Speaking to a Social Audience

an interview with
Jenny Dervin Vice President of Corporate Communications, JetBlue

I had the pleasure of seeing Jenny Dervin, VP of Corporate Communications at JetBlue, speak at the recent BDI All Stars Conference. Jenny is a big fan of speaking to social media-engaged audiences (her “peeps”) and based on the live feedback she receives via Twitter, the feeling is mutual.

DN: Is it harder to engage an audience than it was 5 years ago before WiFI connectivity was a conference mandatory?
I think it’s harder to be in the audience than to be on stage.  As a speaker, you can always find someone in the audience who is looking at you, so you can make a connection.  But I noticed yesterday that as I sat through the other presentations, I found myself looking at the live Tweet stream, the speaker, and to my own iPad.  I was very tempted to tweet what I was hearing but I was too busy listening!

DN: At BDI, at least 3/4 of the audience seemed to have a laptop or iPad open while you were speaking.  Do you find yourself wanting to say, hey turn those devices off and pay attention?
OMG! No!  They may have had the devices open but I had no problem at all finding people to make eye contact with!  I think the body language tells you if they’re paying attention – it’s far more distracting to see people whispering to each other than it is to see someone tapping on an iPad.

DN: Would it be worth trying to get the audience to shut down their devices momentarily while you speak?
Actually, I love it when people live-tweet during remarks I give.  I go back in the stream to see what landed, based on how many people tweeted the same quote, how many retweets there are, etc.  It’s an instant evaluation of my key messages – did they land? If not, what did? It’s very instructive!  Also – I see it as a digital way of taking notes.  I think and process ideas and new information by doodling or writing them down – it may look like I’m not paying attention but I am, and I’m engaging the creative, associative side of my brain as well.  But all of that is said with the assumption that they’re tweeting about what they’re hearing!  I have absolutely no problem with devices being used while I speak.

DN: Knowing that your audience is on Twitter while you speak, are you thinking while you write your speech—gee that line will make a great tweet?
I don’t think that consciously, but I do think and write in terms of key messages – what I want to impart to the audience.  I try to boil my ideas down to the essence – that becomes my chapter header – and then walk that concept out through examples and so on.  Sometimes those chapter headers are twitter-worthy.  Sometimes not.

DN: Are social media conferences harder to engage than say a group of accountants who aren’t necessarily trying to be the first to share what they just heard?
No – just the opposite for me!  The audience at social media conferences are more of my tribe – we speak the same language.  Accountants, as our example here, would make me far more nervous because I worry that in my effort to relate to them, I bungle it.  When I speak to non-communicator audiences, I try to give a tad more background in my case studies so the audience has a flavor of how communicators make decisions and why things like meeting deadlines are important.  Not relating to the audience or at the very least, not entertaining the audience while educating them a little, is a recurring nightmare for me.

DN: At the BDI Conference, you used an ipad for your speaking notes—how did that work?
Better than I expected!  I didn’t have time to print my notes, so I thought, why not?  It helped me stay on track of my key points, but it was a little disconcerting to move from my iPad to the laptop (to advance the slides).

DN: Do you get any feedback from these events and if so, why kind of adjustments have you made based on this feedback?
I do, and I welcome it!  I have learned that I have no respect for time, so I try to keep my remarks within the time frame.  I’ve also learned to speak more slowly – you can still hear a difference in pacing between my prepared remarks and Q&A.

Looking through the twitter stream after I speak is extremely informative.  I think it helps hone my instincts so the next time I sit down to prepare remarks, I have the lessons learned from the prior experiences helping me become more quotable or relatable.

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