Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Backchannel book: A guide you need now

If you (or your leadership) are more wary of speaking or convening meetings because of the Twitter backchannel--the audience conversation going on on Twitter while your speakers are in progress--you could, ahem, tinker with the technology to prevent immediate commentary. Or you could do something more effective: Get prepared to present in this new, more engaged-with-your-audience world. Fortunately, there's a book for that: Cliff Atkinson's The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever. I've been dipping into it for the past few weeks, and finding much for the seasoned user of Twitter as well as those completely new to this new type of conversation. Here are some features of the book I think you'll find especially useful:


  • The opening: Atkinson tracks the progression of one session at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, one of the most popular social-media conventions, to show the complex view of what happens to speakers, moderators and audience members when the Twitter backchannel augments a session--or, as he puts it, "the back of the room collides with the front." Read this to gain a fast but thorough take on all the different types of audiences such an experience creates, and how effective speakers and moderators handled it. A plus: Atkinson, himself a speaker at the conference, talked to the participants in this episode and gives you a behind-the-scenes view that lays out all the issues.

  • Nuts-and-bolts details for speakers and organizers, like preparing your slides for audience members using handheld video cameras or camera phones; putting more of your content and resources online in advance of your presentation; developing a message based on "the rule of four tweets," so that your entire talk can be summed up in one introductory tweet and three more that offer supportive details and takeaway points; and, especially useful, realistic tactics for managing, focusing and handling the backchannel in a variety of circumstances--including facing the backchannel directly as part of your presentation, and when to choose that route.

  • Ways to engage the audience using Twitter: Here, Atkinson helps you make the leap by suggesting ways to ask the audience questions, take a poll of the audience or get them to complete an online task during your talk--after all, if they're going to be online, get them to participate with what you're discussing.
Atkinson's book also is available in a Kindle edition, and for technology updates, particularly on presentation tools that help you integrate the backchannel into your slides, consult the very good and free ebook by Olivia Mitchell, written to complement Atkinson's book. I welcome these resources, which take a positive--rather than breathless and skeptical--approach to the backchannel, identifying its rewards as well as its risks along with practical things you can do. Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of the book prior to writing this review.

Related posts: A college president and the backchannel

A speaker's view of a backchannel disaster

What speakers can learn from Twitter hecklers

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