Learning to love the backchannel

Just before Thanksgiving I was at the KM World 2009 conference in San Jose listening to a keynote presentation by Charlene Li. Like many others, I was tweeting during her presentation and posted the following:


At just about the same time, on the right coast, danah boyd of Microsoft was delivering a keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City that didn’t go as well. Her experience and the subsequent conversation around it represent the latest installment in the evolving relationship between audience and presenter. It also contains comparable lessons for the successful adoption of social media within the enterprise.

If you ever expect to stand and deliver in front of a group, these are issues you need to think about beforehand. That can be as adrenaline inducing as boyd’s keynote or as seemingly innocuous as running a status meeting while the team focuses on their laptops, Blackberrys, and iphones.

I’ve been gathering and organizing links to some of the more useful and informative material I’ve found on this topic. For starters, here are some key pointers specific to boyd’s experience, including her own reflections and assessment:

danah body isn’t the only one dealing with this new relationship between audience and speaker. Here are some other accounts and overviews of other less than successful encounters, both recent and not-so-recent:

Fortunately, we’re also starting to see some good advice emerging on how to cope:

These examples are highly visible. They also take place in settings where you have the additional problems of a degree of anonymity that seems to encourage a level of boorishness more reminiscent of middle school than anything else. At the same time, they are also leading indicators of a default working environment that will be more public and transparent than we are accustomed to or comfortable with. Paying attention here and thinking through what lessons are available and how they translate into other settings is time well spent. Some of the questions on my mind include:

  • Where and when can you influence the tenor of the backchannel? As a presenter? As a conference organizer? As a member of the audience?
  • What can you do before the fact to set useful expectations or standards of interaction?
  • What can you do in the moment?
  • What can you do after the fact?
  • What’s likely to differ in more private venues? What will differ for the better? For worse?
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