Dear Sir,

I read with great interest Ray Shaw’s article in the October/November issue on the subject of live twitter feeds.
In his piece, Ray recounted a particularly ugly incident he witnessed where a speaker was racially abused while he continued his address, blissfully unaware of the moronic and hurtful messages appearing on the screen behind him as he spoke.
I’m very glad someone has finally spoken up about this – and I would like to add my tuppence, from a speaker’s perspective.
As a regular speaker to the meeting and events industry, every time I take the stage I am trying as hard as I can to engage the audience. Although it’s not quite like a one-on-one conversation, there is an important interaction going on when you speak, even to a large audience. First up, you are trying to gain and then keep their attention. You use humour, modulate the voice, tell stories, some of them personal. You try to allow a little of your personality to diffuse into the room. Audiences don’t like listening to robots.
And you watch the audience response intently – and adjust accordingly. Is anyone falling asleep, yawning? Are they laughing where they are supposed to? Do they look interested, animated? Should I move on to the next point and skate over some of the material I had prepared, or should I elaborate on the current point as they seem really interested in it?
It’s a two-way communication process and it’s a performance all in one. It’s not an easy thing to do well; it requires a lot of preparation, concentration and you are exhausted (if not exhilarated) when it’s over.
I also have witnessed the use of live feed messaging at a conference – and I must say I thought it was the height of rudeness to the speaker. I’m not referring to the messages, which in that case were moderated and vetted before they appeared. I’m referring to the mere fact that, while the speakers were attempting to communicate with the audience, no doubt in the manner I outline above, many members of the audience were totally distracted by their own desire to use their hand-held devices and see their message in print, to make the funniest gag, or to out-do the last message. As for the remainder of the audience, they were distracted from the speakers by the messages that were appearing above and behind them.
In my view, this is the height of bad manners. The speaker deserves our undivided attention. You cannot blaze away on a mobile device and watch the messages and at the same time listen to the speaker. And worse, the whole thing takes place without the speaker being aware of the messages that the audience is getting. There is a conversation happening in the room behind the speaker’s back. The audience is responding, not to his words, but to the often mindless attention-seeking short-text rubbish appearing on the screen behind him.
And not for a second am I advocating that the solution is for the speaker to be given a screen which would enable him to see the messages. That would merely distract him from his performance!
And it is fundamentally unfair. It’s behind his back. The audience is responding, but not to him – or was it? How would he know? A message might criticise the speaker and say that he should be addressing another point – but he might be about to address that very point later in his talk. Give the speaker a chance! Questions can always be asked and answered at the end!
I know that these days we are always looking for new and interesting ways to present conference material to audiences who have been power-pointed to death or bored out of their brains by dull or irrelevant speakers. But live message feeds are not the answer. It’s just plain bad manners and detracts from the whole experience.
I have likened public speaking to a performance and that is just what it is. If you went to see a play the use of mobile phones is absolutely forbidden, and so it should be. Why would we facilitate or encourage such rudeness at conferences?

MATT CROUCH, EVENTS INDUSTRY LAWYER

Brad,

I read with interest Ray Shaw’s #STFU article in the last issue. I too have witnessed a number of situations where the Twitter backchannel contains negative comments that in many cases are personal and baseless. This however is the nature of Twitter and the ability for people to say things that people would never dare say face to face.

However, I do caution the closing advice “Better still, don’t use twitter” – even taking into consideration the suggestion to use technologies such as IML. I am concerned about the fear factor that this can breed in the MICE sector. The fact is that Twitter is here and trying to ignore it won’t change the traffic. Delegates will access it on a variety of devices and whilst you may not employ it in the event infrastructure – your attendees will still see it. And given the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the conference environment I have seen of late – trying to ignore that it is there simply won’t work, and will be evident to your audience.
My personal feeling and experience is that if you do embrace it, and choose to include a live feed – you can actually minimize the negativity whilst significantly increasing audience engagement. If one of the trolls thinks that what they tweet may appear live onsite for all and sundry to see – it is possible that they won’t do it. More often than not, attendees at conferences are amongst peers and will hesitate in being associated with a damaging attack on a person or sponsor (again as they wouldn’t do this face to face). In addition – including user generated content as part of event strategy is where the industry is heading – and Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc are prime channels for this engagement.
Tools such as visibletweets.com with a tidytweet.com back end allow you control over what goes live to your screens onsite. At my company we have a policy of being open and honest, so have no qualms in pushing contentious tweets to screen that may be related to our competitors – but what I do filter is blatantly inappropriate content.
I am passionate about technology, and passionate about the changes I have seen in the MICE sector over the past 15 years. However, I still have concerns that the MICE sector is moving slowly into the realm of social media – whilst most of corporate Australia (and a large number of associations for that matter) have defined strategies around its use. This hesitance may be due to fear of the horror stories out there, and articles such as this one do nothing to allay those fears.
My advice to the MICE sector is to first understand the medium that is social media, and then use it to engage your audience on a level that the traditional one-way communications simply cannot achieve. There is a plethora of advice available on the web specific to the MICE sector such as eventmanagerblog.com where you can learn from those who have already been there, done that.
In closing, social media is here, it’s not going anywhere and you can gain an advantage for your company, your clients and your audience by getting involved. Don’t be scared.

NAME AND ADDRESS WITHHELD