Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to: Panel discussions in the Twitter age

It's no surprise that we're seeing cases studies coming out of the recent SXSW interactive conference of what to do--and what not to do--when trying to mesh old-school speaking standards with the new Twitter backchannel. Earlier this week, I offered you some lessons from the Twitter CEO's unsuccessful SXSW keynote: Let the audience express itself early, don't sit to be sure you project energy, be interactive with the audience when you represent an interactive technology and plan, plan, plan your content.

Today, New York University professor Jay Rosen--who refers to "the people formerly known as the audience" as a signal of audience power--weighs in with a positive case study, How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists.  If you are organizing, speaking at or just attending a conference, meeting or workshop,  I think it's a must-read because it is:
  • A positive and achievable primer on how to put together a panel discussion that maintains high quality content, configured for today's audiences and the backchannel that comes with them.
  • A vision of how to merge the audience's needs and those of the speakers, mixing advance information and promotion with in-person followup on the backchannel and face-to-face at the end of the session.  In doing so, it manages the backchannel, but offers the structure that speakers, organizers and many audience members want to see.  (Witness the discussion on the Tactical Philanthropy blog, where conference organizers elicited audience opinioins on how and whether to structure panel discussions at an upcoming conference.  These comments "in defense of panel discussions" remind you not to throw the panel baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.)  But note that Rosen recommends leaving 40 percent of the time for Q&A--a must.
  • A demonstration that content planning can and should include diversity, just as much a current force as social networking.   This panel had a diversity of professional perspectives, an African-American, three whites, a woman and three men. As Rosen said, "People notice," as this audience member noted on Twitter.
  • A step-by-step look at what to do before, during and after a panel.  Too many speakers and organizers just let panels happen without thinking through the content, flow, space for adjustments that need to be made in real time, and how to give the audience (in the room and outside the room on the backchannel) the information it needs and wants. 
Don't forget that there are other great resources for you to consult on managing the backchannel, including:
A hat tip to Joe Bonner, a reader who unearths all sorts of useful information that's relevant to my blog, including this great contribution from Jay Rosen.

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