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Earlier this year I attended an event at which one speaker used Twitter to gather audience questions and then answer key themes at the end. He did not allow this to interrupt the presentation but it was made clear that questions would not be a 'hands up' affair. More and more speakers are now aware of and monitoring their presentation 'backchannel' (a new marketing buzz word for the bingo card). 

Yesterday, I read an interesting article from Jeremiah Owyang outlining how speakers should integrate social into their presentation. Whilst I don’t agree with all of Jeremiah’s points (I will elaborate), I think speakers need to be aware that the penetration of social apps on mobile devices is making real-time commentary increasingly relevant.

What is the presentation backchannel?

The backchannel is the discussion about you or your presentation that takes places in other media, whether that is online or offline. The most direct channel where this is happening is on social networks like Twitter.

This backchannel is real-time. Social media has expanded event dissection from the general hubbub of physical event networking spaces into online communities.

I have direct experience of this. At Internet World, when I was not on the exhibition stand or attending seminars, I tweeted live from the event. I talked about the organisation of the event as well as the content of presentations. Included was constructive criticism of issues that made the event experience less than ideal.

Why do speakers need to be aware of this backchannel?

The number of mobile devices with social media apps increases daily. By Feb 2009, O2 had sold over 1m iPhone handsets alone. Social networking uptake on mobile devices is increasing rapidly. Pyramid Research predicts that by 2012 there will be 950 million users accessing social via their mobile devices.

What does this mean to speakers?

  • People can comment on what is happening in real-time wherever they have a mobile signal.
  • Networkers use mobile to tweet live updates from events to their networks.
  • Updates generate discussion across network tendrils, spreading reach globally.
  • Speaker comments reach people as third party news, without the live context.
  • Information can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) and shaped based on personal viewpoint.
  • Conversation will take place without the context of the live event.
  • If you don’t manage your speaker ‘brand’ your reputation can be affected.

Take a peek at the commentary the Higher Education Conference in the US generated on Twitter to see how social can influence speaker reputation and event credibility.

How can social support presentations?

Whether we like it or not, people can quickly talk about presentations to their personal/professional networks and affect reputations. We need to factor this into public appearances and learn to use social to manage this effectively. A few pointers:

  • Relevance. Don’t fuss over the role of social media if your audience is not suited.
  • Let your audience know that you will be using the social channel to field questions from attendees, their networks and external audiences. Twitter is ideal for this.
  • Use tools like Twitter to aggregate feedback and respond appropriately. My recommendation is at the end of a presentation though you may prefer, as Jeremiah suggests, to react during.
  • Use support. Have someone monitor the live social feed and manage this on your behalf whilst you present, they can flag up critical issues.
  • Real time response. Let your support manage the social channel and respond to important comments and work with influencers to manage the backchannel.
  • Post event response. Manage the conversation and your reputation via your blog and social channels. Respond to comments, both positive and negative and encourage debate.

Avoid social media disrupting face-to-face communication

I’m not enthused by Jeremiah’s ‘two-fisted speaking’ concept. I want to see face-to-face communication enhanced not sacrificed in the drive to maximise the potential of social networking. As a speaker, I believe your priority is the audience that has paid/made the effort to come and listen to you. Focus your energy on the explicit/implicit communication of the live event.

Manage the backchannel as an integral part of your event planning but make it a secondary objective. Enlist the support of a competent and social media savvy colleague who can monitor the external conversations and manage these in real-time. Then after the event you can digest the conversation and respond in a reasoned and rational manner, not compromised by the adrenalin and emotion of presenting. Your blog would be one option.

In my experience, presenting to a live audience, whilst enjoyable and rewarding, is stressful and demanding. Trying to manage the people in front of you whilst scanning your mobile device to manage your virtual community risks compromising your speaker skills and impact.

Take-away thoughts

  • Mobile devices will continue to increase conversation about events.
  • Your speaker backchannel is an important part of event planning.
  • You need to manage your personal brand when presenting.
  • You should use social media to enhance, not disrupt, your presentations.
  • You should consider event support to help steer real-time feedback.
  • Do not lose sight of the needs and expectations of your live audience.

I think that the role social networking can play in providing feedback on events/speakers is really exciting.  Perhaps this will reduce the need for and even replace traditional solicitations of event feedback, offline and online. Will event questionnaires become a thing of the past and social monitoring become the new tool?

I would be interested in your thoughts in this application of social tools so please share comments to fuel the debate.

James Gurd

Published 19 October, 2009 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

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Comments (12)

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Rebecca Wheeler

I visited ad:tech last month and found myself compelled to tweet and blog about the seminars I attended.

While my blog focussed on the more positive aspects of the seminar programme, with the aim of passing on knowledge that might be useful to my readers, I utilised Twitter to voice my frustration about speakers who chose to use their "educational" slots as 30 minute sales pitches for their company.

Exhibitors and speakers need to be aware that feedback - good and bad - is now much more visible and social media users certainly aren't afraid to voice their opinions. Monitoring social networks and integrating feedback will only become more and more important in the future.

about 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Rebecca

Thanks for the comment - it is indeed interesting that people are increasingly using Twitter for real time feedback, so public presenters need to monitor conversations and learn how to respond to them and incorporate where relevant in the live discussion. I think it is an excellent way to get feedback on your presenting skills, the danger is people not there taking comments out of context, demonstrated by the backchannel of the Higher Ed Conference I linked to.

Thanks

james

about 7 years ago

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Vickie Smith-Siculiano, PMP

I attended OMMA Global in NYC recently, and was drawn to the big screen TV which had the hashtag filter for the conference (#OMMAGLOBAL), and like a moth to a flame, I was tweeting about the event with the hashtag and took a picture when it posted to the world with my mobile phone iimmediately.

