This is really interesting, Steve. Thanks for posting it! I have to admit I'm still very hesitant about Twitter, because I tend to be easily distracted and overwhelmed if I've got a lot of electronic and sensory inputs coming at me at once. Maybe I'm just showing my age, or my learning style, or something! But I value the opportunity, in a conference session, to focus on a real-time, f2f engagement with a live presentation and audience.It seems to me that the underlying issue that this article is (not quite) addressing is that there's too often a disconnect between speakers and audiences, in large part b/c speakers often aren't doing as good a job as they might at really "performing" well or keeping the audience engaged. The standard three-presentations-and-a-moderated-discussion format can be deadly dull, as we all know! So my response would be to focus on that as the main issue, rather than saying, "Hey, if it's boring, you can just cut out by texting your friends or checking your Facebook feed." At a session I moderated at the last NCPH conference, I borrowed a great format from my colleague Shan Holt, who runs panel sessions by having presenters generate a list of key topics/questions beforehand and then claiming one apiece. One of the presenters will lead off with a brief, informal discussion of their question, followed by some audience interaction/commentary. When the moment is ripe, the moderator jumps in to say, "That's a good segue to another of our key questions," at which point the next presenter speaks, followed by more interaction/commentary. The Q&A was seamlessly woven into the presentations and everybody in the room was engaged and involved. So I think the "back channel" isn't the only way to achieve what this article is talking about, and some of the f2f ways (which incorporate body language, sensory input, eye contact, etc.) can be far more communicative and immediate. I'm very interested to hear what others think about this, particularly those who are less Twitter-averse than I!
This topic about engaging the conference audience is very important. We are all busy - getting talked at is no longer meeting all then needs of the conference goer. I think that Cary Carlson's recent article in the Public Historian speaks to this issue too. We are attempting to address that in Session #2 on Thursday "Commemoration - No Easy". With all the interest and angst over putting together a commemorative event, we're hoping, by changing the format to a round table discussion with active audience participation, we can begin to develop a dialogue so that everyone's needs are met. Anyhow, I'll keep you posted on how things go - the good, the bad & the ugly.Ranger Chuck Arning - NPS / Blackstone River Valley NHC