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Audiences are Messy Too

sarah-lacy-125x250.jpgYesterday I wrote about customers being messy, and that it is our job to work with, rather than expect them to use our products and services only as the engineers intended.

Well, audiences can be the same! The Sarah Lacy keynote interview of Mark Zuckerberg yesterday was a very educational event. As a public speaker with 20 years experience, I shared the audience’s impatience with her style and also felt her pain as the session eventually erupted in loud shouting protest. A lot of blame is being dispensed, and I think SXSW has some responsibility on the table too. Seems that people who weren’t there are being more forgiving however the energy in the room was very hard to dispute.

For me, it’s a great opportunity to take some notes to serve as reminders for events in the future. Jeff Jarvis has some examples. I’ve condensed the collective ideas into a pocket-handy bullet list.

# The larger the audience, the more it makes sense to plan for contingencies. Once you are in process, the titanic effect kicks in and it is not easy to know if things are going south, and then be able to act on it.
# Know when to use the old rules and the new rules.
# Use the best practices of Speaking 1.0:
** Have a more formal introduction so the audience are informed about the speaker’s expertise.
** Event organizer should prep the speakers and remind them to repeat questions from audience if not captured by the microphone, for the recording and more importantly to keep all in the audience part of the conversation.
** Have chairs that are comfortable and complementary to the speakers. Do everything you can to help them be at ease and look good so their knowledge can shine through. The chairs were too low to the floor at this keynote, which may have contributed to Sarah Lacy’s body language problems and also made it harder to see them on stage.
** The interviewer’s job is to shine a light on the featured guest. It is not to draw attention to oneself.
** The specific venue will dictate how much of your flashlight has the inquisitive and honoring bulb (the Lannan interviews are superb when people come to hear insights from someone they love) or the probing and investigative bulb (as the Columbia University event with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad).
** If there are pre-arranged questions, and you have been honored with a scoop, don’t blow it! (Sarah announced that Facebook was launching a French version and stole the thunder away from Mark Zuckerberg.)
** Interviewer’s job is to ask questions, not make statements. The guest’s job is to answer questions, not repeat PR taglines (paragraph 6).
# Use the best practices of Speaking 2.0:
** Engage your audience in advance to find out what they want to know from this person who is so private and inaccessible.
** Being casual does not equal being flip or disrespectful. I thought the comment about his dripping wet t-shirt (from nervousness on a previous interview) was out of place.
** Bring the audience in to your past experiences with the guest, don’t use them to exclude people. This translated as unpleasantly coy, superior, and lacking the highly valued transparency of 2.0.
** Listen to your customers. When things are not going well, own up to it (don’t blame the audience) and take a minute to re-adjust. Ask for help. Apologize. There are numerous 2.0 behaviors that can have haters turn into fan boys if you know about and are willing to use them. I’m not saying this is easy because it isn’t. But opportunity exists to help us all become stronger, clearer, and more competent.

Things happen and Sarah, to her credit, is holding up against the barrage of criticism Here’s her point of view. Learn, laugh, and move on.