A few months ago, a colleague sent an e-mail to several people discussing the problem of people tweeting during presentations.
First, the Incident
The issue is a timely one in light of a live interview with Steve Martin at New York’s 92nd Street Y. The interview by New York Times writer Deborah Solomon focused on Martin’s new novel, and she picked up on a number of points in the book when asking him questions.
But the audience wanted a “star” interview, asking him about his career as a comedian, not his recent work as a novelist focusing on the art world. The increasingly frustrated audience (located not only onsite, but also through simulcast in locations around the country) tweeted up a storm and one of the events’ producers eventually informed the interviewer that the audience was losing patience with her line of questions.
The Y eventually sent an apology and a $50 gift certificate to all who attended, claiming that the interview didn’t live up to its “standard of excellence.” (For those who aren’t familiar with it, this series of lectures is one of the best known in New York City and, simulcasts started in response to people in other cities wishing to join the experience.)
The Arts Beat blog of the New York Times reports on the incident (http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/02/readers-weigh-in-on-ys-decision-to-give-refunds-for-steve-martin-interview/?ref=design). Some people agree with the gesture.
But others question it, pointing out that people who attend other disappointing lectures, movies, and similar performances rarely receive apologies, much less refunds.
More significantly, some people question whether the role of the audience in this situation, noting that the success of the Y lectures is that they do not pander to audience wishes.
The Bigger Picture
Edu-blogger Steve Wheeler puts this individual incident into a broader perspective in his blog entry, Weapon of Mass Detraction (http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2009/12/weapon-of-mass-distraction.html) from December 2009.
Wheeler describes a few incidents in which impatient audiences tweet their frustration with a speaker. In some instances, the speaker is admittedly off-the-mark in targeting the presentation.
But in other instances, the problems plaguing the speaker are beyond his or her control, such as non-functioning audio and restrictions placed on the speaker by the conference producer.
Wheeler labels this phenomenon as tweckling.
Wheeler focuses on the rudeness of the behavior. And it is.
But, more fundamentally, this seems to be a question of publicly vocalizing their conclusions before the speaker has reached his or hers.
That does not excuse speakers from the responsibility for engaging their audiences or conference producers from providing the pre-presentation guidance and on-site audiovisual support that speakers need to successfully do so.
But it would be nice if audiences were to meet speakers half way, and give them a bit of a benefit of the doubt before tweeting their dissatisfaction.
Realistically, though, as long as conference producers increasingly promote tweeting during their events, tweckling is an additional reality that all speakers need to face.