Disruptive technologies have impacted the way we communicate and work for years.
The relationship among event organizers, presenters and audiences is undergoing a fundamental change. Attendee 2.0 has embraced social media platforms and frequently engages in the backchannel discussing the event before, during and after the meeting. Attendee 2.0 has no problem reviewing the conference or expo, whether negative or positive and posting online for all to read. Many believe that the interaction that occurs in this new communication method is a threat to traditional conferences and will bring conference presentations to the brink of failure and negative public drama. And indeed that has happened in some instances.
The naysayers, those that try to control Attendee 2.0 and those that want to maintain the status quo, are not new. History has heard their hostile voices before and moved beyond them. Their rancorous rants could not stop many societal shifts. Consider the following.
- People said the first writing wasn’t needed and would distract people from being able to farm, produce and work. It didn’t. It helped merchants keep track of their goods and led to the written alphabet and words.
- The royals and elite said that the printing press would lead to the demise of talking. It didn’t. It led to an increase in adult literacy and the democratization of knowledge. People still talk today.
- The general populace thought the telephone would only be used for social, non-business affairs. It wasn’t. It became one of the primary tools of business as we know it.
- Society cried foul with the advent of the talking box saying it would end productive, quality lives and active communication. It didn’t. Television is one of the key communication tools today.
- The public screamed that the Internet was the work of the devil and would lead to the demise of community, family and intelligence. It didn’t. It has become as common as electricity and water in most people’s homes leading to more access to information and communication than ever.
- People said the birth of mobile phones and texting would speed the downfall of society and lead to family destruction, and the lack of basic social and communication skills. It didn’t. It’s led to a more connected society and the ability to communicate in new ways.
- Today misanthropists bellow that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will lead to the destruction of society, less productivity and that people will no longer know how to have face-to-face conversations. It hasn’t and it won’t.
In each of these cases, when there has been a shift in common communication practices, several things happen:
- Our communication capability expands.
- We increase the distance and speed of our communication reach.
- The new way we interact affects the way we organize, shifts the balance of power and influences how we get things done.
Currently, conference and tradeshow organizers are feeling the impact of new media. Web 2.0 disruptive technologies, like the backchannel, have caused a new way for attendees to organize and shifted the balance of power from the organization to the attendee.
Despite the cynics and old school pessimists, the potential for positive outcomes from disruptive technologies like the backchannel are equally attention-worthy as we all deal with shifting presentation tectonic plates. There have been other disruptive technologies that have transformed presentations in a positive way including the introduction of blackboards and whiteboards, microphones, overhead projectors, image magnification, LCD projectors, video and presentation software like PowerPoint.
Today, one thing is sure, the backchannel is rewriting the job description of everyone involved with presentations, including the conference organizers, audiences and speakers.
- Conference organizers have to rethink how they bring audiences and presenters together both face-to-face and virtually.
- Audiences find themselves with the power in their hands and can bring down a presenter in a blink of an eye or help spread the speaker’s messages to the masses.
- Presenters’ jobs are changing the most because their view from the stage is rapidly changing.
As an event professional, you may think “This isn’t going to happen at my meetings. We have doctors, (dentists, executives, construction workers, plumbers…substitute your audience here) who will never use social media like Twitter to communicate with a backchannel.” Yet, the genie is not going back in the bottle and the situation can change as quickly as a click of the mouse.
Ready or not, you may have a backchannel waiting on you at your next conference, event, tradeshow or presentation. All of this raises some great fundamental questions to consider:
- What do audiences, including Attendee 2.0, expect from conferences, events, tradeshows and presentations today?
- What are the ground rules, if any, regarding backchannels and social media platforms at events?
- Who is accountable, the conference organizers, attendees, exhibitors or speakers?
- How can conference and tradeshow organizers seek and integrate real-time attendee feedback?
What do you think? What’s your experience? Share your thoughts.