Tag Archives: backchannel

You, in the back. Stop looking at me and start tweeting.

Jeff Hurt reports on a study that suggests tweeting during a class isn’t distracting – it actually increases engagement:

Education Professor Christine Greenhow, Michigan State University, conducted a study on Twitter as a new form of literacy. Her results showed that adults who tweet during a class and as part of the instruction:

  • are more engaged with the course content
  • are more engaged with the instructor
  • are more engaged with other students
  • and have higher grades than the other students.

via Now Proven! Using Twitter At Conferences Increases Attendee Engagement.

So the next time you look up from your speaking notes into a sea of heads bent over laptops, tablets and mobile devices, don’t despair – as long as they’re tweeting and not, say, checking their email, your audience may be more engaged with you than ever.

Filed under: Social Speech, Speaking Tagged: backchannel, twitter

Social Speech Podcast, Episode 7: Chris Brogan

For several years now, Chris Brogan’s blog has been a must-read for anyone who wants to use social media productively. Add his thriving practice as a speaker, the fact that he co-founded PodCamp, and his New York Times bestseller Trust Agents (cowritten with Julien Smith) along with two other books (Google+ for Business: How Google’s Social Network Changes Everything and Social Media 101)…

and his now-legendary 2009 presentation at New Media Atlanta, where he brought an angry backchannel into the open and won it over…

…and you have a shoo-in for the social speech hall of fame — not to mention someone well worth listening to on the subject of social media and public speaking.

Especially because he’ll explain what you, as a speaker, can have in common with the Grateful Dead.

The links:

Social Speech Podcast, Episode 3: Maggie Fox

This episode: Social Media Group founder and CEO Maggie Fox

Only a few years ago, business – especially non-tech Fortune 500 business – was pretty skeptical about social media. One of the first people to break through that barrier was Maggie Fox, CEO of Social Media group. And she did it by creating solid strategies rooted in tangible business goals, breaking ground with companies like Ford.

Our conversation looks at everything from handling the backchannel to how you can stand out as a smallfrog presented in a big pond conference. And here are some links relating to our discussion:

Also from the podcast: I’m heading to San Francisco for NTEN‘s Nonprofit Technology Conference next week. And I’ll be speaking at Ignite NTC on the social speech. I’d love to see you there!



Using social media to turn your next speech into an ongoing conversation

For all the effort that goes into a speech – especially a big one – they’re over surprisingly quickly. You reach a few dozen, a few hundred or (if you have a huge crowd) a few thousand people for a brief while, and then you walk off the stage, and the audience walks out the door.

For a few minutes, you’ve made a significant connection with those people. But all the potential relationships and conversations that could arise from that connection walk out the door with them.

That’s why a growing number of speakers are using social media and online networks to start building those relationships, and expand both their audience and their impact. From Twitter hashtags to YouTube clips, public speaking – the oldest broadcast medium there is – is rapidly embracing the digital realm.

And over the next few weeks, this blog will look at some of the ways you can use social tools to turn those one-speech stands into ongoing relationships.

I can imagine a lot of speakers’ and speechwriters’ hackles going up right now. You’re already going to an incredible amount of effort: writing, reviewing, rehearsing, preparing slides. Why would you add even more work?

Actually, because you’re going to so much effort. You want to see as much of a return as possible on all that hard work. And just as social tools have dramatically increased the potential audience for everyone from writers to photographers to (cough) cartoonists, they can do (and are doing) the same for speakers.

You have an audience far outside the walls of whatever meeting room, banquet hall or conference center you’re in. Why not address them too? And for that matter, the people who are attending your speech are probably going to be interested in what you have to say before and after your speech as well as during those 20 minutes when you’re behind the mic. Why not give them a way to engage with you apart from sitting and passively listening?

speaker surprised to discover she isn't the only one with a megaphoneAnd while right now that’s an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, it won’t long before it’s the norm. Audience expectations are changing, as nearly every one-to-many communication channel they use is opening up to many-to-many conversation. It won’t be long before participating in Twitter backchannels is the minimum level of engagement many speakers are expected to offer.

Just what that looks like differs from speaker to speaker. For some, it means expanding their reach by posting clips from their speech on YouTube and Vimeo, and uploading the slides to Slideshare. For others, it means crowdsourcing some of their material by posing questions on LinkedIn and Facebook. And for still others, it means carrying on conversations with their online and face-to-face audiences — via their blogs before and after their speech, and via a hashtag-based chat while they’re on-stage.

