To tweet or not to tweet? Part 1

Next time that you go to a business presentation, stop for a moment and take a look at how many people are typing away on smartphones or tablets whilst the speaker is talking. Is this evidence of a more active listener contribution and a higher level of efficiency, or of a short attention span? I’d suggest that this phenomenon isn’t because people are distracted by new technology, but instead that the audience participation in the group business presentation is changing. In my opinion, three of the main technologies responsible are:

  • Twitter
  • Smart Phones
  • Tablets

It’s now possible to comment on #eventhashtags in real time, letting other people know what you’re listening to. But is this a good thing?

If my old head teacher were to give a talk during which devices were in constant use, he would probably complain about a device dependent society, and a lack of respect. The counter argument is that these devices actually increase learning by collating content more efficiently, allowing sharing with others and lead to a more active contribution than passive listening. Craig Taylor’s article makes the point that somebody taking notes with a pen and paper would not be frowned upon, so why is an iPad any different? Personally, I think that the truth is that technology has evolved faster than presentation etiquette has allowed for. Some business people may have been giving talks for decades, but the use of mobile devices for learning is a fairly new trend, and the impression of a listener looking distracted by a screen rather than being attentive is hard to shake. So I’ve come up with some guidelines to help reconcile these conflicts, and ensure that everyone gets the most out of presentations. For this entry I suggest the following tips for participants in talks, next week I will have tips for presenters!

  • Remember why you went to the talk: Although new technologies have given an extra dimension to presentations, nothing beats the impact of fully engrossing yourself in what somebody is saying. You have taken your time to go and attend a talk, so try to only tweet and mind map when it’s necessary, and not just for the sake of it. If you wanted to follow the backchannel you could have stayed in the office!
  • Respect the speaker: There is a degree of trust involved with letting these devices become a part of a presentation. Although a tablet is great for making notes, it’s up to the listener to make sure they don’t distract themselves with that quick game, email, app etc. Set a good example!

  • Sometimes you just have to listen: I believe there are some times when you have to focus 100% on what somebody is saying. Devices divert some of your brain power, even if it’s only a fraction. So sometimes you need to put them away. I challenge anybody to absorb a lecture on quantum physics whilst paying anything less than full attention … It would also be difficult to grasp an emotive video clip, a tough question from the audience or a new concept without using your full concentration. Recognise these moments.
  • Use technology to police your own behaviour: Think about how you can get the most out of your device whilst still listening. For example, just because it’s a “device down” period doesn’t mean you can’t set up a voice record on your phone before putting it down! (And no, that isn’t cheating, that’s being innovative). Or what about a tab on your phone with just the essential apps for presentations so you aren’t tempted to get side tracked? You could also use privacy and time locks on certain contacts to avoid the impulse to message friends –  the options are endless.
  • Moderation: Think about whether or not the contributions that you are making through your device are meaningful. If 5 people have already updated the #hashtag with a new speaker do you really need to do it as well? Also, if the presentation is available afterwards make notes that are relevant to you but don’t just copy content – this is a waste of time and attention.

What are people’s thoughts on this? Have behaviours really changed? Are people on the whole becoming bad listeners? Be sure to visit the Spicy Learning Blog next week for my top tips for presenters.