker, in turn, has thought a lot about their subject—perhaps a lifetime’s worth.

Looking around, you see that your neighbors aren’t entirely there. Some faces are turned downward, brightly underlit, gazes focused not on the speaker but on a glowing screen. Perhaps you, too, want to pull out your laptop or smartphone. Before long, it seems like much of the audience has their attention focused…elsewhere.

Whether it’s a professional conference like SXSW or An Event Apart, a concert or a political speech, a college classroom or lecture hall, the dynamic between speakers and audiences is changing. Some argue they’re disconnecting.

We’ve thought a lot about this problem, about how technology is changing how we pay attention and learn. We’ve paid special attention to professional conferences, where the lecture room dynamic can be so monotonous that some conferences actually brag that the best stuff happens in the halls.

Speakers blame the audience’s insatiable addiction to being connected and multitasking. They ask or even demand that audiences close their laptops. They disable WiFi so people have no choice but to pay attention to the speaker. Solutions like these, however, smack of “blaming the user”—user experience design’s cardinal sin. Even though audiences are often and easily distracted, audiences are not the problem.

Conversely, audiences blame speakers for depending on PowerPoint and mind-numbing bullet points. Yes, speakers need help. There are many great resources to help empower speakers, build their confidence, stagecraft, and interpersonal skills. Instead of adding to that body of work, we chose to examine the very format of professional conference public speaking. We call this “the public speaking technology,” meaning: (a) gathering people in a room, (b) giving the speaker(s) a microphone and a projector, and (c) allowing the audience to ask questions at the end.

That’s the extent of what public speaking technology is today.

In a world where every piece of information can, with a single tap on a pocket-sized glass screen, lead to more and more information, our ideas need to move faster, people need to share ideas and bounce them off of each other more spontaneously than ever, anytime, anywhere. Public speaking technology has not kept pace with the technology of everything else.

So we asked ourselves: how can we improve the technology of public speaking?

May we have your attention, please?#section2

The best conference talks share a common attribute: they start a conversation. The conversation begins in the room, and may echo for weeks or months afterward. In the very best, fantastic, mind-blowing talks, some of the audience, compelled by the speaker’s ideas and unable to hold their thoughts, gripes, or questions until the Q&A session, type notes or share their thoughts on Twitter. They’re deeply engaged with the talk, of course. But as the presenter stares out at the audience, it’s impossible for them to tell the difference between the energized participant, busy echoing or debating their ideas, and those reading their favorite celebrity blog or answering e-mail.

A few years back, Tim attended the Memphis IA (Information Architecture) Summit. Jesse James Garrett gave the closing plenary. Jesse’s remarkable talk took a unique approach: without slides or projector, he delivered his thought-provoking point of view while walking around the room. With speakers’ notes in hand (on his iPhone), Jesse walked among and directly addressed his peers. His talk was compelling—anyone claiming to be an Information Architect or Interaction Designer, rather than a User Experience Designer, is either “a fool or a liar.” Garrett accomplished exactly what a great presenter hopes to do: he started a conversation. The discussion started in the room, and continued for weeks in various forms. In fact, strong opinions about his ideas exist today. This presentation made a lasting impression on Tim, but here’s the interesting part: Tim wasn’t there.

Tim was hurrying to the Memphis airport to catch a flight. But Tim was ‘at the talk’—tracking the hashtag on an iPhone from the cab, engaging with Jesse’s points, replying to tweets, and forwarding these ideas to his network. He was a carrier for Jesse James Garrett’s ideas. Despite his physical location, they were having a conversation.

This story underscores that technology constantly edges and even leapfrogs ahead of established social norms: in this case, the social norm of giving physical, undivided attention to a presenter. There were people in the room with Jesse, seemingly not paying attention but doing him a great service by relaying his ideas. Without them, Tim would have been shut out from the conversation.

All good ideas are conversations#section3

Conference presentations, like comic books, magazines and movies, are media. And they are all evolving away from a broadcast heritage.

From the printing press through 20th century Big Media, from large-scale commercial print to AOL, information has flowed from central producers to consumers. From Geocities to blogging to The Daily, collectively we still believe that the best way to share ideas is through broadcast publication. Produce and distribute; receive and consume.

This remains the case today—just take a look at your average magazine iPad app. It’s essentially a PDF that you can touch. It’s like paper. It’s one way. It’s broadcast.

But the future of publishing, of media in general, isn’t broadcast.

