Today I facilitated what I believe to be the first-ever User Generated Presentation at The Human Web CapCHI workshop in Ottawa. The idea behind it was to bring the principles of social media to the traditional presentation format – rather that having me (or anyone else) arbitrarily decide what information the audience required on the topic of social media, I let them pull what they wanted.

In planning the session, I reached out to a group I belong to called The Social Media Collective. (This was also one of the questions asked today, “What is the SMC?” The answer is, and I quote, “A diverse group of bloggers, consultants, investors, entrepreneurs, journalists, and analysts who represent the web’s best thinking on social media, marketing and Web 2.0” It’s basically an online club for people interested in social media). Interest within the SMC was high, and I got some great suggestions from Susan Scrupski, David Tebbutt, Dennis McDonald, Tom Mandel and Brian Solis, which I incorporated into the presentation:

1. Don’t start with PowerPoint, because that will get the group into passive mode.
2. Use a collaborative tool to record the session.
3. Don’t forget to cover the basics. (actually, I used this as a backup, borrowing a list of questions Brian had posted on his blog in case the conversation stalled; we didn’t actually get to those).

The session went well – unfortunately, the technology choice was not ideal, and didn’t allow for multiple real-time authors (people kept getting dumped out, and found it fairly frustrating). Nonetheless, the enthusiasm level for the concept was very high – rather than standing at the front of the room, I wandered with a wireless mic and passed the hand-held around. There were many times (as I had hoped) that participants answered questions themselves; I liked it best when I passed the mic directly from one person to another – I felt more like a facilitator than a talking head.

The major presentation issue was around the technology, that it didn’t serve the purpose intended (as a method of recording important data covered during the session) and also that I didn’t refer to it enough – lots of questions were posted there. Eventually, people stopped using it (what was recorded is posted here), and fellow-presenter, the excellent Peter Merholz stepped in. As we discussed specific things (OpenID, SunSilk’s Wig Out viral video, Wiki Patterns, etc.) he kept pace with us and brought the sites up on the projector. This was very cool, and will be incorporated future UGPs.

Overall, I think the thing that amazed me most was the enormous volume of information that was exchanged – we covered so, so much more than we could have if I had simply stood at the front and dictated, largely because we leveraged our collective intelligence and curiosity, since discovery is as much about the questions as the answers.

I’ve given everyone who attended the link to this blog, and am hoping we can continue the discussion here. Further to that, I’m posting below a bunch of the questions we didn’t get to, and I’ll do my best to answer them:

Do you have examples of companies using social networks to improve communication and collaboration inside large, and distributed organizations?

IBM would be probably the best-known example of a very large company using social media inside to improve communications, but there are lots of others. Big Blue has internal blogs that team members can use to communicate their expertise and share information about different projects. In a recent Edelman PR study, 34% of the 75 Fortune 500 companies surveyed had forums, groups or message boards on their Intranets.

What are the most effective ways to draw people to a new blog?

There are a couple of ways to approach this – but they both revolve around the same principle: you have to have interesting content, for, “If it is boring, they will not come” (I just quoted myself on that one). So, you can do a little blogger outreach, connect with the community of interest that you’d like to join, and let them know you’re there and that they might be interested in what you’re doing. Or, you can let things grow organically like a “real” blogger – linking to other blogs, participating in the community, and letting interested parties find you. Actually, no matter whether you market your blog or not, you still need to participate in the community via links and comments. It really depends on your need for speed – the outcome will probably be the same in most cases since success is determined by the quality and timeliness of your content and participation.

Doug: asked how to leverage web 2.0 for companies to make money?

That’s a big question, Doug – and in our work we find that most of our clients are really interested in adding value to what they’re already doing to make money, rather than establishing a social media-based business model.

Thanks again to everyone who participated in our experiment, and the proof will be in the pudding – I will post the evaluation scores from the event once they’re in.


  1. Maggie – sounds really great! Can you tell us something about the “tech savviness” of the people participating?
    – Dennis

  2. Hi Maggie. Well done. Sounds like the sort of session that Euan Semple would be proud of. I would suggest his work at the BBC as a terrific pioneering example of using social media within a large (not as large as IBM, mind) organisation.

  3. Maggie – this sounds terrific. The ‘what’s the right tech’ question is really interesting! Sounds like a product that needs to be developed. A sort of private twitter, perhaps?

  4. You know? I’d almost like the group to answer that question – my understanding was that there was a huge range. Some very savvy, some not so much, which really is very typical, and suits the format. Have a basic question? Have an advanced question? Ask away!

