Hello From the Back of the Room

Where do you situate yourself for lectures, keynotes, and conference talks?

May 9, 2012

Where do you situate yourself for lectures, keynotes, and conference talks?  

Increasingly, I'm finding myself hanging out at the back of the room.  

I'm the guy you see standing against the wall. Not fully in, not totally out. Our crowd of back-wallers seems to be growing.

Recently I was at a really great talk. Lots of free seats in the auditorium, and a crowd of us lurking on the back wall.

I've been thinking about what is pulling me and others like me to the back of the room, and what is being lost in this transition.

We hang out at the back because:

  • The opportunity costs for our time have grown, and it feels too painful to sit through a non-stellar presentation. At the back we can make a quick and discreet exit.
  • We no longer have a scarcity of great presentations -- we have a surplus. There are too many amazing TED Talks and iTunesU lectures and @Google Talks to ever absorb.  Why waste our time at a so-so live talk when we can view these amazing talks anytime we want?
  • Our smartphones and tablets mean that we no longer need to use our laptops to view great online presentations. In any given free few minutes we can pull out our iPhones or whatever device and get inspired by a terrific speaker.   
  • Social media has killed our ability to passively take in information.  Our brains desire connections and connectivity. We need the running commentary on the action, and need to process what we are learning by providing this commentary.  A presentation that is not interactive, that is not built on conversation, feels slow and strange.
  • We don't have time to sit through a presentation without multitasking  -- as we have too many e-mails that need our attention.

This is worrisome. This list does not make me very happy or particularly proud.  

We need to find the discipline to find meaning in presentations that are not as slick as a TED Talk. Being willing to invest the time in a speaker that does not immediately grab us will often pay large dividends, as we may learn something unexpected. 

A need to be constantly entertained is not the mark of an educated person. A need to be constantly immersed in consuming and producing the chatter of social media seems like the basis for a DSM-5 diagnosis.  

I'm not sure that knowing all this is of any help.

We all know many ways that we should change our behavior, change our diets, change our exercise level - but few of us have the willpower to actually make these changes. I'm not sure that I'll be able to escape the pull from the back of the room.

Where do you stand?


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