As humans, we’re on an unwavering path to make it easier to communicate with one another. All media is influenced by our desire to talk to one another, our need to contribute to the conversation. Compare I Love Lucy to Lost: the conversations about Lost were as important as the show itself. Compare old time radio, families gathered around for a fireside chat, to modern sports or political talk radio, where conversation and debate is the show. Compare CNN to Reddit.

Successful media endeavors of the near future will embrace experience, engagement, and conversation.

Conferences are conversations, too#section4

This conversation revolution has no boundaries, and it certainly doesn’t respect flimsy conference room walls. A conference presentation, like a television show or an online news article, is now a place for conversation. Conference organizers and presenters ignore this at their own peril.

Presenters invest time in crafting a talk around a thesis, building slides and practicing in front of a mirror, because they want to share their ideas; they hope that their ideas become memes that compel the audience to spread them beyond the conference room via their extended social networks.

We propose a new rule for talks: if your presentation’s goal is something other than starting a meme, cancel it. What’s the point of your presentation if not to spread your ideas? Are you giving a speech, or do you want your ideas to begin a conversation?

A conference is the perfect place to start a meme. Audience and presenter interests are aligned: to be exposed to new ideas and to make connections with people. And both involve conversation.

The first rule of great presentations is for the speaker to completely believe in what they are talking about. We need technologies that expose the speaker to criticism and rebuttal. So we decided to create a technology that forces the speaker to believe and be accountable for every single thing they say.

The second rule of good presentations is for the speaker to listen carefully to the audience’s responses. When people share their ideas with the world, regardless of the medium, it’s a wonderful opportunity for an idea to grow far beyond the originator’s intent and imagination: but only if the speaker puts it all on the line, and eagerly awaits their audience’s response.

The backchannel#section5

So there’s our problem: we know we need to create and empower conversations at conferences. The problem is that speakers worry too much about combating “the backchannel.”

Conventional conference wisdom is that speakers are fighting a war for the audience’s attention. On one side, there’s the speaker, armed with beautiful slides, succinct bullet points, a commanding stage presence, and a great speech. On the other side is Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, YouTube, etc. The audience is in the middle, torn between datastreams.

When a speaker sees an audience member’s underlit face, they lose confidence and flow. They wonder what the audience is actually doing. Is the guy in the front row e-mailing his sweetheart, or quoting something the speaker said over Twitter? Is the woman in the back commenting on a funny cat video, or writing down the awesome idea she had after hearing the speaker say something deeply inspiring?

The backchannel irritates many speakers. But giving the speaker the power to cut audiences off from the backchannel would be, we think, the wrong solution. The speaker doesn’t need any more power. The speaker is armed to the teeth. The speaker is already the center of the universe. The audience came specifically to hear the speaker’s ideas!

It’s time to empower the audience, not the speaker. Audiences need the power they deserve—or, more accurately, speakers need to acknowledge and accept the power audiences already have: the power to let their minds fully explore the ideas presenters are sharing with them.

Audiences are already reaching out. That’s why the backchannel sprung up in the first place. That’s how “live tweeting” came into existence. Because people want to talk, and are accustomed to talking every time they get a great idea, or every time they hear a great idea.

On attention#section6

So if we’re worried so much about losing people’s attention, let’s take a moment to ask: what’s so special about attention? What is attention, anyway? Wikipedia says that attention is a “cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things.”

In his book Brain Rules, John Medina identifies four significant characteristics of attention:

1. Emotions get our attention#section7

Attention is most easily gripped by emotions, threats, and pleasures: ideas that challenge our deeply-held beliefs, images that shock or arouse us.

2. Meaning before details#section8

We want to know why something is relevant to us. Only then will we be willing to spend the time it takes to understand the details of it.

3. The brain cannot multitask#section9

The idea that multitasking is a myth seems to be well-established by now, although a decade ago it seemed like multitasking was the inevitable future of human consciousness. We are learning to work with, not against, our cognitive limitations.

4. The brain needs a break#section10

We believe in giving audiences freedom, even if it’s the freedom to zone out or take a break from one part of a talk to focus on another part. That’s how people learn.

But we don’t think that our need for breaks or our inability to multitask quite captures the nature of the problem. It’s not a zero-sum game, where either the speaker or Twitter captures the audience’s attention. When an audience member decides to do something besides sit still and listen, it’s not necessarily a futile attempt at multitasking.

