How Presenters Can Deal With A.D.D. Audiences

Two things happened to me at the end of last week that gave me pause.

On day one, I gave a corporate seminar for about 40 people. On the following day, I was an attendee in a 200-person conference. (It feels great to occasionally be in the stadium seats, instead of down there with the lions).

In the first case, there was a very mild form of the seminar-business occupational hazard known as multi-tasking: desktops open, blackberries, Twitter, Facebook, email. It’s been getting worse for several years. I made my usual clever plea for paying attention, and got reasonably good compliance; though it did deteriorate during the day.

I find that doing workshops lately is a little tougher in some respects; it’s harder to get the audience to interact. They’re not leaving, they’re just slightly checked-out. It’s not just ADD—it’s ADOSO, as in “Attention Deficit—Oh! Shiny Object!” (Thanks @scobleizer)

In an attempt to control that behavior, I’m acutely aware that I’m stumbling these days in the no-man’s land between requesting, ordering, and pleading. When I’m doing keynotes, it’s fine; it’s the workshop scene that feels different.

On day two, I came in deliciously a minute late and sat down where I felt like—not my gig, time to relax and enjoy. It was a social media conference; they had a very large screen for slides, and next to it, a smaller one displaying ongoing real-time twitter notes (check it out at #bdi). Each presenter had about 20-25 minutes, including Q&A.

Pretty much everyone in the audience had their heads down looking at their newest super-lightweight portables, iPhones and Droids. When they looked up, it was often as not to look at the public tweet-screen. (Yes,I tweezed out a few tweets myself).

At first I cringed instinctively out of sympathy for the speakers. Until I noticed that they did not seem noticeably bothered by it at all. In fact, lots of speakers today are using Twitter as part of the real-time interaction. The line for open mics for Q&A was not empty, the questions were great, and the real-time twitter dialogue was on point.

The conference subject matter itself—like a Greek chorus—gave the meta-text of what I was seeing. Social CRM goes beyond seller-to-buyer dialogue to include buyer-to-buyer. The old line about one satisfied customer tells four but one dissatisfied customer tells 12—that’s history. They now tell 500,000, and do so instantly. The web is your new website. Inbound not outbound marketing.

In other words—the heads-down twittering was definitely multi-tasking, but that doesn’t mean there was no dialogue going on. In fact, there was a ton of dialogue.

More content per minute flowed through that room than if everyone had hung on every word a speaker said. One speaker is limited by the human ability to enunciate sounds rapidly, and—it’s only one speaker. We can all read much faster than someone can talk. Asynchronous one-off communication is bound to be less rich than everyone talking at once; it’s just that it’s harder to focus in the latter case.

There are 2 things you can say about all this. First, it’s not wrong, just different. There are deep intensive interactions with other human beings, and there are shallow, broad interactions with other human beings. We’re seeing a shift from the former to the latter–in terms of gross numbers at least.

There’s no right or wrong about this. What is important is the ability to go in either direction as the situation demands. And, there is a huge benefit. The involvement of others is exactly how you get collaboration. We are, at a large level, sacrificing some intimacy for the sake of collaboration.

It’s also true that, in a world where intimacy holds a smaller “share of relationship,” the ability to gain that intimacy will command a premium. It’s not gone, just more rare, and more valuable for its rarity.

The second point is simply, this is the future. Disapproval of the downside of social-babble has very little impact on whether it’s going to keep on happening. Our failure to approve of the downside simply keeps us from gaining the benefits of the inevitable upside.

Presenters, get used to it. The only relevant question is: how will you respond?

For starters, don’t stand there in front of the tsunami. But don’t just get out of the way, either. Grab your surfboard.

Trust is the New Black: Insights from Craig Newmark of Craigslist

Craig NewmarkCraig Newmark, founder and Chief Customer Service officer of Craigslist, spoke last week at the Harvard Business School Club of New York, a talk he titled “Trust is the New Black.” Can I borrow that phrase, Craig? With attribution, of course.

I had not heard Craig speak before. Readers of this blog will find themselves nodding at many of his comments, and I for one found his thinking on several issues to be insightful and provocative.

Since I am not a professional reporter and did not record his talk nor take detailed notes, let me state that these are my impressions: while I’m trying to make my comments correspond to the reality of what he said, any disconnects are entirely my fault.

Unlike many speakers in the HBSCNY series, Craig allowed his comments to be on the record; he also gave out his email, Facebook and Twitter addresses freely. Not really surprising for someone who describes his primary job as being customer service. As he put it, “I haven’t done customer service for—oh, about an hour now.”

In the same vein, he suggests, “customer service, if done in good faith, is a form of public service.” That takes “doing well by doing good” to a whole ‘nother level. (I see some parallels with Buddhist Capitalism).

Craig Newmark on Leading and Managing: Competition, Metrics, Timeframe

Craig stated in definitive terms a couple of themes that readers of this blog will resonate with—the need for long-term thinking, and the focus more on commerce, and less on competition.

Someone asked about what he focused on: “I’m focused on the next 20 years, with an eye to the next 200. And I’m not kidding.” He isn’t, either. He’s very conscious of changing society, e.g. his recent involvement in veterans’ affairs.

In response to the question, “Who among your competitors most causes you to lose sleep?” Craig answered, “I don’t really lose sleep over competition at all. My focus is much more on customer-related issues—spam and scam, service.” My translation: Take care of your customers, and your competition issues will take care of themselves. (It also brings to mind an old Jerry Garcia quote: “The Grateful Dead don’t strive to be the best at what we do, but the only ones who do what we do.”)

On analytics: “We get lots of anecdotal feedback, and rely on intuitive skills. Whenever I’m in New York, I love popping in on realtors. We’re not so big on formal analytics.” I can’t read Craig’s mind, but I suspect he’s also got a healthy suspicion about the dangers of OD’ing on analytics.

Craig Newmark on Trust

Craig uses the designation “curators” to describe the job of editors; that was new to me, and I like it. “The news curators have a particularly big role to play in restoring trust in the media.”

Craigslist puts a lot of effort into combating fraud. One person asked whether it was a losing battle, with fraud increasing. Here’s what Craig said: “You can’t make the world 100% safe, trust doesn’t come without risk. But in my experience [and he has a lot, I might add–CHG] the vast majority of people are trustworthy; maybe 1% of people have bad intentions. Just use commonsense.”

Asked about ways to improve trust going forward, Craig talked about establishing different levels on the scale between anonymity and certifiable identity. For a small transaction, maybe we don’t need to know much. For larger transactions, we need to have higher levels of verified identity.

Fair enough, but I actually found his answer to an earlier question to be even more relevant. “I’m not interested in politics, my focus is governance,” he said. “And we’ve got some great examples of governance right here in the US; they’re called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you focus on asking how to work with those forms of governance, you can frame political issues in a far more productive way.” I’m guessing that Craig sees that focusing on issues of governance at the corporate level is similarly a way to resolve issues of competition, politics and social relevance, not to mention customer service.

My words now, not his: I think what he’s doing is running an organization which is at once purely capitalist and at the same time, always striving for integration into a broader context of social responsibility. Remember: “the dedication to true customer service through a for-profit enterprise is a form of public service.”

Capitalism and social responsibility are not incompatible: Craig Newmark is one of those rare leaders who sees that, done right, they are in fact inextricably linked, and for the benefit of both.