This is a follow-up to my previous post about one of the keynotes at the Higher Ed Web Association’s conference this past week. I wanted to do a couple of things: provide some context, dig deeper into what the #heweb09 tweet stream contained, and think out loud about what I’ve learned about a situation I was not at all involved in.
I’ve talked at least a bit with four people who attended the keynote. Michael Fienen’s already discussed it on his own blog, and gives some background suggesting that the choice of speaker was unfortunate. The speaker’s background may have stirred up some resistance, but so too did his apparent inability to connect with a technically sophisticated audience. (HEWEB members design, develop, manage, and create the future of college and university web sites.)
A similar viewpoint appears near the end of this post from Nick DeNardis on the Wayne State University web communications blog.
Plunging into the stream
I downloaded all the tweets for #heweb09 that day, extracted those from 11:59 am to 12:59pm (my arbitrary boundaries for the keynote tweets), and took them on a ride in Excel to see what I could learn.
Who was talking?
There were 536 tweets with the #heweb09 hashtag, sent by 119 different Twitter accounts. In terms of low volume:
- 49 individuals tweeted only once (9.1% of total tweets)
- 17 tweeted only twice (6.3%)
- 9 tweeted only three times (5.0%)
So on the low end, 75 individuals (63% of the total) sent 110 tweets (20.5% of the total). Meanwhile:
- 1 person tweeted 28 times (5.2%)
- 1 tweeted 27 (5.0%)
- 1 tweeted 23 (4.3%)
- 1 tweeted 20 (3.7%)
- 3 each tweeted 17 (51, or 9.5%)
These 7 high-volume individuals (5.9%) accounted for 27.8% of all the tweets.
I think this is a reasonably wide spectrum. 33 individuals account for 70% of the tweets. All but two of them were present at the keynote, and among those 31 present, everyone sent at least 6 tweets (one every 12 minutes). The average was 11.4 tweets.
Where were they?
I tried to see who among the group was actually present. If I couldn’t tell, I assumed the person was there.
Under that criterion, 23 people (19% of the total tweeters) were not present at the keynote but chiming in from elsewhere. These NPs tweeted 61 times in all (11.4% of total). NPs with 4 or fewer tweets: 19 people, 36 tweets (59% of the NP total).
So, more than 80% of the tweets were from people actually present.
What were they saying?
“RT” (retweet, a repeating of someone else’s tweet) occurs 170 times in the 536 tweets, though some tweets have more than one (e.g., “RT @alex RT @betty” — I’m sharing what Alex said Betty said). If each RT were unique, that’d be 31.7% of the volume; I’m guessing the actual number is closer to 27% or so.
Not to discount that–if you’re sitting next to me in a presentation and whisper something insightful or clever to me, I might just whisper it to the person on the other side: a non-digital retweet.
Not all the tweets in the stream related to the keynote–remember, this is a hashtag stream. In the first 100 tweets (the inital 23 minutes), about 20 were clearly unrelated. For example, a vendor was having a drawing for a prize, and three or four tweets in that group of 100 dealt with that.
I didn’t analyze the entire stream, but even if that 20% factor held up, more than 400 tweets still dealt directly with the keynote.
At 11:59, the start of my stream time, someone said “hella drop shadow” — a criticism of the PowerPoint format. Within ten minutes, people were asking, “how old IS this presentation?” And by 12:15, this:
watching people try to figure out how they can get out, starting to see the OMG I AM TRAPPED looks on faces.
What I’m seeing
I wondered about some kind of groupthink–a kind of techno-mob getting carried away. I see that as a real possibility, especially if there’s a gulf between a relatively small number of Twitter users and most other attendees.
- One attendee estimated as many as 400 at the keynote. If that’s the case, then close to 20% of them were on Twitter, not to mention texting or Facebook or some other means for making real-time comments electronically.
- And, other than one or two expressions of sympathy or pity, no one in the stream came to the defense of this presentation.
I’m thinking about a speaker who doesn’t have access to a backchannel (whether on Twitter or some other vehicle). I know that I wouldn’t feel competent to present and to monitor a stream even periodically.
- But I could try to have a partner whose main job would be to do that–act as a combination link jockey (tossing additional information into the stream), scribe, and ally who could lean over and say, “Hey, Dave — people already know about having a blog. They’re asking about managing wikis.”
I’m wondering what I would have done as part of this audience. 25 minutes into the hour, tweets began to emerge hoping for an interruption. At another HEWEB09 session, there was a mock “Kanye moment,” with someone breaking into the talk to promote a competing one. Tweets at the keynote wondered about that, first in jest. Then someone, seeming to react to the speaker’s works, wondered, “Would he like the immediate feedback of us all walking out?”
- Nobody interrupted the speaker to suggest he wasn’t connecting. In her blog post, presentation specialist Denise Graveline talks about the special position of a speaker–the implied authority and the general reluctance to disrupt.
The whole keynote concept needs rethinking. Look at a Ustream video of this keynote. Ignore the sound quality (being picked up by a PC to the back of the room) and just notice the setting: big ol’ ballroom, round banquet tables, chandeliers, two display screens, and a vast expanse that the speaker is patrolling.
- Why are the screens on all the time? Presentation 101 says turn the damned things off when there’s nothing to pay attention to.
- Could the participants explain why this speaker is the keynote? I’m not talking about Galper, unless you’re a HEWEB member. I’m talking about how well the organization’s choice aligns with the interests of the people who’ll participate.
The final thought for me, perhaps the biggest change — I’m not going to talk about audience any more. An audience is what you have at a performance, like a concert or a play or a taping of Wheel of Fortune.
When it comes to a professional presentation, what you have are participants—people who want to take part, who plan to take part, in what’s going on.