I enjoyed linking in to President Obama’s “Open For Questions” online town hall last Thursday. The format has much to recommend it, especially the fact that over 100,000 people cast over 3.5 million votes to pick the most relevant and useful questions.
But, as I outline in this boring video, my immediate reaction was that the event could have capitalized on its “onlininess” more. (The video is also embedded at the end of this piece.) It would have been very cool, for instance, for the top questioners to have been present (or linked on remotely) so they could ask follow ups. That would have created a give-and-take, but would have done so on the basis of crowdsourcing.
These thoughts were in my head the next day when I ran across a theater review by my friend Peter Marks. He reviews an after-show “talkback” and his description provides some great ideas for anyone who is seeking to create a participatory experience:
It would have been easy for Theater J’s artistic director, Ari Roth, to have turned the [talkback] . . . into a posturing focus-group gab-a-thon.
Instead, what transpired Wednesday night . . . amounted to a watershed in the evolution of immediate dialogue between a political play and its audience. . . . [T]he way Roth constructed the event, bringing together actors, theatergoers, experts and even, via e-mail, [the author] herself, conferred on it some of the formalized gravity of a symposium and the messy urgency of an emergency meeting.
It was, for this professional spectator, fascinating. . . . Listening to the sharp give-and-take became as integral to the experience, in fact, as listening to the eight fine actors seated around a table, reading from Churchill’s script and the scripts of two other playwrights. . . . The atmosphere will no doubt be altered each time this exercise occurs, and the formula might be difficult to replicate, depending on who leads the talk and who shows up to participate.
- Bring together disparate people (actors, audience, author)
- Use multiple channels (in-person, email)
- “Gravity” and “messiness” can coexist
This is also a great reminder of how much we have to learn, in public life, from our friends in the arts world.