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It’s very disconcerting …

… to be giving a presentation whilst the audience is tweeting their comments onto a screen behind your head. Perhaps that’s going to be the way of the future.

For me, it was very much my yesterday. Yesterday evening, to be precise, as a guest speaker at the mallowstreet debate, proposing a motion favouring the abolition of mark-to-market accounting of pension scheme liabilities.

At any given time, about 20% of the audience seemed to be tapping away on their mobiles and the other 80% seemed to be looking at the screen displaying their comments (see twitter page, #msdebate). Was anyone listening to a word that was being spoken?

Perhaps the most telling remark of the evening was the speaker from the floor who adapted Churchill’s famous remark (about democracy) to say that mark-to-market is the worst method of accounting we have – apart from all the others.

Those in favour of mark-to-market seemed to praise it for all sorts of things other than accounting. Those against failed to persuade the audience that there was a suitable alternative. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be one, but Joanne Segers, CEO of the National Association of Pension Funds and Chair of the evening’s debate, said the NAPF is working hard to come up with one. If last night helped to persuade a few more people of the urgency of that search, it will all have been worthwhile.

Amazingly, despite my fears that everyone was focussing on twitter, not the debate, it seems that many people can handle both at once. Some of the tweets were most perceptive. Some, not so much. During one speaker’s presentation, it suddenly dawned on a twittering audience member that if you listen to the sound of the organiser’s chosen hashtag, #msdebate, it’s not something one should do in a room with 200 observers.

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