Today I went to Web 2.0 Expo in New York at the Javits Center and witnessed something quite embarrassing. It was the last speech of a string of keynote speakers. This particular speaker was a Microsoft employee and was providing her perspective of the future of the Web. Her slides were quite eye-catching and the spoken content quite good. The major flaw in her presentation was trying to fit too much into short talk.
It was a definite case of information overload and ironically this was partly the subject of her talk. None of this was particularly uncommon. We often here flawed presentations. We try to take the good and leave the rest. Only this time, it was hard not to concentrate on the flaws.
A Case of Embarrassment 2.0
To the left and the right of the speaker was a big screen displaying her slides. What called attention to the flaws of this presentation was what was directly behind the speaker. It was a screen with a real-time stream of tweets with the hashtag #w2e for Web 2.0 Expo. Since the keynotes were the only thing on the schedule at this time, most of those tweets were about the speakers. This didn’t seem to be a problem for Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson of Digg or Caterina Fake of Hunch and Flickr or Chris Brogan. All of these speakers enjoyed lots of twanfare behind them. In fact, most of them didn’t even notice.
But the presenter from Microsoft must have wondered why the audience was snickering during her presentation, which was practically memorized. Luckily for her, she didn’t fumble much and managed to get through it. The audience members were tweeting on her presentation style, practically making fun of her. I actually sent a tweet saying that most of them probably couldn’t do half as good a job. It was embarrassing and distracting for the audience and will obviously be an embarrassment to the speaker when she finds out.
Don’t Tweet Behind Others’ Backs
I love Twitter and the idea of real-time reaction and feedback. But somehow, in this setting, it just seems cruel. I don’t think I would feel the same about a panel discussion. Tweets could be appropriate there and could even stimulate the discussion. But seeing a twitter stream of degrading comments about this speaker’s presentation as she was giving it was unfair the speaker and made the audience pay attention less to her presentation and more to the tweets. I know that’s what I was doing, despite trying not to.
Web 2.0 Expo might learn a few lessons from this:
Learn when to stream tweets and when not to (the screen disappeared toward the end of the presentation and then re-appeared for the last 2 minutes)
Always give the speaker the option of NOT having the tweet stream
Preview the presentations and delivery (this might be hard but it would have helped in this case. Too many slides for 15 minutes (or whatever it was))
The lesson I Learned?
Never Give a Speech or Presentation with a Twitter Stream (behind, to the left, right, or anywhere near!)
By the way, the theme of this year’s Web 2.0 Conference: “The Power of Less”
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