I guess I'm lucky never to have attended a session like the one Allen Stern talks about, where the presenters were so busy with the backchannels (live webcasting the session, that sort of thing) that those who were attending live felt short-changed. Allen writes:
- When I spend thousands of dollars and my time to attend a conference, I am really not interested in watching the Qik CEO broadcast the session live to everyone without paying attention to what's going on in the moment. I also really don't give a rats ass what people outside the conference think of what's going on inside the room. I want to have the speaker's full attention. I didn't have that today - not by a longshot. And again, I am using this session as an example but the issue is much more widespread.
I'm all for recording sessions and making them available to others, but the presenters shouldn't be the ones doing the recording (I understand that this session was about the technology and so it wasn't out of the blue, but still...). Or monitoring the Twitterings, or otherwise putting their attention on something other than interacting with the people who paid to be there. I don't even like to live-blog sessions as an audience member because that splits my attention from what's going on in the room to what I'm typing.
Loved this comment to Allen's post: "Honestly, if you can't pay attention to your own panel, how interested is anyone else going to be? This goes for people who go to a panel as an attendee then IM/Twitter the whole time. Unless you're liveblogging Steve Jobs, then put it down and participate." My sentiments exactly.
Then I read this post by Jeffrey Veen, where he talks about how at a session he was presenting, there was this whole other conversation going on about the session via Twitter that he found out by accident when he went to turn off his phone. He says:
- So I set the phone down on the table in front of me and kept an eye on it. I'm so glad I did.
As the conversation on stage continued, the stream of questions and comments from the audience intensified. I changed my tactics based on what I saw. I asked questions the audience was asking, and I immediately felt the tenor of the room shift towards my favor. It felt a bit like cheating on an exam.
So he got thinking about how to deal with this for the Start Conference, and this is what they're going to try:
- As we were planning Start, he said, "We should have someone onstage the whole time to represent the audience. Like an ombudsman does for a newspaper."
So we decided to put a desk on stage and have our friend George Oates fill that roll. She'll be on Twitter, IM, and email listening to what people are talking about. (We'll also have volunteers collecting index cards for those not wanting to be online during the sessions.) And she'll synthesize questions, interrupt us if we get boring, and call bull[**] if something sounds like it.
Update: Now Kevin is wondering "when did become presenter versus attendee?"