Of all the things that I thought I would do in 2013, tweeting from the White House was not one of them. But last Tuesday night I got to do just that. And for the State of the Union Address no less!
“What? How!?!” were the first words from most people.
“How!?!” is a fair question seeing as I don’t work on the Hill or for the government and my day job and general activities really have nothing to do with politics. Riiight.
My answer, “I applied? And they picked me?”
What I was selected for was a White House Social (#WHSocial), an event that allows people to watch the State of the Union (#SOTU) from inside the White House while chatting about it on various social media platforms.
To be honest, I didn’t even know that such a thing existed until a few weeks ago. And when I heard about it (via Twitter), whelp, I just thought it sounded too awesome NOT to apply. So on a whim, I did.
I never actually thought they’d pick me though. Turns out 2,000 people applied for 100 spots, so when I got the email confirming my participation, I was shocked and pretty confident that there was some mistake. “Really? Me? Well, okay. Let’s do this!”
So I was in, but I still didn’t know what that really meant. What I did know was that I was ridiculously excited and could sense a reciprocal giddiness from the others selected – it took all of about five seconds for us to find each other on Twitter.
A House of White
Tuesday morning of the big day came and about 35 of the #WHSocial team gathered for a tour of the White House. In my mind, we would have a guide lead us through the East Wing and take us beyond the public rooms seen by everyone who tours the Executive Mansion.
That was not to be. Instead, we walked the general East Wing route on our own.
I’d done this same “tour” at Christmas-time (with much more to look at, re: decorations) and at that time photography was encouraged. This time around, it was strictly prohibited. Ummm, what? This amateur photog was crestfallen.
However, IT WAS STILL A TOUR OF THE EFFING WHITE HOUSE. So really, I can’t complain.
After our jaunt through the President’s Casa, everyone was on their own for the rest of the day. For those of us that lived locally, that meant going back to work – whomp whomp.
“It is my task to report the State of the Union” – John F. Kennedy
Fast forward to 7:30pm when we all reconvened outside the south entrance to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (For those not familiar, when people say they work at the White House, more often than not, they work here; it’s the building directly adjacent to the WH).
I wouldn’t say check-in went perfectly; the sheer number of people meant that it was a slow process, but eventually everyone was verified and properly badged.
Inside the gates and into the South Court Auditorium we went. While I connected to wifi, seemingly every other attendee queued up to take a picture of themselves with the White House logo.
Don’t get me wrong, it was cool. WE WERE IN THE WHITE HOUSE! (well, the Exec Building, but basically). I just couldn’t see standing in line to take a photo with an empty stage. But I digress….
Soon everyone was seated, the lights dimmed and the screen at the front of the room transported us to the House of Representatives in the Capitol Building, just as the First Family was making their way into the chamber.
As #WHSocial was social media shindig and everyone had at least one device going, the room had a subtle digital glow that would have warmed Steve Jobs’ heart.
And, all I could hear was the feverish tapping of screens and keyboards coming for every direction. We were a people obsessed.
One of the reasons for organizing the #WHSocial was to highlight the enhanced version of the State of the Union – which provided graphics and data to back up the President’s words – available by watching the speech on whitehouse.gov.
To be honest, between trying to see the screen, listening intently to the speech, tweeting and playing #SOTU Bingo (you heard right), I barely saw the enhancements.
Aside from a flash of #notimpressed with McKayla Maroney during the equal pay for equal work segment, not much stuck with me. AND I only looked up at that time because the room erupted into giggles.
Going back and re-watching the speech after the fact, I can say that the enhancements were a welcome edition that helped give the President’s words resonance – maybe just not ideal for a large group/small screen set-up.
WH.gov also rolled out an awesome interactive way to respond to the speech – scroll down for the full text, click a sentence of interest and respond directly. (No, they didn’t ask me to say that, I just really genuinely think it’s inspired.)
How to Make a Speech Epic
Having been in DC for a few years, I’ve watched debates, speeches, addresses, etc in various environments and have determined that two things (okay, three if you include booze) make them more enjoyable and impactful.
1. Watching with a group. There’s nothing like being in a room full of people engaged in a speech and simultaneously breaking out into thunderous applause or laughter. It’s magical. Really.
2. Games. Yeah, I know. How pedestrian of me. But this is America; we like games. And for those of us not engrossed in politics as a career, games during speeches is like cat videos on the internet – they just makes it better. So I threw together a #SOTU Bingo game that over 50 people (via twitter, Facebook, email and other #WHSocial participants in person) played with me.
So #WHSocial had both these elements going for it. And what’s more, the group in question was keenly interested and invested in the content; they all applied to be there! They were an active group versus a passive audience that you might have found at any number of bars around the District that night.
They Got Me
Immediately after the speech, a distinguished panel of White House policy makers filed onto the stage for a live-stream #WHChat that over 60,000 people watched!
The panel fielded questions for those of us in the audience as well as from various social media channels. This meant, unfortunately, that we didn’t get watch Marco Rubio’s Opposition Response (re: epic quenching of thirst).
But #WHChat was worth it. I was so impressed with panelists’ knowledge (and the fact that there were seven of them!) as they answered questions on everything from Cyber Security to Immigration to LGBT rights.
And man, was the audience into the panel! Each time they asked for a new question, dozens of hands shot into the air, each vying to demonstrate their eagerness to be selected. (As I said, it was an active group!)
For me, that enthusiasm (which was present all day long) was hands-down the best part of #WHSocial.
Being around passionate, involved people makes you want to be equally passionate and involved. And I think that was the point.
Sneaky White House…you got me.
*My participation in #WHScoial was voluntary. All opinions are my own. It was truly an honor to have been invited to take part.