Knowing the tone of the room

One of the toughest things I’ve encountered, as I attend meetings, speak on panels, do interviews, and go to conferences, is that you never quite know what the tone of the room will be like until you get there.  In other words, there are always a ton of different approaches you can take to a conversation, in terms of what you talk about and how you say it.  And I never seem to really know what the right one is until after it’s already happened.

I’m thinking about it today because this afternoon I did a short interview with Rick Karr (from PBS’s Blueprint for America, among other things) about open transit data and real-time bus & train information in NYC, for an upcoming episode of the Engadget Show.  Of course, now that the interview’s over, I’m thinking of all the witty things I could have said but didn’t.  But more importantly, thinking back, I wish I had thought harder about the audience and intention of the interview a bit more before going on air.  (Hat tip to Nick for suggesting exactly this a few days ago, but apparently it wasn’t quite enough.)

We talk a lot about open data, and open transit data in particular.  By and large, our audience consists of transit geeks, policy wonks, or bureaucrats (I mean all of those as terms of endearment); in each case, we dive into the policy and technical details of opening transit data.  That’s the mode I’ve been in: white papers, RFIs, formal letters, panel talks, etc.  Today’s interview was really for the consumer electronics crowd, and probably deserved a more gadgety/fun tone and emphasis than what I lead with.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out, and meanwhile I’ll continue on my quest to suss out the tone of the room before I get there…

// image courtesy of Best Online Stuff.  No relevance to this post, except that it was on the first page of google image results for “tone of the room“.

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