New Circles of Intimacy: Presenting In The Social Sphere

The recent Search Insider Summit provided me with a real-world example of how our world is connecting in new ways.

First, let me set the stage. In the conference room on Captiva Island, we had the actual attendees, usually averaging between 85 and 120 people. But the typical one-way exchange of information in most presentations was made a little less asymmetrical thanks to Twitter. The folks at MediaPost put a screen next to the stage where there was a live stream of Tweets with the #mpsis hashtag, giving us a real-time social commentary on what was happening at the front of the room. The vast majority of tweets came from people in the room (and the vast majority of these came from Rob Griffin - @telerob - who gained notoriety as the Joan Rivers of the summit for his acerbic commentary).

The addition of real-time tweet monitoring is fairly common at conferences now, but feedback seems to be mixed. I think speakers are fairly unanimous in detesting it (it can be incredibly distracting). That said, Craig Danuloff threw caution to the wind and pulled off the somewhat magical feat of presenting in person at the same time as he was tweeting tidbits from his presentation, with the help of an accomplice. But what about the audience? Does a social critique help or hinder a listener's ability to get the most from the message being presented?



To answer that question, I did a little digging into the psychology of cheering and heckling and their impact on the dynamics of an audience. It's the closest analogy I could think of.

Both ends of the audience participation spectrum, cheering and jeering, come from the same psychological need: to be part of something bigger than our selves. We cheer in recognition of talent, certainly, but just as often, we cheer because we want to be identified with what's happening up on stage. It's a "me too" type of emotional response. And these types of participatory experiences tend to go in waves. Cheering is contagious. So, it would seem, are laudatory tweets, based on the degree of retweeting I saw at the conference. It's a digital way of saying, "I wish I had said that!"

Positive tweets raise the stature of the speaker in the eyes of the audience. The crowd is swayed to align with and respect the speaker's opinion. The burden of social proof weighs heavily on us, as we're not really built to go against the flow.

Heckling has a little different foundation, but it also comes from a need for control over the crowd. And it typically comes from a type A personality who is used to being the center of attention and is not comfortable relinquishing that control to another, even when that person has the stage. Heckling is intended to discredit the message of the presenter. It's the human equivalent to two rams butting heads (and yes, hecklers are more often male) and the audience is asked to make a choice: do they side with the presenter or the challenger? If the challenger wins, the presenter goes down in flames.

This real-time exercise in social dynamics introduced an additional dimension of interest to the Search Insider conference stage. You could see some presenters being lifted in the audience's opinion on a wave of positive tweets. But the occasional negative tweet introduced uncertainty.

The other dimension that was of interest was how the real-time social interaction took the conference beyond the walls of the South Seas Resort conference center. There were a handful of virtual attendees that appeared to follow the entire conference through the live video feed (including David Szetela, who did have to get off his porch to present on day one) and contributed their thoughts via Twitter. Then there were the inevitable nuggets that went viral. The winner in this category seems to go to Gian Fulgoni from comScore (@gfulgoni) who dropped this retweeted tidbit: LOL. Overheard at SIS: "A Starbucks barista gets more training than the average entry level ad agency employee"

11 comments about "New Circles of Intimacy: Presenting In The Social Sphere".
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  1. David Lott from Golf Course Home Network, May 12, 2011 at 11:16 a.m.

    Presenting next to a real-time tweet-monitoring screen? The continued fracturing of attention. We are not the multi-taskers we'd like to think we are. If you're tweeting instead of listening, you may as well not be there. It is rude to the presenter and gives the class smart-aleck an official forum. In earlier days the class clown was shown the door so the rest of the class could pay attention.

  2. Rob Griffin from Almighty, May 12, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.

    I hope this doesnt count as heckling ;-). Seriously though everything is intended in good fun. In a room full of specialists I actually enjoy and welcome the commentary as it helps me vet my ideas and formulate my opinions. I liken it to something like sports radio debates - healthy discussion, but at the end of the day we are all friends.

    I would ask though since no one complains about positive tweets so why would it be bad to negatively comment when the audience disagrees or dislikes?

