Review: The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever

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A review by Web Teacher of
The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever

(rating: 4 stars)

The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever by Cliff Atkinson is from New Riders (2010). Cliff Atkinson is telling stories. He takes real people, real presentations, and weaves them into an instruction manual for how to deal with the way presentations are changing because of the backchannel.

He tells stories about presentations by Chris Brogan, Olivia Mitchell, Jared Spool, Sacha Chua, Sarah Lacy, Pam Slim, and many others. He uses these stories to illustrate what’s happening in the backchannel and how various people have handled the changes. You may have even been in attendance at some of the presentations he talks about. If not, you may have followed stories about them on Twitter or in blogs. If you go to presentations of any kind, you’ve probably seen the backchannel in action or been a particpant in the backchannel.

Atkinson defines the backchannel.

A backchannel is a line of communication created by people in an audience to connect with others inside or outside the room, with or without the knowledge of the speaker at the front of the room.

The backchannel can either enhance the exchange with the audience or become—at the least—a distraction, or—at its worst—an explosion of negativity. This book is all about how to make the backchannel a productive enhancement that will connect presenters with audiences in long-lasting forms of communication extending far beyond the limits of an hour’s presentation.

The book describes how audiences are changing.

  • Audiences don’t need to get information from presenters on a stage. They can find the information for themselves elsewhere.
  • Audiences have higher expectations. They want information they won’t get elsewhere.
  • Audiences want more participation.
  • Audiences either leave or publicly complain if a presentation if it isn’t what they wanted or expected.

The key chapter in the book is “Preparing for the Backchannel.” Atkinson gives concrete ideas for learning the new presenting skills needed, planning the presentation to be backchannel ready, and managing the backchannel before, during and after the presentation. Another important chapter is “Making Your Ideas Twitter-Friendly,” This chapter tells how to boil your message down to four essential, Twitter-sized points, how to present and expand those four points, while working with the backchannel. Other chapters talk about taking Twitter breaks during a presentation and dealing with an unruly backchannel.

In the conclusion, Atkinson says,

For a very long time, the world has centered on presenters. But now, the world is re-centering around audience members. Putting someone on a pedestal—or a lectern—has always come at a cost, because to make someone higher is to make someone lesser.

The backchannel dismantles the pedestal, and gives everyone equal access to the same information. As the power balance is leveled, the skill set of presenters fundamentally changes, and shifts more toward gifts of navigation, facilitation, and inspiration.

Summary: Presenters everywhere need to read this book.

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