So i'm still in shock at what happened a few hours ago at SXSW during the Sarah Lacy interview of Mark Zuckerberg. I'd like to be nice about it & i feel for Sarah, but to be brutally honest i don't think i've ever seen such a complete & utter train wreck of an interview before.
As several of us noted in the audience and in the twitter avalanche that ensued (almost a pseudo-sxsw backchannel, tweets were flying so fast), it was an astonishing case of Nuclear Fucking Fail.
It was uncomfortable from the very beginning, and not just because of Mark's well-known shy nature. Sarah conducted the interview in a very personal fashion, assuming a familiarity with Mark that was obvious she didn't really have. Whether or not she's interviewed him 30+ hours for her upcoming book, she just never connected well... with either him, and most especially NOT with the audience.
Now Mark can admittedly be a challenging interview, and it might be normal for a reporter of even Sarah's stature to be slightly nervous interviewing him in front of 2,000 SXSWers, but her laughter and self-references and flirty-style of discussion just weren't working. She seemed to enjoy talking about her relationship with Mark as an interviewer (or other?), more than asking him questions about Facebook or Platform or Beacon, or anything relevant to what the geeks in the audience wanted to hear about.
But it didn't stop there.
In the face of growing rumbled dissatisfaction from the crowd, Sarah continued to have a tough time asking mark a direct question, and ultimately ended up creating an adversarial relationship with the crowd that became palpably vicious. At one point she exclaimed to the crowd "you don't know how hard my job is up here", and then complained "i'm trying ask interesting questions... you think you guys can do any better?" After asking the audience to come ask their own questions, she even went as far as saying "if you guys think i suck so bad, why don't you send me an email?", to which the next questioner responded immediately "what's your email address?". the crowd exploded with a roar that clearly indicated they were not Sarah's friends by any means.
At that point most of us were in complete and utter shock at what we were watching. Several folks i know (like 7 or 8, not just 2 or 3) stated they had never seen anything like it, and that quite possibly it was the worst tech interview they'd ever seen. NOTE: I'm not trying to attack Sarah here, and i wish this weren't the story... but it clearly was. We all kept hoping it would get back on even footing, and it just never did.
In hindsight, we all wondered: WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?
well i might not have all the answers, but i think i know what went wrong...
The Problem: Sarah Lacy isn't a Geek.
Note to Brandee: Mark Zuckerberg is a geek. He surrounds himself with geeks. He feels comfortable with geeks. He opens up & talks to geeks about stuff they have in common: technology, APIs, making cool shit that changes the world, and most important.... talking to other geeks.
So if you want to put your CEO at ease & make him sound like a star, here's two suggestions:
1) Find an interviewer who lets him talk about tech, and how he's changing the world with it.
2) Find an interviewer who's ALSO a geek, and can at least relate to him on that level.
My guess is Mark will never turn into Steve Jobs, but i'm pretty sure he's one of the most brilliant geeks around, and that when you get him on a subject he's familiar with, and talking to someone he's comfortable with -- and not someone who's more interested in hitting on him -- he'll probably surprise us all with how eloquent he sounds.
that is, as long as it's about stuff he wants to talk about.
and who know? if you let him be who he is, and let him talk to someone who's more like him, maybe he might just turn into Bill Gates. that guy's a geek too, but he seems like he turned out ok.