backchannel discussion. His emphasis on snail-mail marketing techniques also hit a nerve. Once the piling-on began, people outside the conference chimed in, escalating it to a trending topic on Twitter--one that dominates the day's discussion.
Say what you will about live-tweeting at meetings (and I say it's a phenomenon speakers must expect these days), speakers can learn a lot from audiences by listening to what they have to say on Twitter. That's true not just of this disastrous presentation, but every day. I've gone back through the thousands of tweets commenting on this one presentation to glean what speakers can learn from this audience:
- Know--or get to know--your audience. For me, this always has been the starting point for any communication, in any format. The Eloquent Woman blog offers 5 ways to find out about your audience, and Twitter's an excellent resource if you're speaking to a social-media-savvy audience. (This conference also had its own online community that speakers could consult.) But you can't go wrong with asking and listening, in addition to research.
- Find out what their expectations are--and check your assumptions at the door. Speakers must add value. No one has to listen to you and everyone has other distractions--or can make some, if bored. Are you helping them learn? Think through issues? Strategize? A focused group like the one in this case comes to conferences for professional development, and if nothing develops from your comments, a revolt might.
- Think of technology as respect for the audience. That white slide with yellow lettering got the ball rolling--and to this audience, it signaled, "Watch out, if this is what we're in for." And while speakers may think of technology as something they can ignore, audiences see it as enabling a respect for your listeners. Can they hear you? Can they read your slides? Can they see you and what you're showing them? Are you leaving one slide up too long? All basic, and all essential.
- Learn to read when you're losing the audience. One tweet from yesterday's debacle noted that most of the audience's faces were lit by their smartphones as they tweeted and texted during the presentation. That's normal these days--but not throughout the entire speech. If you're not engaging them in real life, you need to change course. Check out The Eloquent Woman's tips on what to do when you're losing the audience. And look and listen to your audience while you're speaking. Develop a good ear for those dreaded silences.
- Listen to yourself before your speech. Audio- or video-recording, easy enough to do on your own, can help you learn which words you repeat. In this case, fillers like "actually" serve as a slightly longer version of "um." Like "um," if your audience is bored and hears any word too much, they'll start counting. Are you overusing other words, like "actionable" in this case? Find alternatives so your presentation holds the reader's attention better.
Tweeting at meetings gets controversial (includes the debate about manners and professionalism)
Inviting live tweets at your meeting
Creating tweetable presentations (guest post)