It’s not “multitasking” to take notes or have a conversation with your colleagues during a presentation—as long as you’re talking about the topic at hand. Some call this “multiplexing,” where overlapping tasks are closely related to each other, and even complementary. Attention is not lost in multiplexing—in fact, it is multiplied.

Attention is a precious commodity. But attention is changing, because humanity itself is changing. With our constant connection to technology, we are fundamentally changing as people. We are, in fact, becoming cyborgs. Technology is an integral part of how we remember things today, for better or worse. We are always connected. We always have access to external information. And to our friends. What does attention really mean to a cyborg? We think we need to take this change into account in conferences, not fight it.

We think we should add a fifth need to John Medina’s list that addresses our social urges and that opens up a technological opportunity:

5. People need to react to interesting things#section11

People need to be able to react to things that interest them. To respond. Asking people not to respond when they hear something interesting goes against everything we are relentlessly and inevitably becoming.

And we need to react in meaningful ways. Not just clapping or booing, but actually communicating and conversing. We need to immediately tell someone else what we thought, we need to write down what we thought to remember it later, we need to articulate exactly what we thought at the moment before it slips away.

The model of the rapt audience so enthralled by a speaker that you can hear a pin drop actually prevents this kind of meaningful reaction. It diminishes an audience’s emotional connection with the content because it stifles the audience’s ability to fully experience the thoughts they have in response to the talk.

Think about the whole format of having Q&A at the end of a talk. If near the beginning of the talk you get an idea for a question you want to ask the speaker, you have to keep your mouth shut for the next half hour. All you’ll be thinking about is “OOH! OOOH! I have this brilliant question I want to ask!!!” And then at the end, you may not even get to the microphone in time to ask about it: some blowhard may hog the mic to sell his product or make a speech.

Because of these problems, Cennydd Bowles wrote a manifesto calling for an end to conference Q&A sessions, for many of the reasons cited above. But we think that by giving the audience the power to ask their questions or express their reactions as soon as they spring to mind, we can get around his core complaints.

Audiences should be able to register questions at any time, and speakers should be able to choose the best questions to answer. The dynamic of Q&A made us realize that presentations are interactions. So the challenge of making great presentations must be an interaction design challenge. Our passion, and our medium!

Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message,” meaning that the nature of the tools we use to share our ideas profoundly influences our ideas. David Weinberger takes that idea and updates it to “We are the medium”: today, ideas are spread not by broadcasting and satellites and other amazing new technologies, but by people using technology.

Enter Twitter, enter Donahue#section12

Donahue is the experimental application we designed and built, and debuted at SXSW on March 13, 2011, to explore the ideas and concepts discussed here so far. You can view the app, and see our progress on it, at http://www.donahueapp.com.

Donahue is a web application that enables audiences to more closely connect with a speaker’s points and ideas, and to share reactions to those ideas with their peers, both in the room and beyond, during and after the live event.

We chose Twitter as the main conversational channel for Donahue’s interactions. Why? Isn’t Twitter the enemy of attention? We don’t think so. Twitter actually has a built-in quality that is much like the dynamic of a presentation: like a conference presentation, it’s asymmetrical at its core—following someone on Twitter is choosing to hear what they have to say. But it’s also conversational, permitting users to speak to one another. Moreover, Twitter is public. It puts your words out in the world, allowing them to escape the confines of the conference room, exposing them to the world for discussion, critique, and evolution.

We knew that this dynamic would be an excellent addition to public talks. In fact over the last few years, Twitter has emerged as a de facto part of presentation technology as audiences use it as a discussion platform even without the presenter’s consent.

Twitter also has a great kind of resonance. The best presentations somehow end up, in some resonant form, on Twitter. Speakers currently have to hope that their talk gets picked up on Twitter, as if Twitter was the evening news.

Instead, with Donahue, we chose to embrace Twitter, to make speakers tweet their ideas (which we call “points”) to the world as they speak—and to encourage their audiences, whether in the room or not, to respond to and propagate those ideas. Participants using Donahue are limited to viewing only the speaker’s points and the Twitter conversations of those who choose to focus on the event itself, filtering out the rest of the Twitter universe and keeping the participants centered on the speaker’s ideas.

The Donahue experiment at SXSW was extraordinary, both for us as speakers and for audience members, in the room and around the world. Over 400 people directly participated in the discussion by logging in to Donahue with their Twitter accounts. A few thousand responses were tweeted during and after the talk. Importantly, a permanent record of the talk now resides on the web. Donahue stopped collecting related tweets soon after the talk, but our ideas and reaction to the tool itself echoed through the audience’s extended network for days.

