Everyone’s a Peer. Live with it.

I stole the title of this post from the last two sentences in But Miss, they’re not listening to me, a blog post by JP Rangaswami on Confused of Calcutta.

In his post, JP describes a world where hierarchical command and control structures are being displaced by more democratized networked environments. The days of expert speakers who talk at us while we take notes and passively absorb the information with little or no opportunity for discussion are gradually disappearing.

This post resonated with me and helps to describe my recent thinking about conferences and speaking engagements. I’m finding that I rarely enjoy giving formal presentations where I yammer on and on with a slide deck while people listen to me talk. In these presentations, I don’t get much real time feedback from the audience other than the occasional non-verbal cue (nodding in agreement vs. nodding off, for example), and I learn little or nothing during these presentations.

In contrast, my favorite speaking environment usually happens at unconferences (BarCamp, etc.) where I can lead a lively discussion about a topic of interest by kicking it off with 5-10 minutes of my ideas on the topic and moving quickly to a facilitation role where many people contribute to the discussion. Since each person comes into the discussion with different experiences and diverse views, I learn as much or more from the other people participating as they learn from me.

Panels fall somewhere in the middle depending on the structure. I despise panels where the moderator asks too many questions or where each panel member essentially gives a mini-presentation with little time for audience questions. On the other hand, my favorite panels are similar to my unconference speaking style with a couple of minutes of discussion at the beginning, but opening it up to audience questions no later than in the first 10-15 minutes of the panel. The audience questions help target the discussion to topics that are interesting to the audience, but even more important is what you can learn from the questions being asked. Questions give so much insight into what people are thinking about the topic and what is important to the audience. My Social Networking panel at Defrag was a good example of one that moved into audience questions early, and I think it benefited greatly by the participation.

JP says in his post:

It’s a new world out there. We can’t go around saying “But Miss, they’re not listening to me”. We have to earn the respect of our peers. But remember, in a networked society, everyone is a peer. Your professors. Your children. Your subordinates. Your bosses.

Everyone’s a peer.

Live with it.

(Quote from Confused of Calcutta)

We each come into a discussion with unique and diverse ideas, and we learn by listening and sharing ideas with our peers aka everyone.


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