The Audience Prompter

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I just read Steven Johnson’s post about the Lacy/Zuckerberg interview. It’s an old post, he wrote it the day after the now infamous interview.

Steven does a lot of public speaking, he says fifty public appearances a year in the post. In the post he talks about how he has devised tricks to determine the "room tone" – if the room is with you, against you, or just bored of you. It’s so important when you are up on the stage. I don’t do it nearly as much as Steven or many others. But I do it enough. And I spent a lot of time on stage in business school where I taught some lecture classes in front of 200 to 300 people. I’ve always viewed the number one job when you are on stage is to entertain and keep people interested. If you can do that, you have a chance of making an impact. If you can’t you are toast.

Many professional speakers, politicians, etc use teleprompters to give them their talking points or the actual speech they are delivering. I hate that idea because I always want to be speaking impromptu. I suppose that’s a bad idea if you are a politician who has to choose his/her words carefully, but for me, working off a prepared speech is death.

However, if I could have an "audience prompter" that would be a big help. I remember being on a Pseudo show back in the late 90s. It was a talk show kind of thing but in front of us was a screen with a live chat room where all the listeners were talking about what we were talking about. It was a great experience because we could literally guage in real time the reaction to what we were discussing.

As Steven points out in his post, Twitter can do the same thing. If Sarah and Mark had a teleprompter up on stage that was showing the live twitter discussion of the interview, at least they’d have known what the audience was thinking. It may not have changed anything, but the idea interests me. I’d love to see a conference, maybe the web 2.0 conference that is coming up in NYC, try it out.

I think it might produce some interesting discussions.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Paul Kedrosky

    Fred — Have seen that at a number of conferences, most amusingly at one of Tony Perkins’ event in Palo Alto. The on-stage speakers were savaged by the “back-channel”, was truly something to behold. Only way to make it work was to eliminate anonymity. Otherwise was cluster-f**k.

  2. stone

    I was also going to talk about the Always On conferences that have been doing something like this for some time now. I found it to be both amusing and distracting at the same time. Maybe the idea can be refined in some way.

  3. howardlindzon

    at a state of the union would be better.nerds cant be trusted with this type of tool in a live setting

    1. vruz

      do you think it can get worse than the actual unhacked real ones of late ?

  4. vruz

    twitterprompter, with snr control

  5. tonystubblebine

    There’s two halves to this: getting the technology right and speakers using it well.I’m pretty sure we’ll have the technology for Web 2.0 SF (which is earlier than NYC). We’re providing a social network that aggregates (among other things) Twitters and also session calendaring that would tell us who’s in a session. That’s enough to filter the Twitters of the entire conference down to a single session back channel.What I’m not clear about is how speakers would want to use it. Do they want the back channel projected so that the audience can see? Just a widget on their laptop? Does this work with single speakers (who probably shouldn’t be pausing mid-session to read) or just panels? Should speakers tell the audience how to use it (ex: only take q&a from there) or just monitor it passively? If there are any Web 2.0 Expo SF speakers who want to give it a try I’d be happy to work with them ([email protected])

  6. Alan Chapell

    Fred,Mediapost did a show recently in NYC where they used to enable the audience to comment / ask questions. It wasn’t very well utilized by either Mediapost or the auidence, I’ve encouraged them to have this as a regular thing at future shows, and think it should be a staple at just about any event. I’ve sat through way too many lifeless panels. While I concede it could be problematic for a whole host of reasons, some outside commentary would be a welcome addition….

  7. Chris Yeh

    When I was at the Web 2.0 Expo last year, I ended up taking over Chris Pirillo’s Ustream channel for about half an hour. There is nothing like being able to see chat reactions in real-time to read the tone of a room.I think people are far more willing to be expressive (even rude) via chat, than they are in person. That’s probably why it works so well.

  8. Robert Seidman

    Fred: that’s not just a bad idea, it’s an outrageously bad idea! When you were giving those lectures in front of 200-300 people and the room seemed completely disengaged, I’m sure you absolutely picked up on that. Even without Twitter, or anyone texting you, “Dude, you’re bombing here!”Things work out more or less the way they should. Lacey didn’t seemingly take the feedback all that well AFTER the fact, and even when Zuckerberg was giving her grief in real time she didn’t take his feedback and from everything I’ve read after the fact, she still thinks the critiques were unfair (I’d at least agree they were over the top). Why subject yourself to anonymous angry people while you’re giving an interview unless you’re a massochist?I’m not sure real-time feedback would’ve changed a thing. She’ll either take the feedback to heart and hold a better interview next time, or sooner or later she won’t be invited to give the interviews. And everything will be exactly as it should be. Theoretically she should’ve been fairly easily able to read the room without any other feedback than…the room. Spending an hour with Steven Johnson seems like a far more productive idea than the audience prompter.P.S How’d audience prompting work out in terms of helping Psuedo’s business prospects?

    1. John Lynn

      I agree that a back screen is a bad idea. I saw it at a number of conferences and it really distracts from the flow of people on stage. Certainly it is great entertainment for those in the audience when there is a less than insightful speaker, but I think it really kills the flow.