Like any good experiment, we got some unexpected results and insights, too. There were too many points, being published too fast. The conversation flowing into the Twitterverse wasn’t always welcome by those who hadn’t chosen to join our talk. Some participants wanted to limit the visible conversation to their own Twitter connections. In short, we learned that Donahue needs to incorporate some social graces with its technical abilities.

But it worked: Donahue was our thesis manifest; our conference presentation became a conversation.

Paying attention together#section13

McLuhan said “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Social media has changed us so much that we now expect to be able to use it just as readily as we expect to open our mouths and talk. Probably even more readily. Our attention has been shaped, changed, by our tools—our friends are now part of our attention. By suppressing this, we are denying who we are. We are social media animals. And there’s no reason we should stop being so at conferences.

A conference is not a place to hear someone read their research paper or blog post aloud. It’s a place where a few hundred people get together to agree to pay attention together. Even better, it’s a place where people agree to think about ideas together. And to talk about them.

When you pay attention together, and think about ideas together, and most importantly talk about them in the same energized moment, well, that’s where the best stuff really happens.

About the Author

Timothy Meaney

Timothy Meaney is a Partner at Arc90, Kindling, and Readability. In his spare time, Tim enjoys reading, running, kickboxing, and relaxing with his family, although rarely at the same time.

Christopher Fahey

Christopher Fahey is an interaction designer, writer, speaker, teacher, UX wrangler at ZocDoc, a former co-founder of Behavior Design, and a rider of bicycles. He lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

14 Reader Comments

  1. “Cole W. Camplese, director of education-technology services at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, prefers to teach in classrooms with two screens — one to project his slides, and another to project a Twitter stream of notes from students. He knows he is inviting distraction — after all, he’s essentially asking students to pass notes during class. But he argues that the additional layer of communication will make for richer class discussions.”

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/professor-encourages-students-to-pass-notes-during-class-via-twitter/4619

    Why is this being presented as something new? It’s a cool app, unfortunately it is being presented as a revolutionary idea rather than an open source improvement.

  2. When one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, came along, they kept messing with the theme song. What they didn’t realize was that they’d gotten it right the first time. Are conferences like that and this is just messing around with things that aren’t as good?

    I recently attended the excellent first ever Midwest UX conference. While there were many excellent presentations, I was frequently distracted by one or two people banging away endlessly at their laptops. I couldn’t figure out why they were even in the room if they had that much typing to do, let alone distracting the other participants. But I did learn one important thing about the iPad: they’re silent. So maybe it’s a personality issue? I prefer to become fully engaged in whatever is being presented, whether it’s a conference presenter or a movie. I want to immerse my mind in it and feel no need to tweet or converse with anyone about it during the event. I would find it distracting and would be reluctant to distract others.

    So what about the tweets? Between sessions I would read the tweets for the conference and, to be honest, found no value in them at all. Most of them were just regurgitations of what the speakers were saying. This is great for those who couldn’t attend, but not the most efficient way to provide a remote conference experience.

    However, I’m not saying there’s nothing of value here. I’m open to the concept. But maybe the solution is somewhere between the traditional and what this article offers. Yes, a presentation is a great way to start a conversation and it has greater value when the participants can engage the speaker and each other. I’m just skeptical that this is the right way to do it. Is there a reason conferences haven’t been conducted by people sitting in a circle with the presenter being primarily a facilitator for discussion?

  3. @atrowbri – Thanks for pointing us to that article. I think that he’s hitting upon something important, something we also tried to convey in our article / talk, which is that learning is at times best done via a conversation. I’d venture a guess that the students in that class were more engaged, and more tuned-in to their Professor’s ideas, than in other classes.

    As for our idea for Donahue & the talk being “revolutionary”, I hope we didn’t convey that tone. We took inspiration from all sorts of trends and made an ever-so-slight tweak to reinforce our message that ‘media is evolving from broadcast to conversation’. The most important inspiration? The fact that audiences have been doing this on their own, for years!

  4. @undecided: It’s true that for many speakers and many audience members — and for many types of content — the idea of doing anything else besides paying close attention to the talk might seem entirely inappropriate. There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving a speaker your undivided attention.

    But it does raise the question: if you’re just sitting there listening, how is a live presentation any different from reading an article by yourself in a quiet room?

