Using the back channel effectively in presentations

Earlier this year the Beyond Distance team had an ‘away day’, during which we all gathered in Leicester’s leafy Victoria Park and carried out several activities to help us give better presentations – much to the amusement of passers-by. Activities included giving a presentation to an imaginary audience located way above us on the 18th floor of the nearby Attenborough Tower, and experimenting with different kinds of body language while talking to the flowers. (Good for improving our voice projection and stage presence, as you can imagine, not to mention addressing any inhibitions about public speaking!)

With presentations coming up at two major conferences in the next two months – one face-to-face (Online Educa Berlin) and one online (Beyond Distance’s Learning Futures Festival), I appreciate these strategies. However, I am also aware of the need to learn to use the so-called ‘back channel’ (twitter in live events, and the instant messaging chat box in online events) as a positive force.

For a great summary of the lively discussion taking place in the blogosphere about the use of twitter in face-to-face presentations, see this piece by Olivia Mitchell. Perhaps the most important point she makes is that one cannot ignore the back channel. Whether you choose to have the twitterstream projected on a large screen while you are presenting, or to specifically ask the conference organisers not to do so (both of which are legitimate choices), your audience will be interacting with one another – and the outside world – while you are speaking. Mitchell recommends asking a colleague, or a member of the audience if necessary, to play the role of twitter monitor, and stopping your presentation to respond to questions or comments from time to time. She also suggests telling the audience at the start of your presentation how and when you will respond to their tweets.

If you want to be more proactive about the use of twitter, you can integrate the twitterstream into your presentation, as described in an earlier blog posting by Terese. A further option is to actually schedule your own tweets that will be sent when you click on a particular slide.

If you are presenting online (for example in Elluminate or Adobe Connect), your audience is more likely to use the internal instant messaging tool than twitter, and it’s worth having a strategy for keeping up with the comments here too. In the ELKS seminars coordinated by Palitha Edirisingha at Beyond Distance, we have found it essential to have one person dedicated to monitoring the back channel, and summarising the questions and issues for the presenter at regular intervals.

Finally, don’t forget to archive the twitter stream (e.g. using Twapper Keeper) or to keep a recording of the online event for future reference.

Gabi Witthaus

Learning Futures Festival Online 2010
Positively Disruptive
7–14 January 2010
More networking, more keynotes, more workshops, for less cost, less effort…

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