I like reading Andrew McAfee’s blog. I’ve known him for some years now, and count him as one of my friends. Reading his blog is a bit like chewing on good chillies or drinking decent sancerre, there’s a lot of value in the aftertaste. It lingers, pleasurably, and makes you think.
A few days ago he posted this: The Good and Bad Kinds of Crowd. It was all about prediction markets, something I’m deeply interested in. Tom Malone and his crew over at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence are doing some really good work in this field, do take a look if you’re interested in the subject.
Back to Andy’s post. While it was primarily about prediction markets, there was a distinct and separate makes-you-think aftertaste:
Do you have any tips on how to be a good Twitter-assisted public speaker?
So I put that on my back burner. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, primarily in the context of education, and I wanted to step back and think again in the public speaking context.
And forgot all about it.
Then, this evening, I was reading Gary Hamel on The Facebook Generation vs the Fortune 500. Gary makes some useful observations on the reasons for the “versus”. He proposes a dozen “work-relevant characteristics of online life”, which I list below:
All ideas compete on an equal footing
Contribution counts for more than credentials
Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed
Leaders serve rather than preside
Tasks are chosen, not assigned
Groups are self-defining and -organising
Resources get attracted, not allocated
Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it
Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed
Users can veto most policy decisions
Intrinsic rewards matter most
Hackers are heroes
Gary prefaces this list by saying “In assembling this short list, I haven’t tried to catalog every salient feature of the Web’s social milieu, only those that are most at odds with the legacy practices found in large companies.” And that resonated with me, it resonated with the findings that Andy had made while observing us at the bank during his early Enterprise 2.0 research.
Which brought me full circle to his question. How does a public speaker make good use of Twitter? And this is where I found myself:
1. Twitter is a hecklebot
A hecklebot is “A device that allows audiences to provide feedback to speakers using wireless technology to tie into an open IRC line”. I’ve been partial to hecklebots ever since I first saw Joi Ito talk about it, use it, demo it in 2004. [I’m convinced that there is a lot of value to be gained in using hecklebots in primary and secondary education, but more of that later. That’s a whole another post.]
2. Twitter is a backchannel
This is what Wikipedia has to say:
Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication, Victor Yngve 1970.
The term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.
First growing in popularity at technology conferences, backchannel is increasingly a factor in education where WiFi connections and laptop computers allow students to use ordinary chat like IRC or AIM to actively communicate during class.
Roo Reynolds has a worthwhile piece about backchannels at the recent SXSW. [Note to self. You were born in the wrong country to be at Yasgur’s farm. You’re past it now, officially too old to go to Burning Man. You haven’t been to one SXSW as yet. Must try harder.]
3. Twitter allows rich context to be embedded and replayed
If you go to the Roo Reynolds post I refer to above, you will see a link to the video I show a still from. Hearing the podcast is one thing. Watching a Youtube video is a little better. But watching the video with a backchannel overlay is something else. A much richer experience.It’s like smelling the burger van at the soccer ground, you get the ambient intimacy that Clay Spinuzzi talks about.
4. Twitter is my teleprompter
A teleprompter (or autocue) assists presenters by spitting out predefined scripts on to a visual display. What Twitter is capable of doing is something richer. It can make this process interactive, by allowing the audience to influence the “script”. Think of it as what would have happened if the Cluetrain gang had designed the first teleprompter.
5. Twitter is my ambient tag cloud collector
With tools like Wordle, one could take the RSS feed for tweets related to a conference (ostensibly using appropriate hashtags or equivalent), get them Wordled and shown up on a screen that the presenter can see.
I think there’s a lot that can be done. The hecklebot and backchannel are both great inventions, but they lack one thing that twitter has in spades. Accessibility. You don’t have to be a geek to tweet. Which means that people are more inclined to participate in what you’re doing. [If, as a public speaker, you don’t want people to participate in what you’re doing, I would suggest you take up time-travel. Backwards of course. You’re in the wrong century].
There’s another big thing about using Twitter as the backchannel. Questions and comments are constrained to 140 characters. Which means that the speaker finds them easy to assimilate.
Also, as I’ve tried to show with the Wordle example, the presenter can sense the mood of the crowd by looking at the tag cloud created by the tweets. And tailor what she’s saying accordingly.
The presenter gets valuable feedback loops, questions, directions, atmosphere. Participants get simpler and easier access and embedded context. Absentees get to feel the atmosphere as an overlay on the video. There’s something for everyone.
Incidentally, somewhere in Andy’s post, he mentions that “Pistachio” Laura Fitton will be observing his class and commenting on their tweeting. The last two times I met Laura (who knows more about twitter than anyone else I know), Andy was present at one of the occasions and Chris Brogan(who knows a great deal about social media and public participation) at the other.
So Andy, Laura, Chris, what do you think? Am I making any sense?