Thursday, February 25, 2010

The speaker's fear of the feedback

Last week I took part in an event called The Story at the Conway Hall. This was put together (or do we say "curated" these days?) by Matt Locke who works at Channel Four and was intended to reflect the apparently growing interest in narrative. There was a SRO audience of a few hundred who seemed to be drawn from that loose affiliation of web people, bloggers, consultants and crystal ball gazers who can take a Friday off without the economy grinding to a halt. I told the only story I've polished enough to tell in front of strangers and it seemed to go OK. I couldn't see anyone actually asleep. That's as good as a point away in my book.

What I hadn't banked on is when you get on your hind legs in front of this kind of crowd you are setting yourself up for feedback. This kind of crowd all blog or podcast or tweet. Like all bloggers or podcasters or tweeters - and I'm no different - they have an above average tendency to comment on anything they've seen, read or heard. And thanks to Twitter's hash tags, whereby you can track the debate on any subject as it fans out, plus the desperate neediness that drives people to volunteer to get on stage in front of people at an event like this in the first place, you can follow the subsequent Chinese Whispers as they echo and fade.

Somebody publishes a link to their blog where they've put their "take" on the event and you have to look to see if they've mentioned you and, if so, what they've said. Then somebody else announces that they've commented on the first post and you need to know if they've commented on you. And if they have you are then compelled to track back through their posts and see who they are and whether they matter. It's not worthy, of course, but that doesn't stop you. I imagine if you get a lot of this kind of thing a whole new form of madness lies that way.


  1. this is very funny. I've tweeted a link, put a quote on Tumblr, added it to my network, shared it on Facebook and will be textually analysing it on my blog this evening. Well done!

  2. I imagine if you get a lot of this kind of thing you learn to stop caring quickly enough. Public figures whose fame is on the rise must spend a while trying to keep track of everything that is said and written about them, but presumably learn pretty quickly that it gets to a stage where it can't be done. It must be the same for web personalities.

  3. Anonymous10:32 am

    There's been a lot of debate recently about the rights and wrongs of this sort of 'back channel' live commentary.

    You might want to have a read of Danah Boyd's piece on a horrible public speaking experience of having a talk not only go wrong, but having that back channel play out projected behind her. Live.

    As you say, a whole new form of madness.

  4. There seem to be all sorts of thicknesses of skins needed these days. The only people in need of a rhino-hide of indifference used to be the properly famous, but these days our egos live in fear of a badly-tagged facebook picture as much Jagger feared a Sunday morning NOTW cover.

    Although at The Story, the live-tweeting was *way* down on similar events, mainly because the speakers were so good people actually put their devices down and *listened*.

    In any case, there was unanimous agreement that you were fantastic!

  5. "SRO audience" ?


  6. Standing Room Only, so yes.

  7. My first thought was that it meant "So Right On"

  8. I'm rubbish with acronyms. But I do know that Errol Morris's film 'Standard Operating Procedure' should have been called 'Standing Operating Procedure'.

    It might not have made sense to an audience, but that apparently is what an SOP is in the military.

  9. Ahh, the back channel. It can be a curse, but it can also be great fun - the trick is to play to it.

    FYI some friends of mine were at the event and mentioned you specifically when telling me about it.