  5. Miranda Gray

    As one of the participants, I can confirm that the tech level was all over the place. I thought the most telling comment about the bottom of the range was the need to configure a Windows 2000 laptop for the wireless connection. The people ranged from people who know they know little (i.e. “I know I need to know about Web2.0”) to people who leading the charge. My table’s group had someone who is trying to get corporate-wide support for using wikis for KM (instead of email) and a sysadmin who figures he’ll have to support this stuff Real Soon Now.

  6. Miranda Gray

    Maggie, I think you missed one of the key points in doing this sort of presentation — people want to look at the person who is talking.

    The room’s format was not ideal but even if the technology had been perfect, people still would have been conflicted about watching the screen vs watching the person talking. I don’t think the size of the group or the shape of the room supported the format of the presentation. A smaller group in a U shape would work even better.

  7. Hmmm, I remember you mentioning that. Perhaps the answer then is to forget about the projection screen, or do what Peter did, which was bring up the sites we were discussing. There was a tremendous amount of positive feedback on that – people didn’t feel like they had to watch the screen the whole time, but if they did glance at it, it provided an extra layer of information.

    I also had the thought of just having the wiki or other platform we used to record information available locally only – i.e. web-based & available on your laptop, because I do like the idea of collaboratively amassing what the group discussed (and felt was important) in a document or format that would be available afterwards.

  8. Maggie,
    Concerning the looking-at-speaker vs. looking-at-screen question, one idea might be to scrap the screen altogether and have ppl in the audience look at the sites you’re discussing right on their laptops. They’re probably looking there anyway if they’re live-blogging or taking notes, and I think it’s becoming more and more natural to look at your laptop during a presentation so why not tak advantage of it?

    Thanks for mentioning Wikipatterns! I appreciate that you’re helping spread the word!
    Stewart Mader
    Wiki Evangelist, Atlassian

  9. I know what I am about to say may sound heretical, but what about forget the technology and focus on the conversation. I agree with you about PowerPoint. I admit that I have been a PowerPoint victim too many times. I’m sure others have suffered through presentations where the presenter has read each slide out loud. Power corrupts but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely. I shall be glad to see it go.

    In-person meetings are far more valuable than an information exchange because of their emotional and connective function. Information theory has got it wrong about human communication.

    And it isn’t the volume of information that is exchanged is of value. It is the appropriateness of the information, and the timing. In other words, what is the least you need to know; and what is the least you need to know right now. A hand out with a list of URL’s or directions to an on-line discussion would be enough.

    Maggie, you have got the right idea with asking questions and getting participation. But some of us are not good conversationalists. We simply state our position on a subject. I find this excruciatingly boring. It’s those follow up questions that are where the interest (for me) is. Why do you think that? Would you still advocate your position when circumstances change? What alternatives do you think could equally apply? In this way, the presentation is more like improvisational theater. It becomes interesting and lively. If the audience had a good time, they will remember that they did. They will remember their positive judgment of the event more than the information it contained. But they still will have their handout to follow up on the meaty details.

  10. Hi Christopher – you make an excellent point. The idea of having some sort of record of the discussion that took place was definitely an objective (that’s where the technology came into play) so that individuals could continue their own exploration of the topics discussed. The only drawback I see to the notion of a handout is that we don’t know what will be discussed in advance, so creating that document becomes the challenge. But even a list of the top web 2.0 sites would probably be a great idea, and I appreciate the suggestion!

  11. Hi all, Scott from Vyew here. I just spoke to Maggie to bring her up to speed on all that’s new with Vyew, the “technology choice” for the user-generated presentation experiment discussed here. A quick synopsis from our call…

    Since the first go at this in April, Vyew has evolved dramatically. Our latest version, 2.5 (June 07), features much better handling of asynchronous collaboration to support the type of usage scenario described. Users can now collaborate in an ‘Unsync’ mode within any given VyewBook, working on different pages with different content without hijacking page navigation, bumping out users, or losing work. Of course, the meeting organizer can force a ‘Sync’ to bring everyone together on any given page.

    In addition to adding sync/unsync capabilities, we’ve completely overhauled our backend infrastructure for greater speed and reliability, improved usability, and added several customization options (custom color skinning of the UI, for example). As always, VyewBooks can be left ‘always-on’ for access to archived sessions and content, and VyewBooks can also now be printed for a paper-reference of any session.

    Finally, VyewBooks can now be published outside Vyew and embedded for viewing within blogs, intranets, etc. The content from the session in April, for example, can be displayed within this blog in what we call a ‘Vyewlet’.

    If you haven’t tried Vyew since this experiment, I encourage you to give it another try. Send an email to any of the email addresses on our Contact page to get a coupon code for 3 free months with all the bells and whistles.

    Thanks, and happy collaborating!

    Scott Jones

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