All of this can be powerful… but much more so when those individual tools are integrated into an overall strategy to connect, converse and collaborate.

One caveat: there aren’t any guarantees. It’s not like social media magic will turn a dull speech into a viral success (at least, not one you’ll appreciate – a few million views on a YouTube video labelled “Can You Believe How Long This Guy Goes On About Carriage Bolts?” may not be what you’re looking for.)

But when you do have a compelling message (and what other kind of speech is really worth giving?) then your network can magnify it many times over – and help it become a conversation with many of the people you want to reach the most.

Book Review: "The Backchannel"

Intro paragraph with hoverpodiumJust as newspapers are scrambling to adjust to a world of blogs and YouTube, speakers are suddenly discovering they’re not the only ones in the room who have a microphone. Tools like Twitter and wireless connectivity have broken the monopoly of the speech on, well, speech.

While a presenter is at the front of the room clicking through PowerPoint slides, audience members are talking back – and talking to each other. Speeches are becoming conversations, with the emergence of what’s become known as the backchannel.

Cover of The BackchannelThat’s also the title of a new book by Cliff Atkinson. His previous book, Beyond Bullet Points, helped power a movement away from text-heavy slideshows where the speaker served mainly as a narrator, and toward more engaging presentations supported, not governed, by PowerPoint.

That positions him well to help speakers cope with this new, digitally-enabled virtual note-passing, and The Backchannel does that well. He blends well-told stories (and a few cautionary tales) from key moments in the backchannel’s development with solid, practical advice for speakers who want to join the conversation – as well as event organizers who want to make that conversation as productive as possible. And the technical know-how Atkinson offers – such as an introduction to Twitter and a discussion of tools for monitoring backchannel conversations – is solid.

More importantly, this isn’t an evangelical tract. While Atkinson is certainly preaching from the gospel of conversation, he isn’t religious about the technology. He does a good job of honestly portraying the backchannel’s warts as well as its wonders, and doesn’t shy away from stories of notorious trainwrecks. He recommends against the increasingly-common practice of projecting the backchannel onscreen during a presentation, with rare exceptions; It distracts from the presentation, and interferes with the speaker’s rapport with the audience. Better instead to have someone monitoring the backchannel and pulling out questions for the speaker to answer during periodic Twitter breaks.

(speaker dwarfed by backchannel in background)

But for a book of relatively few pages, he has some larger ambitions – and that’s where The Backchannel really soars. Atkinson is trying to do much more than just help you keep your head above water. He wants to transform you as a speaker, just as audiences are changing: from his call to solicit audience input before the event, to his suggestions for ongoing relationships with your audience.

The single most valuable part of The Backchannel, for my money, is Atkinson’s concept of a presentation home page: a conversational hub to house your slides (if any), video or audio recordings, relevant blog posts, links to supporting material, supplements and elaborations on your speech’s content, and of course the transcript of the backchannel itself. He delivers not just a description of each section but a wireframe that any moderately skilled web-head should be able to implement – and that wireframe alone is worth the purchase price.

Early in the book, Atkinson suggests you should see your presentation as just one piece of a larger picture: the comprehensive message you want to bring to the world. With his presentation home page, you can begin to see that picture take shape – and for any speaker who wants to make an impact in the world, that’s an exciting prospect.

And that puts the rest of the book into perspective. Some of Atkinson’s advice, like making your presentation Twitter-friendly by boiling it down to a few pithy key messages, might seem at first like a call to dumb down speeches. (Given the rap on Twitter as an empty, meaningless medium, that charge is probably inevitable.) But simple messages make for better speeches, period; a complicated, lengthy argument just doesn’t fly in the spoken word. If that doesn’t work for your speech, you have to ask yourself if you’ve picked the right medium.

(speaker) I was under the impression I'd be the only one with a megaphone. (Audience member, holding a megaphone) Surprise!The conversational nature of the backchannel tends to enforce a discipline that makes us better speakers. What’s more, as speeches become conversations, their success no longer rests solely on the shoulders of whoever’s behind the mike; the medium is becoming collaborative. Maybe that can go some way to making public speaking less scary – both for the speakers who have to deliver presentations, and the audiences that have to sit through them.

Speaking is already changing, driven by the same forces that gave rise to the social media revolution. The traditional model of a few voices broadcasting to the multitude – whether from a printing press or a podium – is falling apart.

The Backchannel’s model may not be the one that ultimately emerges from the tacit negotiation now underway between audiences and speakers. But it’s a great starting point – and a huge advance on the current state of the art, at a time when speakers and audiences alike badly need it.