The mesmerized audience

I’ve sat in tons of audiences at tons of conferences this year. I’ve noticed a trend that I first noticed at Gnomedex: more and more people are sitting on their computers or Blackberries. Some people have decried this as the inattention of an audience that should be paying attention on stage.

I say that’s hogwash. If you want us to pay attention do something worthy of paying attention to.

Yesterday I watched as an audience of several hundred put down their Blackberries, turned off Twitter, and became transfixed on what they were hearing. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop almost the entire time.

It was magical. It was an experience I LOVED as an audience member. I didn’t feel like talking back. The only thing I wanted to do was tell everyone else about it.

What was the talk? By photographer Franz Lanting. He’s worked for the National Geographic for years, among other projects.

I can’t do it justice in 10,000 words. You’ve simply got to watch it. It was part of Microsoft’s Pro Photo Summit that’s going on now (I filmed most of the first day on my Kyte.tv channel).

Franz is a master story teller. There are very few in the world who are at this level. I’m simply in awe, even 24 hours later. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t have my HD cameras to film this, but since Franz lives a few miles away from me we’ll definitely go and film him again soon.

37 thoughts on “The mesmerized audience

  1. Ha! I could not agree more. This is exactly the way technology equipped students treat teachers (as noted above).

    It’s not that much different from all those doodles I did in high school and college with paper and pencil.

  2. Ha! I could not agree more. This is exactly the way technology equipped students treat teachers (as noted above).

    It’s not that much different from all those doodles I did in high school and college with paper and pencil.

  3. If you’ve paid several thousand dollars to come to a conference, you don’t OWE me (the speaker) anything beyond keeping quiet so others can hear. If you want to knit, read a book, do a crossword or read Scoble’s blog that’s just fine with me.

    Well, it’s not fine — it presents me with a wonderful challenge — but it really helps me as a presenter to be able to gauge whether what I’m spewing has any real value to those people in the seats. So many presenters are totally oblivious to their audience, it should be required that there are other options given. Tee hee hee.

    I think what we’re hearing in this discussion is the difference between veteran presenters and those a little newer to the trade. Like stand-up comics, the sooner you realize that it’s not about you the better a job you’ll do.

  4. If you’ve paid several thousand dollars to come to a conference, you don’t OWE me (the speaker) anything beyond keeping quiet so others can hear. If you want to knit, read a book, do a crossword or read Scoble’s blog that’s just fine with me.

    Well, it’s not fine — it presents me with a wonderful challenge — but it really helps me as a presenter to be able to gauge whether what I’m spewing has any real value to those people in the seats. So many presenters are totally oblivious to their audience, it should be required that there are other options given. Tee hee hee.

    I think what we’re hearing in this discussion is the difference between veteran presenters and those a little newer to the trade. Like stand-up comics, the sooner you realize that it’s not about you the better a job you’ll do.

  5. I am sure I have, not perfect. But I know I haven’t cell phone yakked or laptopped at conferences, movies or church. ;)

  6. I am sure I have, not perfect. But I know I haven’t cell phone yakked or laptopped at conferences, movies or church. ;)

  7. Great to hear that you had such a compelling experience.

    I remember a company kick-off meeting where an ex-NASA astronaut (sorry, can’t recall the name of he top of my head) spoke about his near-death experiences on the International Space Station – it was superb. People were literally holding their breath and some people felt it get “a little dusty in there”.

    But by in large, most conferences and presentation aren’t that personal and connecting. If I’m going to learn about (insert topic here) by-in-large it isn’t life and death. Sure, I am there to gain some insight but (despite what my wife tells me) I can multi-task, which sometimes means working discreetly while listening in. Is it ideal for the speaker – no, but that’s life.

  8. Great to hear that you had such a compelling experience.

    I remember a company kick-off meeting where an ex-NASA astronaut (sorry, can’t recall the name of he top of my head) spoke about his near-death experiences on the International Space Station – it was superb. People were literally holding their breath and some people felt it get “a little dusty in there”.

    But by in large, most conferences and presentation aren’t that personal and connecting. If I’m going to learn about (insert topic here) by-in-large it isn’t life and death. Sure, I am there to gain some insight but (despite what my wife tells me) I can multi-task, which sometimes means working discreetly while listening in. Is it ideal for the speaker – no, but that’s life.

  9. If your at a conference you hope it is worth your time. If it’s worth your time, don’t be web surfing… you can’t even network with the other attendees if your on your laptop!

  10. If your at a conference you hope it is worth your time. If it’s worth your time, don’t be web surfing… you can’t even network with the other attendees if your on your laptop!

  11. I have never posted on Scoble, but i am a daily reader. here we go…..

    This is something that really gets under my skin. Though I am may be young and not been to nearly as many conferences, etc. I working at a few large companies and going to school I have seen enough people sit through class, meetings, discussion preoccupied on there phones and computers. Why come? Why not concentrate in an office, somewhere quite…

    Marquette’s engineering school is making it mandatory for all incoming freshman to have a laptop. Some say it is a great idea. I guess it prepare students for the real world of everyone sitting in a room, but not “memorized” by the presenter/ prof but by the LCD in front of them.

