Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is Social Media Changing Audience Etiquette?

You've been to conferences and seminars.  You know the scene.  The speaker is introduced and you give him your undivided attention as you learn the latest in whatever happens to be the topic, right?  Well, not these days.  Now, as soon as the speaker begins speaking, your head is down as you scramble to type away your notes on your smartphone or laptop and post them on social media.  My question: is this a shift in audience etiquette that is seen as acceptable or just growing rudeness while we adapt to new technology?

From the audience side, most of us are posting the main points that we find important.  Rather than just jotting our notes, they're typed, posted, shared...and if you're lucky, even commented on and a conversation may be started.  If you miss something, someone else is sure to have caught it and posted it for you to review.  Rather than scribbling your notes or typing away on Word, now you can capture everyone's notes and have them accessible online later to refer back to.

Personally, I've been guilty of this...both posting notes during a conference and reading others' posts as they attend.  While I do think it's a bit rude in the fact that everyone's head is down and not on the speaker, part of me likes that thoughts are being captured in real time and new ideas may be generated. Plus, it's another way of networking and gaining new contacts. Having said that, what I appreciate (and try to do) is not just type a quick quote that I hear word for word. I try to comment on what I'm hearing and bring my viewpoint or read someone else's viewpoint.  Points that I want to remember word for word still get written on paper (but that just might be me).

Overall, I think this is a growing trend that will continue to grow and be viewed as acceptable.  The conferences even give specific hashtags to post with your comments. For those of you that are the attendees, please give me your thoughts.  I'd love to hear whether you are guilty like me or if you still give all of your attention to the speaker.  

Now, I've never spoken at a conference, so I don't know how the speakers feel about this.  For those of you that are regular conference speakers, please share your thoughts on this practice.  Is it distracting?  Is it frustrating?  Did you notice the shift and how did you deal with it?  Do you appreciate that all of the thoughts are being captured and posted?  Do you ever go back to read what everyone posted?  Do you find the feedback helpful?  Please let us know.  I think a lot of us would love to get your viewpoint.  Thanks!


  1. I hate this, and love it. I hate it because I want to look them in the eye and have their attention. I love it because it spreads my information to so many people. So I'm split. If I had to choose I'd rather have their attention on me. :)

    1. Thanks, Jim. I agree that there are pros and cons, even from the audience side.

  2. My background is in speech communications so I know all the reasons why this seeming "inattention" is taboo. However, I find it really gratifying to read the tweets later and to see the engagement. It helps me understand what points resonated, and which ones didn't. While there are certainly some folks focused on their electronic devices, you always have enough people in the audience who are making eye contact to reinforce a speaker throughout the presentation, that I never mind the tweeting. Plus, whether we like it or not, it's the new audience reality so speakers will have to learn to deal with it. Thanks for asking.