Three panels, three completely different ways of looking at public speaking. I intended to stop first at the WIRED panel at 12:30, but was intercepted by a young woman with a handmade flyer at the Pepsico podcast lounge.
Just before I hurled it into the trash, I noticed that it announcied a "flash panel" on women and social media, to be hosted by Laura Fitton (@Pistachio), Stephanie Agresta (@stephagresta), Beth Kanter (@kanter) and Sarah Causey (@Sarahcausey).
Do we really need a gender-defined panel at SXSW? I found myself a little wistful that, apparently, we think we do.
It was a relatively quick affair at 30 minutes, and focused almost exclusively on mentoring and the importance of welcoming new voices into the community. This is really the essence of social principles, yet ithe panel felt quite literally like an afterthought, quite literally off by itself in the corner.
Next up: Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee), the hardest-working man in show business. Depending on your point of view, Vaynerchuk is an inspiration, a carnival barker, or one of the most authentic voices around, He's charismatc, profane and utterly punk rock, and he's not afraid to tell people when he thinks they're wrong. The crowd ate it up, me included.
Finally I managed to squeeze into an overflow room, where I heard an extraordinarily dull keynote interview with Evan Williams (@ev), CEO and founder of Twitter. Here was a perfect opportunity to use his own "information network" to bring the audience into the discussion, and yet there was...nothing.
Twitter lit up almost immediately, but the speakers seemingly had no idea. The interviewer, Umair Haque (@umairh) of Harvard Business Review, kept inserting himself into the conversation, while Williams looked distracted and checked his watch. Neither betrayed any awareness that they were sharing the room with several hundred other people.
Not everyone is a great speaker in front of a large audience; it's hard and stressful, and it takes practice. Vaynerchuk is a natural, while I'm sure Williams is much more engaging over coffee, which is probably why he chose this format in the first place.
But the part that isn't negotiable is an effort to welcome the audience into the conversation to the extent that the form naturally allows. The women's panel talked about it, Vaynerchuk did it, and Williams avoided it entirely, so much so that (aside from the technical content) the interview could just as easily have been conducted in 1980 as 2010.
As disappointing as that is, I get it. Not everyone is as comfortable in real life as they are online. But do we have a responsibility to find some way compensate for that at venues like this?
I think we do. What do you think?