  12. I have never posted on Scoble, but i am a daily reader. here we go…..

    This is something that really gets under my skin. Though I am may be young and not been to nearly as many conferences, etc. I working at a few large companies and going to school I have seen enough people sit through class, meetings, discussion preoccupied on there phones and computers. Why come? Why not concentrate in an office, somewhere quite…

    Marquette’s engineering school is making it mandatory for all incoming freshman to have a laptop. Some say it is a great idea. I guess it prepare students for the real world of everyone sitting in a room, but not “memorized” by the presenter/ prof but by the LCD in front of them.

  13. Dick: I love your approach. It’s sort of what I did on stage at SXSW. I told people to Twitter about how bad my speech was. At least they listened that way. :-)

  14. Dick: I love your approach. It’s sort of what I did on stage at SXSW. I told people to Twitter about how bad my speech was. At least they listened that way. :-)

  15. I agree with you, Robert — if I’m presenting, and you’d rather read mail — more power to you. It’s MY responsibility to provide something that engages you so that you’d rather be in the moment with me.

    When I was at MS I’d start a meeting by asking people to take out their laptops, open them up, and start Outlook. Then I’d say if what I was saying, and the deadlines/deliverables we were discussing were less important than their mail, I TOTALLY understood if they wanted to read mail.

    At the end of the meeting, all deadlines and deliverables would go out in meeting notes and I’d have no sympathy at all when they were missed. I made a few enemies, and lots of friends.

  16. I agree with you, Robert — if I’m presenting, and you’d rather read mail — more power to you. It’s MY responsibility to provide something that engages you so that you’d rather be in the moment with me.

    When I was at MS I’d start a meeting by asking people to take out their laptops, open them up, and start Outlook. Then I’d say if what I was saying, and the deadlines/deliverables we were discussing were less important than their mail, I TOTALLY understood if they wanted to read mail.

    At the end of the meeting, all deadlines and deliverables would go out in meeting notes and I’d have no sympathy at all when they were missed. I made a few enemies, and lots of friends.

  17. It’s very rude. If you want to tap tap on your computers or blackberries, go someplace else, in the lobby, bar or to Panera Bread. Even if you think it’s boring and not worthy of your time, someone else might not, and your antics are distracting them.

    Try that in a movie theater, “Hey this movie is boring I think I will loudly chat on my cell phone or tap tap on my computer. Rude? Hogwash. Hollywood must give me something worthy of paying attention to.” You’d be kicked out, and hopefully banned from the theater, if not beaten to a pulp by real moviegoers.

    Has everyone forgotten their manners? Certain places demand respect, regardless of your interest levels, conferences, plays, movies, churches, speeches, lectures. Show some class, geesh.

  18. It’s very rude. If you want to tap tap on your computers or blackberries, go someplace else, in the lobby, bar or to Panera Bread. Even if you think it’s boring and not worthy of your time, someone else might not, and your antics are distracting them.

    Try that in a movie theater, “Hey this movie is boring I think I will loudly chat on my cell phone or tap tap on my computer. Rude? Hogwash. Hollywood must give me something worthy of paying attention to.” You’d be kicked out, and hopefully banned from the theater, if not beaten to a pulp by real moviegoers.

    Has everyone forgotten their manners? Certain places demand respect, regardless of your interest levels, conferences, plays, movies, churches, speeches, lectures. Show some class, geesh.

  19. One good approach to engage a laptop-equipped audience is to have a demo they can download. I saw this in a talk by MSR’s John Krumm at Ubicomp 2004. John presented his work on NearMe, a wireless proximity server that of course talks to clients that can run on laptops. John asked the audience to download the client and this was a great success.

  20. One good approach to engage a laptop-equipped audience is to have a demo they can download. I saw this in a talk by MSR’s John Krumm at Ubicomp 2004. John presented his work on NearMe, a wireless proximity server that of course talks to clients that can run on laptops. John asked the audience to download the client and this was a great success.

  21. a great speaker and probably amazing presentation to experience in person but the video quality makes this difficult to watch…I didn’t hear a pin drop, but was able to hear what seemed to be fingers tapping on a keyboard throughout…

  22. a great speaker and probably amazing presentation to experience in person but the video quality makes this difficult to watch…I didn’t hear a pin drop, but was able to hear what seemed to be fingers tapping on a keyboard throughout…

  23. Well that is stupid. Why are you there if you don’t want to pay attention? I would kick people put that were just playing with their computers. I think this is a big problem. I would certainly not want to hold a presentation in front of people that were more interested in typing on their machines then listening to what I have to say. It’s arrogant.

  24. Well that is stupid. Why are you there if you don’t want to pay attention? I would kick people put that were just playing with their computers. I think this is a big problem. I would certainly not want to hold a presentation in front of people that were more interested in typing on their machines then listening to what I have to say. It’s arrogant.

  25. Sitting on a computer or blackberry when in a face to face meeting or even a presentation is an indication that you prioritize your time poorly, aside from it being rude. Truly busy people learn to ignore email and twitter etc. when they are otherwise engaged.

  26. Sitting on a computer or blackberry when in a face to face meeting or even a presentation is an indication that you prioritize your time poorly, aside from it being rude. Truly busy people learn to ignore email and twitter etc. when they are otherwise engaged.

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