And the conference was a digital conference, so everyone was connected and tweeting their questions - it was a great way to get them answered immediately without hoping you'd be seen with your hand raised.

And I'd also like to say that the reverse is true, presentations need to be woven into social media.  Slideshare is a great tool - it doesn't have to just end with the event, and not everyone takes advantage of it, and should!  We thank you.

Vickie

@Vickie_Smith

about 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Vickie

Great comment about the reverse, weaving your presentation into social media after the event via tools like SlideShare. I'm seeing more and more people do this and also use tools like YouTube.

thanks

james

about 7 years ago

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Phil Wilson

Though you elude to this in your takeaways but incorporating the back channel into your presentation in real time rarely, if ever makes sense and, I believe, shows a lack of respect for your audience. The back channel is just that a BACK channel. Like it or not, it's a way for your audience to voice their opinions, pose their questions, and share your presentation with others. It doesn't interupt the presentation so why interupt your own presentation by montoring or responding to it. This will lead to sloppy and disjointed presentations.

As a presenter your priority is to deliver your point to your live audience. Being consumed with adjusting that message because of real-time feedback is a recipe for disaster. Of course if your presentation is focused on  the back channel then all bets are off. But I'm not sure we want to focus on texts, tweets and live blogging in a live situation. Then what would be the point of being there in person.

Post or pre-presentation use of the back channel to start or continue the conversation or to adjust the next presentation is great. Do it! Go nuts! But during the presentation focus on your responsibility at hand and respect all of your audience. Not just the ones who tweets or text.

A final point, the concept of a displaying live tweets on a separate screen that scrolls throughout the presentaiton, something I've seen more than once, is the dumbest thing you can do if you want someone to listen to you.

about 7 years ago

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Davina K. Brewer

I agree that a speakers priority should be the audience that's right in front of them; those that have invested their time, effort and/or money to learn something.

Event support is a good idea: have someone else keeping track of questions and comments, give the speaker a summary highlight at the end for Q&A.  And of course, know your audience b/c not all audiences will be as plugged into social media as others.

about 7 years ago

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Olivia Mitchell

Hi James

I agree with you that while you're presenting, your priority should be connecting with your audience. For most people, that's incompatible with trying to scan the twitterstream at the same time.

The alternative to having a support person to monitor the twitterstream and flag issues for you is to take Twitter/question breaks at planned points in your presentation. You use that time to scan the twitterstream for questions or issues that you need to address and address them "out-loud". It's also a time for traditional Q&A.

I also think that you can go further than just monitoring and reacting to the twitterstream. You can use Twitter as another tool for engaging your audience. Some things you can do:

  • Craft your main messages from your presentation into "tweetbites" and schedule them to post during your presentation
  • Ask questions of the audience and ask them to respond via Twitter.
  • Encourage people to ask their questions via Twitter and display the questions on the screen.

There are now tools for doing these things. I've written a round-up of these tools http://www.speakingaboutpresenting.com/twitter/10-tools-presenting-with-twitter/

Olivia

about 7 years ago

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Olivia Mitchell

...another thought.

I think you're missing an opportunity as a presenter if you wait till after the presentation to respond to feedback.

The beauty of the Twitter backchannel is that it's realtime feedback - it's like being able to read your audience's minds while you're presenting. You can find out if your content is meeting the needs of your audience while you can still do something about it.

I agree that this is challenging to do - but I think it's what we should aspire to as presenters.

Olivia

about 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Olivia

Thanks for the link and your comments.

I like the idea of scheduled breaks provided it does not disrupt the flow of the presentation.

I agree that waiting might miss an opportunity, i'm still debating in my own mind the relative merits of real time reaction (as Jeremiah alluded to) v waiting til the end to focus on the core presentation. I guess as with anything, testing different approaches would provide feedback.

I'm still not a fan of the screen idea - the last thing I want as a speaker is a large distraction looming over my shoulder encouraging people to look at that and not focus on me - I worry that the screen will negate the need for the speaker in the first place. I think that could encourage people to lose focus and attention, something that drives me mad generally as some people can't be away from their mobile device for more than 5 mins without having a panic attack.

Thanks

james

about 7 years ago

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Olivia Mitchell

Hi James

Re: the presentation flowing, it depends what you mean by this. If you mean having a logical structure where each point logically flows from the one before, I agree that's important. But I also think that that type of flow is not damaged by breaks.

But flow can also mean the momentum we feel as a presenter. That type of flow can be interrupted by breaks. But this type of flow is only important to us as presenters. It's not important to the audience. In fact the audience is best-served by frequent breaks. They will take in more if you present information in spaced chunks with breaks, than if you give them all the information at once.

Re: displaying the screen. I agree with you that most of the time displaying the screen will be immensely distracting. But if you use Twitter as a participation tool (eg: for people to ask questions, or to respond to a question you've asked) then it can be effective to display the screen just at those times that you want it.

Olivia

about 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Olivia

I'm enjoying reading your thoughts.

I can see the merit in taking short breaks and integrating with the backchannel that way to address key points and interact.

I'm still not convinced by the screen. Stick the TV on in a room and conversation stops. Put a big screen near a speaker, I would expect attention to waver and the spoken word be diluted - I know it would distract me.

I would want the speaker to maintain control over the interaction and respond directly, not allow an audience free reign to hijack the session through in-tweeting....unless you have set-up a speaker slot purely to have a Twitterthon of course.

Interesting discussion - I look forward to seeing how this progresses at live events. Please keep in touch with your ideas/experiences

thanks

james

about 7 years ago

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silicon beach training

It is imperative that speakers are now aware of the backchannel. Look at what happened at the Social Media Conference “HighEdWeb 2009: Open. Connected” Details of the twitter heckling of the keynote speaker here.

almost 7 years ago

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