    Of course part of the appeal of live conferences is the energy of the public space, and of course the speaker’s passion and emphasis (if they have this). And in a way conferences are designed to *eliminate* the kinds of distractions you might be tempted by sitting at your desk reading a blog post containing the exact same words.

    We’re still experimenting with this concept, too. Respecting the diversity of attention styles is going to be a challenge. Even among those who participated on Twitter and appreciated the value of it, for example, we found some people liked the volume of tweet chatter while others wanted a little more focus.

    But we strongly believe that there is a lot of opportunity to improve learning and the quality of the thinking that emerges from live presentations, specifically by letting audiences let their minds wander the way they want to. The devil may well be in the details: simple things like, as you mention, the difference between tapping on clicky keys versus tapping on a glass screen. Similarly, we gave Donahue a dark UI specifically to prevent lighting up people’s faces.

  5. So many good points raised here. I definitely suffer from a bit of short term memory loss when it comes to thinking of something that I want to share, but by the time I can, i’ve forgotten what it was!
    I agree that being able to use social media to spread the word whilst at a conference or talk is a great leap forward and also directs the view of the lone speaker, to the thoughts and opinions of everyone. I think it adds diversity and a great new addition to how conferences work and will continue to develop in the future.

  6. Some interesting ideas in this article, but I somewhat disagree with the following line:

    “we need to immediately tell someone else what we thought”

    That is, in my humble opinion, the real problem. Why would you need to do that? How could you possibly form an educated(!) thought about what has been said just two seconds ago and provide any real value at all in your e.g. tweets. What value do these “knee-jerk” thoughts have, other then being immediate, quick responses that are being replicated over and over again.

    Do you sit in a movie and constantly tweet on the movie’s progress every 2 minutes? Can we draw a real conclusion about the restaurant before having had desert? Do we need discussions for the sake of discussing? What’s the real value?

    My 5 cents 🙂

  7. You might be interested in our recent paper. The context created as people interact (converse) with others through multiple social networking services we refer to as PolySocial Reality (PoSR). PoSR encompasses the complete set of multiplexed ‘mixed realities’ (grounded reality and virtual spaces) and larger social network formed by the people connected, but only experienced partially by each person.

    “A Cultural Perspective on Mixed, Dual, and Blended Reality”

    http://www.dfki.de/LAMDa/accepted/ACulturalPerspective.pdf

  8. As someone who knows both Chris and Tim and was an excited participant in their Donahue experiment, I came to the party already a convinced devotee of conversation as a model interaction technology.

    And it is certainly true that much about the conference speaking experience, on all sides, is broken.

    The insight at the heart of the Donahue experiment, as I see it, is that a tool, in this case an app, could be used to intervene in the deteriorating state of public conversation.

    It is a complex problem, and I think it is a dangerous oversimplification to suggest that THE fix is “to empower the audience, not the speaker”. In fact, I think this runs in the opposite direction of what actually Donahue does (or could do) and risks reproducing the problems of presenter/audience dynamics that Tim & Chris give a useful diagnosis of.

    The key, I think Tim & Chris are right to say, lies in the idea or rather the technology of conversation. It is an oldie, but a goodie, and certainly has had a central place in nearly every enduring culture and system of knowledge that I can think of.

    From the ancient Chinese tradition of master and student represented in the teaching of Confucius and Lao Tzu, to the Greek dialogues of Plato and the Talmudic tradition the interpretation of God’s “law”, to mention a few, conversation has been a core technology in enlightenment and decision.

    The problem with conference talks isn’t simply that the warring impulses to participate make the relationship between speaker and audience potentially antagonistic. The problem is that they all too often fail to produce what must always be the goal of conversation, the thing conversation is uniquely designed to produce: namely, diversity.

    If all a group of people do together in a conference room do is sit and listen, then leave, the chances that diverse outputs will be created from the input is very slim.

    We know how this goes, either we have “heard it all before” or we acknowledge the truth of what’s been said, but find it trivial: “so what, BIG DEAL”.

    What I did and do find exciting about Donahue is its potential as a tool for the design of conversations. What we complain of in the tools of presentation, PowerPoint or any other “slideshow” tool, is how they constrain the design of conversation: too one-sided, too dumbed down. That’s why Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen, Nancy Duarte’s Slideology & Resonate and Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin have found such eager audiences and more than that, markets.

    The trouble with the “backchannel” is the same. Because it is not part of the intentional design of our interactions it can become distracted, unruly, rude and worse. Of course, one of the key challenges for the design of conversation is that it is “designing for emergence” and this is tricky business to do well.

