Presentation Etiquette: It's about the participants, not the speaker

NewComm ForumI frequently speak about social media at conferences and workshops. As a presenter, I always want to give participants at my sessions full value for their time and attention. An incident at a workshop I presented a couple weeks ago has been gnawing at me.

In a nutshell: I was presenting a half day workshop on social media measurement. During the early part of the morning, I made a reference to Facebook as “a vast wasteland of empty content,” suggesting that Facebook is a great platform for connecting with people and signalling affinity for causes, but that I don’t see much serious content there. When we took our mid session break, one of the workshop participants approached me to tell me that she thought I’d sold Facebook short. She was quite annoyed. Clearly, my quick dismissal of Facebook as a platform for organizations to publish information ran counter to her view of Facebook.

I thought about the participant’s complaints during the break and decided to address them after the break. So, when we reconvened, without identifiying the person, I indicated that it had been suggested to me that I’d given short shrift to Facebook. And then I explained my position more fully.

Situation well addressed? Not quite. Not at all.

A few days after the workshop, the conference organizer sent me the participant evaluations of my session. All glowing. All rating me at 4.5 or higher out of a possible maximum rating of 5. All except for one evaluation. And that one person gave me the lowest possible score. A 1 out of 5. With comments like “talked too much about himself.”

Ouch. Time for some soul searching.

I realized that my handling of the situation only made matters worse for the person I’d upset. Instead of giving voice to her concerns and addressing them in a balanced way, I’d only succeeded in restating my point of view.

What should I have done?

I should have called on the person to present her own point of view to the group – and then encouraged the group to discuss it. My views were no more important than what other people perceived. I’d already stated my opinion. If people wanted me to explain or restate, they could have asked me to do so during such a conversation. But in allowing that conversation to occur, I too could have learned.

Instead, by my action, I imposed my view on the group and alienated someone who had a right to expect better.

Lesson learned. Next time I encounter this, I’ll ensure that I provide opportunity to those who disagree with me to fully and completely state their views. I may not agree with them, but I can definitely learn from them.