In The Lecture Hall, A Geek Chorus

from the backchannel-discussions dept

The NY Times has discovered what many others have noticed at recent tech conferences. There’s a constant “backchannel” of conversation occurring online, thanks to WiFi and a variety of communication tools, from blogs to IM to chat-type tools. The article goes through the expected discussion of whether or not this is good or bad, with some presenters suggesting it’s bad (because people don’t pay attention to them) while audience members think it’s good (because they can actively discuss what’s happening – and maybe get more out of it). Either way, it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away anytime soon – so people who are presenting at such conferences need to be prepared for it. That means the content they prepare needs to be both good and flexible – plus, they’re going to need thick skins. Even when you’re in the same room, it appears that flaming is easier when done via text, so the “heckling” can get fierce.

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Comments on “In The Lecture Hall, A Geek Chorus”

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data64 says:

Experienced this at the YAPC::CA

I saw this at the YAPC::CA (which is a Perl conference). During the talks, 50% of the people were in an #perl IRC channel. It was really interesting during the keynote speeches. There were other people in the irc channel (ie. not attending the conference) and some of them become sources of very tough questions for the speaker.

This whole thing is kind of like passing notes during a lecture in school. It can be a bit distracting to the speaker when there are spontaneous bouts of laughter from different parts of the room when the speaker it trying to make a serious point.

I did notice though that in the lectures which had really good content and were presented in an entertaining manner, the backchannel chatter died down.

LittleW0lf says:

And this is a problem?

Forgive me, I am apparently new here. Who are these idiots who feel that folks in the audience have to listen to them? I’d love to know, so I can avoid them and their ilk in the future.

I’ve given a number of talks, on various topics, to groups from as small as 25 to as large as 5,000. At DEFCON last year, I’d say that almost 15% of the audience (which probably numbered in the quadruple digits,) moved in and out of the room several times, and that probably disturbed me more than any private or otherwise discussion via an adhoc computer network would have. Though it was interesting to note that those who left during the presentation usually came back quickly, along with a number of other people in tow, and during the whole presentation, the only empty seats in the house were located in the front row.

I cannot understand how anyone giving a presentation would demand that the audience give him or her their full attention. I don’t expect or demand it from any audience, and I’d be very angry if someone demanded my full attention for their presentation. It boils down to the fact that I am human (at least the last time I checked,) and I expect that those in my audience are human as well. If my talk is riviting, and worthwhile to listen to, people remain interested in it. If my talk is boring, folks do other things. My goal as a speaker is to make my talks as interesting as possible, and I find that most of the audience responds well to that instead of any demands that I have their full attention.

Then again, I give talks for fun, not for profit. So I guess I have a couple things going for me there, I am sure if my boss told me to give a presentation on something that was difficult for me to get interested in, my audience probably wouldn’t be interested in it either. But luckily, my boss doesn’t do that.

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