Via a tweet from Jay Rosen, a link to an article on A List Apart by Christopher Fahey and Timothy Meaney: Conversation is the New Attention. Maybe I'm making a point of this because when I last taught, in the spring of 2010, my students were slaves of their smartphones, and it wasn't pleasant. Excerpt:
You’re in a not-too-comfortable chair, in a large, slightly-darkened room. On stage, someone speaks into a microphone. Like your peers around you, you’ve come to hear someone speak about something you’re interested in. The speaker, in turn, has thought a lot about their subject—perhaps a lifetime’s worth.
Looking around, you see that your neighbors aren’t entirely there. Some faces are turned downward, brightly underlit, gazes focused not on the speaker but on a glowing screen. Perhaps you, too, want to pull out your laptop or smartphone. Before long, it seems like much of the audience has their attention focused…elsewhere.
Whether it’s a professional conference like SXSW or An Event Apart, a concert or a political speech, a college classroom or lecture hall, the dynamic between speakers and audiences is changing. Some argue they’re disconnecting.
We've thought a lot about this problem, about how technology is changing how we pay attention and learn. We've paid special attention to professional conferences, where the lecture room dynamic can be so monotonous that some conferences actually brag that the best stuff happens in the halls.
Speakers blame the audience’s insatiable addiction to being connected and multitasking. They ask or even demand that audiences close their laptops. They disable WiFi so people have no choice but to pay attention to the speaker. Solutions like these, however, smack of “blaming the user”—user experience design’s cardinal sin. Even though audiences are often and easily distracted, audiences are not the problem.
Conversely, audiences blame speakers for depending on PowerPoint and mind-numbing bullet points. Yes, speakers need help. There are many great resources to help empower speakers, build their confidence, stagecraft, and interpersonal skills. Instead of adding to that body of work, we chose to examine the very format of professional conference public speaking. We call this “the public speaking technology,” meaning: (a) gathering people in a room, (b) giving the speaker(s) a microphone and a projector, and (c) allowing the audience to ask questions at the end.
That’s the extent of what public speaking technology is today.
In a world where every piece of information can, with a single tap on a pocket-sized glass screen, lead to more and more information, our ideas need to move faster, people need to share ideas and bounce them off of each other more spontaneously than ever, anytime, anywhere. Public speaking technology has not kept pace with the technology of everything else.
So we asked ourselves: how can we improve the technology of public speaking?
Click through the link to get their answer.