  9. jasoncalacanis

    Having feedback from the crowd like that is a HUGE distraction. The reason things go bad on stage I find is people don’t prepare and/or they don’t have anything to say. At this point I turn down 90-95% of the speaking offers I get (about 20-30 offers per month… really!), and try to focus on doing one every other month. When I do the talk I prepare for at least five to ten hours with two or three members of my team. I try to put together something that I know the audience will get something out of.If you put work into your talk and you keep it only as long as it needs to be to get your point across (20-30 minutes is my sweet spot), then you’re going to be golden and you don’t need instant feedback–that’s what the Q&A session is for.I think folks are reading into the Lacy/Zuckerberg thing way too much. Here is what you have:1. Zuckerberg is a hard interview. Arrington interviewed him at TechCrunch40 and had a hard time… and that’s Arrington! 2. Lacy is not a good interviewer because she’s a columnist not a journalist. Columnists are paid to have opinions, journalists are paid to pull information out of people. When doing a fireside chat you need a journalist. That’s why Battelle, Rafat Ali, Om Malik, and Arrington do such a good job. 3. A small subsection of folks at SXSW acted like jerkoffs. If you don’t like an interview just leave… you don’t have to heckle the person. That’s just rude. Grow up, really.Many of the backchannels I’ve witnessed over the years are horrible. At the TechCrunch40 event we didn’t have one, and the rouge one was filled with folks making fun of people’s accents and make sexist comments to female presenters. At Leb Web a couple of years ago people we’re super rude.I would never speak at an event where they have the back channel up on the screen… if you invite someone to present everyone should focus on their presentation for a limited amount of time and THEN discuss their presentation (good and bad). That format works best. The backchannel is noise.

  10. BillSeitz

    What might be a good compromise idea: you (the speaker) get a friend to monitor the backchannel, and send you a msg (tweet? or longer?) only if they have a recommendation based on what they’re reading. They’re your coach/aggregator.

  11. tpurves

    Jesse Hirsh tried this at a recent conference in toronto pic:…The twitter backchannel was broadcast live on a screen behind the pannel. It sort of worked, but there were some challenges.It added something interesting and some extra entertainment to the event, however there were downsides. Sometimes the audience twitterers just want attention, or are offering comments that aren”t necessarily constructive, let alone positive. People twittering from outside the room didn’t realize their comments would be visible to everyone.Anyone moderating now I’m sure will want to have at least a private display of the twitter stream visible to them on their mobile or somehow – if they are brave.Scoble was even twittering back from stage from his panel at lift.

    1. davemc500hats

      not sure if twitter is the right tool, but i agree it’s something to consider trying.altho i like twitter, it doesn’t really capture the audience opinion metric very well, and amplifies individuals a bit too much. probably better to have a simple numeric summary of positive / negative opinion to gauge interest in discussion topics, then use twitter / other tools for color to inform the up/down #.

  12. jackson

    If they are chatting they can’t really be listening, can they?Engaging the audience is the most important part of public speaking. In my considerable experience with supporting speakers on the tech side, I’d say the most effective speakers just put a few bullet points in the confidence monitor and keep the thing loose, leaving room to adapt to the mood of the room, and the ability to change the entire game plan if neccessary.I hate telepromting because it’s more work for me, and it never feels natural.

  13. Gary_Storm

    Very interesting viewpoint. Totally agree with the natural presentation (especially as it gives you room to move so you can change your direction and flow during a pres), but not so sure about the Twitter live feedback… how many would actually be Twitters anyway, and normally it’s the most negative voices which are the loudest.It’s a good basic idea though, but maybe if we could somehow get people to site on chairs with little anal probes or something to measure body warmth or fear-factor lol. Attach the data to some electric shock device on the speaker… the more negative the reaction (and ‘tightening’ of emotions) the more frequent/painful the shocks :)But seriously, a good basic idea but I agree it would be very distracting, no matter what the technology is. Also, the speaker would be changing his own viewpoints just to get on the good side of the audience… which implies no true beliefs, alot of lying, and just playing a show for the audience… like any good politician or public figure. In Australia they had a live feedback thing going on during an election political debate… I think they called it ‘the worm’… it was Channel 9 iirc. Most people think it was just a gimmick rigged by the channel and had no basis in reality anyway.

  14. ginsu

    I’ve attended many conferences where the live conference is simulcast in a virtual world environment, and the virtual world is also projected on a screen above the live speakers – both speakers and audience can see the text chat of the participants in the virtual world. It actually works very well – it’s not distracting but uniquely engaging, the speakers can really get a good feel of being in a shared conversation with the entire audience. The virtual participants are generally not disruptive (as long as the live conversation is interesting), because they themselves are in a live social setting with the other virtual participants, so that the peer pressure of the audience sets some boundaries for behavior.

  15. David Manaster

    We are experimenting with exactly this in a conference for recruiting professionals that starts tomorrow. It’s not an early-adopter crowd (just an early-adopter crowd for the recruiting profession), so it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts and if they use Twitter in the way that we hope they will. We will have prompters for the speakers and a feed on-screen for the attendees to see.If you are interested you can follow ereexpo and see what happens when we do.