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The Wisdom (and Wit) of Crowds

On the heels of our recent music industry panel (watch video highlights here) with Musictoday and John Legend, I attended the Digital Music Forum here in New York to hear more about how the industry is coping.

On the heels of our recent music industry panel (watch video highlights here) with Musictoday and John Legend, I attended the Digital Music Forum here in New York to hear more about how the industry is coping. There were some fascinating conversations about digital rights, mash-ups, iPod fatigue, and how Korea is light years ahead of Americans when it comes to integrating music and cell phones (they download music to play in the background — still not sure what you call it, calltones?). But the conversation that intrigued me the most was the one taking place on a big screen adjacent to the panelists.

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Audience members could text-message questions or comments for everyone to see. This was the first time I’d seen this in action, and I hope it represents the future of conferences. The message board gives the audience a voice, which can be constructive, provocative, or disruptive, depending how good the panel is. When the speakers replied to a question on the screen, we in the audience felt like active participants. Other times, the board commented on the panel or offered a real-time critique, much like Stephen Colbert‘s The Word, the split-screen graphic that has a mind of its own, satirizing his commentaries. When a speaker mentioned that McDonald’s is experimenting with music kiosks, the comment board shot back, “Would you like emo with your fries?”

It created an anonymous forum to ask what was on everyone’s mind. As several execs were boasting about their music-search technology, someone posted, “Are any of you making money?” When none of the execs noticed or took the bait, an audience member replied, “Probably not.” The ripple of snickers perplexed the panel, which then stopped and began reading the screen. Hey, remember us?

But why stop with conferences? Imagine having a comment board like this during sermons or lectures (or States of the Union, for that matter). Instant feedback – if you can handle it.

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About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug

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