That's what happened when news spread of Sunday's train wreck of an interview between BusinessWeek columnist Sarah Lacy and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin. In a "fireside chat" format that neither party looked particularly comfortable with, going by the video, Lacy and Zuckerberg lost control of the room as hecklers began to demand more from the listless pair on stage.
The blogosphere's gone nuts over this. New Media luminaries such as Robert Scoble have alternated between scathing critiques of Lacy and hand-wringing apologies to same for those hastily written condemnations. Others have focused on the technology involved, in this case the Twitter micro-blog platform that audience members used to quickly alert each other and the outside world that the Lacy-Zuckerberg exchange was bombing.
It's tempting to dismiss all the sturm und drang surrounding this episode as much ado about nothing by self-obsessed social networking evangelists. When the top-ranked story on the Lacy-Zuckerberg debacle is captioned, "I'm blogging about how Twitter is this year's Twitter," it's almost impossible not to physically recoil at the incestuousness of it all.
But the upshot, especially for anyone who's had to speak in front of a crowd, is that quite a bit of useful advice for successful public speaking is emerging from the blogosphere as well. Media professor Jeff Jarvis has outlined his opinion of what went wrong with the interview. Marketing blogger Susan Bratton draws upon her experience interviewing bigwigs on stage and on the air to offer several pointers for speaking in front of live audiences. And radio host and stand-up comedian David Spark gave his take on how to deal with hecklers in a tough crowd.
Those folks are worth reading, even if you don't particularly care about Mark Zuckerberg, Sarah Lacy, Twitter or New Media. More and more, IT professionals and reporters are being called upon to make presentations on camera and in front of crowds as part of our job duties. Any extra bullets we can find to make those tasks easier are worth holstering.
My own take on the interview? Most of the blame lies not with Lacy or Zuckerberg but with the producers of the interview session, in this case Facebook and SXSWi. Producers have the job of putting the onstage talent in a setting that is best suited to their abilities. Zuckerberg just isn't very conversational in an interview. He only seems willing to speak when asked a direct question. Lacy, though, has a flowing, "just two people chatting" style. If it works, it can create a dynamic, rhythmic interview. But it flounders when her opposite doesn't find the now-you-hear-it-now-you-don't conversational gaps that keep the dialogue lively, natural-sounding and humming along.
Neither party seemed to have enough stage experience to change up their respective styles. The producers should have anticipated that and created a much more structured format for this interview, probably a mostly scripted Q&A session with a set time for audience questions. The lesson for the rest of us is, if you have to go in front of an audience, make sure you have a good director and a solid script.
Here's the video of the interview, followed by close-up footage of the increasingly rebellious audience:
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