Should amplified events include a quiet area for delegates who do not want to take part? In this post we consider attitudes towards noise and privacy at amplified events and ask whether the quiet area still has a role to play in an effective event amplification strategy.
When we first started amplifying events in 2009, event organisers were concerned about how disruptive wireless-enabled devices could be for other delegates. The use of ‘quiet carriages’ on trains in the UK inspired organiser Brian Kelly to suggest that we offer a ‘quiet area’ in the main auditorium at IWMW 2009, initially to allow delegates to stay away from the tap-tap-tapping noise of people using laptops. There was a modest uptake among the technology-focussed audience, and since then we have seen fewer events considering a quiet area as part of their event amplification strategy.
As event amplification becomes more embedded, this seems like a good point to review the value of a quiet area at amplified events and to evaluate the need for further evidence to guide best practice in this area. In this post I will outline the key points to consider when offering a quiet area, and discuss whether there is really a demand for quiet areas at most events.
Offering a Quiet Area
Quiet from what?
Having decided to offer a quiet area, you to decide what is supposed to be quiet in this space. Do you simply want to offer a space where the use of laptops and mobile phones are not permitted? Or do you want to combine this with a space where people can avoid being included in any video or photography recorded?
Where should it be situated?
The temptation is to locate the quiet area at the back of the room, but this can risk marginalising this section of the audience and limit their ability to engage as effectively as they would like, particularly if they cannot see the slides as well or are not as visible to the chairperson during Q&A sessions.
If the aim of quiet area is to provide a refuge for those who do not want to appear in video footage, it is actually better to situate them in front of the video cameras, where only the backs of their heads will be visible, which often means the front two rows of the room/auditorium. The bonus of this arrangement is that the people in speaker’s immediate eye line are not hidden behind their laptop screens, which may help with their confidence and perception of the audience.
Letting the audience know about the quiet area
Announcements about the presence of videographers and photographers are often communicated by the chair person during their opening housekeeping notices. This is usually too late for people to make an informed decision about where to sit to avoid exposure, and some will stay put rather than risk the embarrassment of moving seats. A note about the availability of a quiet area should be included in joining instructions for the event so attendees can ask about this on arrival.
Clear signage of the quiet area is essential if it is to work effectively, along with a clear statement about what attendees can/can’t do or should expect in terms of privacy. A reusable note on each seat is the best way to communicate this.
Do audiences really WANT a quiet area?
The answer to this question comes in two parts, and is based entirely on anecdotal evidence from the events I have attended. There is no data to indicate audience attitudes with any degree of confidence, particularly across sectors.
Quiet from noise
The use of electronic devices has become so pervasive in our culture since we started amplifying events in 2009 that it has become an accepted part of many events. From an amplification perspective this is a good thing, as it means people can share, discuss and fact check more easily throughout a talk. Speakers do have to work harder to keep delegates’ attention, but that means that we should gradually see a trend towards more dynamic, engaging speakers!
Individual event communities and industry sectors do still vary in attitude. At events where the use of laptops, tablets and smartphones by audiences are accepted as standard, those who dislike them will not usually complain about their presence. The associated typing noise may be irritating, but we rarely receive complaints or a request for a separate seating area. If someone types particularly violently, an objecting delegate will just move away. People usually prefer to sit with colleagues or acquaintances, rather than in a separate area. At events where the use of such devices is not considered appropriate etiquette, there can be more friction if the organiser wants to encourage amplification. In such circumstances, it may be better to reverse the concept and offer a ‘laptop zone’ with extra power supplies and a stronger wifi signal, if possible.
Quiet from invasions of privacy
I usually encounter one or two delegate at each event who do not wish to be filmed or photographed for a variety of reasons, although at certain types of event (such as showcases and exhibitions) it is virtually impossible to oblige. The best we can offer is a take down service after the event.
However, when an event is being live streamed, I believe this isn’t sufficient. Whilst we can advise those who are proactive and approach us before the event starts, my concern is that there may be others who would prefer not to feature in the footage but do not wish to make a fuss or have other concerns that prevent them from coming forward.
For this reason, I think the original idea of a ‘quiet area’ needs to evolve into a ‘privacy area’, promoted in advance, to allow delegates the freedom to choose where to sit in confidence.
When we started amplifying events in 2009, the use of wireless-enabled devices at conferences was just emerging at technology focussed events. It wasn’t clear whether the use of such devices would be tolerated at conferences, particularly beyond the technology sector. As their use has become more pervasive, attitudes at conferences seem to have shifted. There is scope to study attitudes towards privacy at conferences further to help establish best practice and inform conference organisers looking to integrate amplification into their events.