The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever

The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever

Armed with laptops and smartphones, audiences today are no longer sitting quietly taking notes during live presentations. Instead, they’re carving out a new space in the room called the backchannel, where people are online searching for resources, checking your facts, and connecting with others inside the room and out.

When audiences are happy, the backchannel vastly extends the reach of ideas and creates a new sense of community and connectedness. But when they are unhappy, the inters

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3 Responses to “The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever”

  1. Ian D. Griffin says:
    7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Magnifying the Impact of a Speech, January 27, 2010
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    This review is from: The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever (Paperback)

    Effective public speaking is a challenge for many executives. They must prepare interesting content, overcome stage fright and deliver a speech that will hold the audience’s attention. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, they are increasingly likely to find themselves looking out at a sea of faces illuminated by the glow of laptops and PDAs. Social media is invading the auditorium, and rather than tuning out while a speech is delivered, people are turning on laptops and cell phones to send out text messages, broadcasting to the world their opinions of a presentation.

    In his new book Cliff Atkinson explains how these new forms of online communication are shifting the rules of engagement between audiences and presenters. Instead of sitting politely until it’s time for Q & A, people are going online during the address to swap comments and opinions via an electronic backchannel.

    At the very least, Atkinson claims, speakers and their communications support staff need to be aware that there is likely to be a backchannel in the room and learn how to monitor it or be left out of the conversation. Beyond this basic awareness, he encourages communicators to take the initiative and employ social media as an integral part of any executive’s presentation.
    Practical advice

    Atkinson’s book covers a lot of ground, from how to open a Twitter account to advice on expanding the conversation with the audience. He details how social media can transform a presentation from a one-off information dump into a longer-term relationship–one that starts before you step onto the podium. His advice includes:

    * Breaking a speech into “Twitter-sized chunks” to make it easier for people to post 140-character sound bites. One measure of success then becomes how many of these summary statements are posted and reposted online.

    * Using Twitter as a vehicle to extend your ideas to people outside the room, giving them a “virtual stage pass” to the event.

    * Creating instant polls using tools, such as Twtpoll and Poll Everywhere, to involve the audience.

    * Publishing a Presentation Home Page using wiki software. For example, I was inspired by Atkinson’s book to create […]/ listing my past and future talks. A Presentation Home Page is a convenient archive for reference material; blog postings; a Twitter feed; bio and contact information and more. This shifts the burden from overly busy PowerPoint slides as the sole way to communicate information. Also, by implementing a page like this prior to an event you initiate a backchannel that involves the audience, letting you gather comments and suggestions before you deliver the talk. After the event, the page becomes a repository for evaluation responses, blog postings, reference material and a transcript.

    Atkinson acknowledges there are both risks and rewards involved in the backchannel. It enables people to connect online and become part of a shared community, but at the risk of leaving out those who are unaware of what is happening. It gives the speaker a way to reach a wider audience, but at the risk of distracting the smooth delivery of material. It provides an archive for comments and opinions, but a series of 140-character notes can lack context. And there’s the very real risk that the comments people make on Twitter might lack civility and shock presenters with their sometimes brutal honesty.

    Though this approach is not for everyone, Atkinson describes a potent way in which social media allows a (frightening?) new level of transparency that speakers can use to transform a one-way stream of communication into a dialogue with the audience–before, during and after the speech.

    The Backchannel might not bring welcome news to presenters who are wedded to the old school ways of controlling audience response and involvement, but is clearly shows how you can magnify the impact of a speech using social media.

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  2. Thomas Duff "Duffbert" says:
    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Should be high on the reading list of every presenter (especially in the tech area)…, March 21, 2010
    By 
    Thomas Duff “Duffbert” (Portland, OR United States) –
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    This review is from: The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever (Paperback)

    I’ve been in conferences where people have twittered about the content, session, speaker, etc. But rarely have I seen a speaker take advantage of that backchannel conversation in order to shape and improve the quality of the presentation. Cliff Atkinson has written a book that every speaker (especially in the technical arena) should have high on their reading list… The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever. It’s critical to understanding exactly what Twitter brings into the presentation mix, whether you want it to be there or not.

    Contents:
    Why Are You Calling Me a #@*% on Twitter?; How to Join a Twitter Backchannel; The Rewards of the Backchannel; The Risks of the Backchannel; Preparing for the Backchannel; Making Your Ideas Twitter-Friendly; Joining the Backchannel in Conversation; Handling Instant Feedback from the Backchannel; Holding Together the Backchannel Experience; Appendix A – The Four Tweets Worksheet; Appendix B – The Twn Tweets Worksheet; Index

    The first part of the book starts out fairly basic, especially if you’re already aware of how Twitter can enhance a conference. Complete with some strong real-life examples, Atkinson shows how Twitter can be both a distraction and a benefit to a speaker, depending on whether they are prepared to deal with statements and opinions that may not be entirely complementary. Once you accept the fact that Twitter *will* be active during your presentation, Atkinson demonstrates how you can actively engage that backchannel and make your ideas more twitter-friendly. For instance, your key points should be such that they fit in the 140-character limit of Twitter. In fact, you can even use the “Four Tweets” concept to develop the outline of your presentation, making the entire session geared for twittering and sharing. You can really dive in deeply if you’d like and use his concept for a Twitter break to allow people to offer feedback which then gets incorporated into the next element of the presentation. Nothing like having real-time feedback as you talk…

    This book surprised me to a degree. I expected it to be a basic “here’s Twitter, and did you know people tweet about you when you talk?” volume. I was wrong. I hadn’t considered managing the backchannel to the degree that Atkinson explains, but I now see how it’s possible and how it’s beneficial to do so. These concepts, as well as the likelihood of a strong audience backchannel, seems like it would be more prevalent for tech presentations and conferences. But as Twitter continues to become more mainstream, I think that speakers *have* to be aware of how Twitter is going to function during your talk, whether you like the idea or not.

    Yes, it does seem like speakers have a ton of stuff to consider and incorporate in order to have a successful presentation. For better or worse, you now have one more… Twitter. The Backchannel should be on your reading list for both awareness of what happens during your presentation and for how to manage that conversation for the benefit of all involved.

    Disclosure:
    Obtained From: Publisher
    Payment: Free

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  3. Paul A. Baker "communicator" says:
    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Crucial new skills for presenters, December 28, 2009
    By 
    Paul A. Baker “communicator” (Madison, Wis., US) –
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    This review is from: The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever (Paperback)

    You’re comfortable presenting to audiences and you’re well prepared for this conference. But . . . . A minute into your presentation you notice that many people are busy texting on their mobile phones. Chances are they’re using Twitter to message each other about you and about your presentation. They may like you, or they may be encouraging each other to leave and check out another presentation. ‘The Backchannel’ provides anecdotes, case studies, a bit of communication theory, and how-to examples, to help you feel more comfortable as a presenter facing this new elephant in the room. Atkinson describes how to how to prepare for the backchannel, how to make your ideas Twitter-friendly, and how to manage this virtual conversation. At its worst, a backchannel conversation can get out of hand and degenerate into harsh criticism of your presentation in real time. Atkinson provides examples of speakers falling prey to negative comments and how they have succeeded, or failed, in defraying the tension. On the other hand, speakers can learn how to use the backchannel conversation as a rich source of information that can engage the audience and improve the presentation.

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