    Donahue tries to accomplish something startlingly simple, to put us all on “the same page”. In this way, it is an information architectural equivalent of a Quaker meeting house, perhaps: by placing us on a common level it removes the more artificial props of authority and recognizes (respects) our equal potential as participants.

    I think that Chris & Tim’s most important prescriptions are good ones. They reinforce the importance we all place on the goal of conversations, to produce diversity from our interactions: diversity of ideas, of perspective, of insight and more.

    I agree that people who are on a “stage” or playing an instigating role in a conversation should be advancing a meme. I am not sure that we have to be starting one, but I do think that it is important that we have something to add and sometimes that can take powerful for in a question.

    I am excited and grateful for Chris & Tim’s works and that of their teams at Behavior and Arc90. Advancing the state of the art of the design of conversation is hugely important and valuable work. Thanks, all.

  9. @Stephanie – thanks for the words, I’m glad it struck a chord with you.

    @Marco – great analogy to a film. I think there’s room for both instant reaction, quoting and live-tweeting a talk, and a more nuanced reaction to the ideas, perhaps later elaborated by a blog post from an audience member. Think of it like other media, where news reports are filed from the scene, eg. “this just happened”, and then a more thoughtful dissection and interpretation of meaning later.

    The audience at conferences, though, is already having a reactive conversation, apart from the presenter. The idea we explored was one where the presenter joins the fray, with the hopes of maximizing the reach of their ideas. So is it good that people ‘need’ to respond to points throughout a talk? We’re not making a value judgement there, just accepting reality.

    @saa – thanks for the link to the paper, I’ll check it out.

  10. I was at your SXSW talk. Thanks for presenting these ideas.

    To me, the “traditional” public speaking model appeals to the speaker’s desire to control the experience. If the speaker is gifted and dynamic, that can work for audiences. Often, it doesn’t.

    Plus, as you say, it does leave out the audience’s reaction. I’ve had those moments of insight, when I’m hearing something new from a speaker and putting it together with an experience I’ve had, and the two create a new idea. Sometimes a very important idea. Sometimes one that changes how I think.

    Speakers should welcome more interactive technologies like this. What they lose in control over the audience’s experience, they’ll gain in new insights.

  11. What I’ve seen work well in technical presentations is to have one or more additional people involved in the presentation that monitor the real-time feedback (whether it’s a chat room, twitter, or just people coming up to whisper questions). These “wranglers” can give answers directly if they know the material well enough, or direct the speaker to respond to particularly interesting questions that come up. Presentations where the speaker has to scan through real-time responses can devolve into watching someone read on stage.

  12. You hit great points in this article! I was sitting in at a conference a few days ago and couldn’t help but feel detached. There was an emotional disconnect with me and the speaker’s ideas. I’m not one who is immersed in all the available social media outlets or have my phone permanently attached to my hand. Then, I had the opportunity to speak to a younger audience in their teens and there was a world of difference. The detachment was at a whole another level. Traditional methods is on its way out and this article has compelled me to think out of the box in engaging my audience. I always viewed conferences to cultivate a separate dynamic from everyday conversation, but because of the socially interconnected nature of our evolving species, conversation has to be the standard. The closer we get to this, using technology, the closer we will be in connecting to people from all walks of life.

  13. I have no issue with participation but have to agree with Marco that ‘knee jerk’ reactions are far too common.

    You have only to see the initial reaction to Ken Clarke’s comments about rape and justice in the UK to see this.

    If I go to listen to a speaker I go to learn something. If I disagree then by the time a Q&A session comes around I have time to collect my thoughts and process them. This leads, I believe to better participation.

    So much of what I have seen on backchannels are the mentioned regurgitations (AKA: “OMG, I’m famous as I’m on the screen”) or pointless drivel. How this creates ‘a conversation’ I am afraid I fail to see.

  14. I think people underestimate the power of conversation. As a freelancer I sometimes find it difficult to collect my thoughts/ideas sitting at my desk, going to the pub and discussing things over with a friend usually helps me to make decisions on certain things, regardless of whether my friend has even offered an opinion!

Got something to say?

We have turned off comments, but you can see what folks had to say before we did so.

More from ALA

Nothing Fails Like Success

Our own @zeldman paints the complicated catch-22 that our free, democratized web has with our money-making capitalist roots. As creators, how do we untangle this web? #LetsFixThis