Your OTHER presentation audience – the backchannel

Yesterday, I mentioned the importance of preparing your presentation with the audience in mind. In fact, that’s probably the most important consideration: if you don’t factor in the audience’s needs, you won’t make a connection.

As social media use becomes more common, however, there’s another audience you need to consider when making a presentation: the “backchannel”–those who communicate about you and your content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Depending on your topic and your audience, it’s very possible that you’ll reach more people via the backchannel than you will in the room in which you’re presenting.

The phrase “the backchannel” comes from a book of the same title by Cliff Atkinson. In his book, Atkinson introduces his main idea as follows:

More and more audience members are now bringing their laptops and smartphones into meeting rooms and using them to connect with one another and start their own conversations—while the presenter is speaking

Atkinson goes on to explain that the backchannel is a “double-edged sword”:

On one side, when audiences find a presentation interesting and useful, they use the backchannel to enhance the information they are hearing and to broadcast good ideas to people both inside and outside the room…On the other side, when audiences find a presentation boring, not relevant, or out of date, they don’t hesitate to speak their minds and publish their comments to the world…[I]t can lead to public conflict that disrupts or even derails presentations.

So, how should YOU respond to the backchannel in your presentations? Here are a few tips:

  1. Know that it exists, embrace it, and read what people are saying after you present. The positive attributes of the backchannel have no value if the presenter isn’t aware of the conversation that is taking place. In addition, you’ll be much more vulnerable to the negative side of the backchannel if you’re absent from the conversation.
  2. Let people know how to reach you. If you want to focus the backchannel conversation to specific social networks, share that upfront and encourage people to participate. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they’ll limit their comments to the social networks you suggest, but it’s a good way to exert some influence over an otherwise unpredictable situation.
  3. DON’T overemphasize the backchannel, or follow it during your presentation. This should be obvious, but keep your presentation focused on the people in the room. The best thing you can do to encourage positive feedback in the backchannel is to give your full attention to the audience you’re in front of.
  4. Interact when you’re done. Once you’ve completed your presentation, it’s time to connect with those who shared comments via the backchannel. Thank those who said something positive and answer any questions asked of you. What should you do if someone says something negative? Well, it depends upon the context of what was said, but remember what mama told you–if you don’t have anything good to say, it may be best to say nothing at all.
  5. Keep the conversation going. Those who took the time to comment on your presentation are potential allies. If you post a recap of your presentation–sharing it on SlideShare or via a blog post, for example–let them know about it. If appropriate, connect with them via social media to build the relationship. After all, one of your goals in presenting should be to make new connections, and a connection made via the backchannel is just as valid as one made face to face.

Want to learn more about positioning yourself for success during your live presentation and in the backchannel? Join me and Jon Swerens  for “How to Create and Deliver a Great Presentation” at the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce next Wed., May 2, from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. And if you attend, by all means, share your comments via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or your favorite social network.

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