If you had to name one thing that could have been better at the last conference or meetup you attended, what would it be? I bet you’d say that the content or the interaction could have been better in some way. I createdOnslyde to solve this problem. It’s a free service and open-source project that (hopefully) will make public speaking easier and conferences better.

The motivation for the project came from my own speaking engagements in the tech industry. I wanted to see how many people in the audience actually agreed or disagreed with what I was saying. I also wanted to leverage their experience and knowledge to create a better learning environment.

Presentations today are mostly unidirectional, with a single presenter giving information to the audience. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now, with the ubiquity of mobile devices, everyone in the room can contribute to the conversation and make it better. Many books have been written on the topic of collective wisdom. In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki states:

“… a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts.”

For the past year, I have been putting this thesis to the test, enabling people to interact with and change the content that I deliver. It’s been a lot of fun and work, and now you get to see the result.

Ratings And Feedback

When we look at current systems of rating and feedback at conferences, most of them are reactive, meaning that participants rate the session after it’s over. This is why most people don’t even rate sessions, unless they are asked or forced to by the doorkeeper. Those who do rate sessions might not care to be accurate (giving all 5s or 4s and then hurrying to the coffee line). Other attendees might have enjoyed the majority of the talk, but then got upset by the last slide or by the way the speaker ended the talk.

If these people decided to rate the presentation, how many stars do you think they would give? Perhaps 3 or 4 stars because of their anger at the end, but who really knows? Without context, a low rating doesn’t tell the speaker which part of the talk an attendee didn’t like.

Real-time feedback gives context to a rating, making traditional feedback unnecessary. Conference organizers and speakers no longer have to rely solely on Twitter hash tags and reactive ratings to see how well things went. We can now visualize exactly how the audience felt at any millisecond of a presentation.

REAL-TIME RATINGS WITH ONSLYDE

Giving a presentation that allows for real-time feedback is like riding a bicycle down a really steep hill for the first time. You have no idea whether you will crash and burn or come out with an adrenaline-filled scream at the other end. And it’s just as much fun for the audience.

With Onslyde, you get an accurate measure from the audience while you’re speaking. If you see that a lot of people are disagreeing with what you’re saying, you can adapt: Ask audience members for their thoughts, or maybe move on to another topic. When you’re presenting, actually seeing how the audience collectively feels in real time and then responding accordingly is a very cool experience.

The worst thing a presenter can do is tell the audience something it already knows or say something totally wrong. The audience wants to be intrigued and entertained by you. But too many speakers seem to think this requires GIFs of cats. Well, I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun but I’m an adult now, and I don’t go to thousand-dollar conferences to look at funny pictures of cats. I do want to be able to challenge you, engage with the content and tell you when you’re wrong.

So, let’s talk about how the audience indicates whether you’re right or wrong. Onslyde’s remote control gives audience members between two and four ways to interact, depending on the type of session. It works for both normal presentations and panel discussions.

For presentations:

  • Any slide can be agreed or disagreed with.
  • Presenters can poll the audience by asking a question and giving two answers to choose from.
  • Remote devices are updated with content for each slide.

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