    In the social world we must eat the dog food we sell our clients and accept the good with the bad. It is the world we live in and that is a world of real time feedback, for better or worse.


  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 12, 2011 at 2:43 p.m.

    Save the tweets for the birds. Disrespectful is not a strong enough word. Then you take those terrible habits back home with you to spread to your workplace and home to your children. Those little and not so little monkey-says monkey-dos take your rudeness into the classroom with them. No you must not eat dog food unless you have such low esteem for yourself and are morally broken. Sheep. Like my mother used to say, keep'em poor, stupid and promise them salvation and they will follow you anywhere. Grow up people and act human ! If you opinions are important enough, then they will last until the seminar/class/movie/activity/surgery/dinner/etc. is over. Don't blame society - YOU are society. YOU are part of the creation of the world so YOU can be part of the worse problem or YOU can be part of the solution and the best. CLOSE the damn phones and get your self respect back.

  4. Rob Griffin from Almighty, May 12, 2011 at 2:59 p.m.

    Oh Paula. We are all entitled to opinion and fair if you don't like real time tweeting. But staying stupid would be not to question anything. I'm not trying to keep anyone stupid but encourage intelligent thought.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 12, 2011 at 6:11 p.m.

    Rob, although I would not be as disrespectful to call you stupid, it would be stupid to think your opinions won't count when you share them after the seminar. Not listening is stupid. Ask any successful person including many MediaPost authors.

  6. Rob Griffin from Almighty, May 12, 2011 at 8 p.m.

    Fair point Paula. I may fight you to the nails on the death of the printed yellow book, but you have a very grounded opinion here.

    Do the question is then should MP even have the screen up?

  7. Rob Griffin from Almighty, May 12, 2011 at 8:03 p.m.

    The reason I ask is because as stated earlier I like to respond to tweets live, but given so few other responses I'm starting to bet most don't.

  8. Catherine Maino from Mosaic, Innovations in Marketing, May 13, 2011 at 10:14 a.m.

    I have to say, I'm agree with the comments! I love the idea of being able to access a live feed video if it is an impossibility to attend such a conference or seminar. I also think there may be a place in the near future to show a live twitter feed IF they are questions asked to be answered by the presenter. Our agency utilizes tweets for radio show only in a query format to be answered by the host.
    But encouraging the attendees to clutch their phones, feverishly pecking out the next great tweet while viable information is being presented, that was most likely invested in by said twitter geek, is yet another segmentation of our society! Remember when real live human beings could have enlightening, informative and intelligent interaction? Most likely lasting longer that 140 characters?? I agree, shut the phone off, show some respect and maybe you'll notice a person is sitting right next to you! Talk, listen...stop typing!

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 13, 2011 at 9:03 p.m.

    Rob, love your memory. Thank you. The MP should not have the screen up. That's inviting disinterest. Is the MP unsure of attention that he/she can command? Unprepared (as discussed by another MediaPost writer) ? Although phones are unmatchable gifts, there are places where phones, twitting, texting, watching TV should not be tolerated (call it stadium behavior). Please include driving in my list of where this stuff should not be accepted behavior.

  10. Alan Charlesworth from the UK, May 14, 2011 at 12:53 a.m.

    I'm with Paula in the 'just plain rude' camp and David in the concentration issue. I teach at a university - and I ban phones in the classroom. Anyone one who is typing [even 140 characters] is not listening to what is being said, and surely even the most intense 'learner' will be distracted by the constant tweets appearing at the side of the stage.

    The use of technology - like everything - has a time and place.

  11. Alan Charlesworth from the UK, June 11, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.

    Ha - yes Sarah, a valid point ... but no, I do not ban note taking. However, I do make the lecture slides available beforehand so that students can bring in a printout of them and then add notes to them - and writing something down [almost as someone says it] it your own form of shorthand [for writing-up later] is not the same as trying to compose an 'entertaining' 140-character missive on the proceedings. And - dare I say it - then looking for the responses?

    But then ... I'm told this generation is used to multi-tasking ;-)

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