As I sit here waiting to speak at the National Breast Cancer Coalition conference, I am reminded of a panel I spoke on in London about a year and a half ago for NESTA’s Neighborhood Challenge launch.
As we were settling in to the room, I noticed the event Twitter hashtag was posted on the marquee next to me. I took out my phone, loaded up my Twitter app and searched for the hashtag so I could monitor and respond to comments from the audience.
My fellow panelists were a bit older than me and very traditional. Just as the panel started, I was passed a note from the moderator asking me to put my phone away.
As soon as I did, I became disconnected from the audience in the room.
How could that be? They were right in front of me.
But upon reviewing the hashtag feed after the panel it was apparent how it could be. Throughout the panel, audience members were tweeting how the panelists around me simply were not addressing the audience’s key concerns.
But the panelists were ignorant of this disconnect because they cut off our ability to monitor the audience’s pulse.
Ironically, my role on the panel was to talk about how to use social media to build community organization and mobilize action. I did mention in my comments how I could be using Twitter to do this at that very moment (I was subtle enough not to insult my moderator).
So if you see a panelist on his or her phone on a dais, before you think it’s rude, consider that it may be the exact opposite. It may be they are paying closer attention to you than you think.
Now is definitely different from then. And social media tools like Twitter make it so.