Now that I have recovered, more or less, from RE Barcamp Philadelphia (great job, by the way, Bill Lublin, Kim Wood, John Lauber, and the rest of the REBC PHL gang!), I wanted to ask a question:
Are presenters at conferences owed any sort of deference by attendees?
I also present at various events and have come to realize after Philly why it is that I tend to enjoy presenting at REBarcamps: audience participation. I love the energy of the room at REBarcamps, especially when the audience gets feisty. When the disagreements and the sharp questions start, that’s when I start having fun. True exchange of ideas and real learning seem to happen more when there is a bit of debate and disagreement, rather than when there is uniform head-nodding going on.
At REBC Philly, I had a great time doing an impromptu “debate” session with Eric Stegemann of Tribus. People were interrupting both Eric and me, challenging our assertions, making us explain ourselves, and I’m pretty sure most of the room left disagreeing with me. What a great time! Total engagement, excitement, and energy.
In contrast, at other events where I’ve presented or spoken on panels or whatever, I often get the feeling that the audience mostly sits there passively hoping to learn some great piece of wisdom from the experts gathered on stage. Even the setup at non-barcamp type of events is conducive to the notion that those who are presenting or speaking are teachers lecturing a bunch of students.
But what if the presenter is talking out of his ass? Is the audience supposed to sit there deferentially?
I’m thinking that for “normal” conferences, like Inman or RE Tech South, where speakers and panelists are selected by the organizers and invited for their expertise or insights into a particular topic, some deference from the audience is appropriate. In some ways, the deference is to the organizers for the time and energy they spent in selecting that person to come speak to an audience.
If a speaker or panelist at one of these events starts spouting a bunch of crap, then the attendee should probably wait until the Q&A and start popping pointed questions, or simply walk out of the session. Maybe everyone else in the room thinks the guy is brilliant; the organizers certainly did.
All that goes out the window when it comes to RE Barcamps or barcamp-style meetings. Those presenters — myself included — simply got up to the board and put up a note. Organizers had nothing to do with those sessions. No one put much thought into who should address the audience. People can come and go as they please. REBarcamps are a meeting amongst peers first and foremost.
In this setting, the only thing that the presenter is owed is an opportunity to speak and present. If I can’t earn your deference with what I’m saying and showing, then I’m owed nothing but criticism and argument.
In fact, I have come to believe that lack of deference may be essential for the Barcamp movement to work, especially in real estate. At every REBarcamp I have attended, there were newbies to the whole nu-skool real estate practices being pioneered right now. Many of them are realtors and brokers who have heard that they need to get involved with this whole “social media” thing, but have no idea what that is, how to do it, or why to do it.
Absolutely the last thing these newbies need is for some presenter who has no idea what the hell he’s talking about getting up and feeding them all sorts of misinformation. Yes, of course, critics will want to be polite in disagreement, but more I think about it, it is essential that wannabes get taken down fast and hard. Consider it a public service.
And if you can’t take the criticism, if you can’t defend your positions, if you’re not comfortable unless the audience is going to play passive schoolchildren… well, do us all a favor and not get up at a Barcamp please.