The Backchannel’s Effect on Live Presentations

The Backchannel’s Effect on Live Presentations

Next week, I’m attending a trade show with a client who is presenting on two panels, which has gotten me thinking about how presentations have changed with the advent of social media, specifically the backchannel.

For those unfamiliar with the term, I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept – using networks to have real-time online conversations about a presentation being given, usually about the topic or speaker.  This can also provide the audience with a chance to fact-check the presentation.

Recently, the backchannel got a lot of press during Twitter co-founder Evan Williams’ keynote address at Austin’s South by Southwest interactive festival this past Monday as audience members openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the largely underwhelming announcement of Twitter’s @anywhere function.

Anne Miller nicely summarizes Cliff Atkinson’s latest book on the backchannel, saying, “with Twitter and social media, your one-to-an-audience presentation has become, whether you wanted it to or not or realize it or not, a one-to-the-world presentation.”

Jay Rosen calls this “Audience Atomization Overcome” as a way to describe how with the growth of social media and smart phones, audiences now connect horizontally, peer to peer, while simultaneously connecting vertically, to the news, the program, the speaker, the spectacle.

While the backchannel may seem scary to some (like those unsure of their own facts or delivering something that doesn’t match up to their audience’s expectations), there are many reasons to encourage it during presentations, for instance:

  • To reach people who couldn’t be at the event
  • To encourage attendees to take short notes (like Twitter’s 140 characters) that capture the main points of the presentation
  • To promote audience engagement
  • To market your event
  • To support questions and comments

There’s no doubt that the backchannel is changing the effect of live presentations and I’m anxious to see how the backchannel will be used next week.


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