Using SMS for Presentation Questions

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about the disconnect between the conversation that happens face to face at forums and the conversations taking place simultaneously online using services like Twitter.

At the time, I was asked how I’d bring the online conversation into the real-world (face to face) conversation and suggested that having someone moderate online conversations could help identify interesting perspective and steer the forum’s path.

Today, I had a chance to test something close to this. I was presenting to a group of 200 real estate agents on about blogging for business. As an experiment, I set the first slide of the presentation to say, “Text Me:” followed by my cell phone number and explained that anyone in the audience could send me a question at any time. Additionally, I explained that unless they were already a contact of mine, I wouldn’t know who they were so feel comfortable asking whatever you’d like.

After that, I jumped into my prepared presentation. It wasn’t long (only minutes) before questions started coming in. My phone was sitting on the podium so I could glance over at messages and immediately repeat and address them for the audience.

The most common questions were requests for additional details on information I was presenting or had just presented. They were very relevant, and hitting me at exactly the right time for the conversation to keep flowing.

I found this to be a very positive experience. People provided very relevant real-time feedback on what interested them, allowing me to fine tune the presentation on the fly. I’m sure many of the questions would have been asked if the only option for posting questions was speaking up in front of the rest of the audience. Additionally, if questions were held until later, they would never get asked or we’d have to spend everyone’s time getting everyone back up to speed on a topic from 10 minutes ago before addressing the question.

What about Twitter?

Twitter could certainly be used for something like this, but that would require a large portion of the audience to use the service. And I’d have to filter through irrelevant Tweets coming in from friends around the world. This could be addressed by partnering with someone else who could moderate the Tweets. As the presenter, I could process direct messages in real time, but wouldn’t be able to effectively process higher volumes of messages without assistance.

Post-presentation, I had a chance to thank each of the 13 people who SMS’d me messages during the 1-hour presentation while driving to the airport to catch a fight. I also follow up on a few questions I didn’t have a chance to answer in much detail during the live hour.

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