Remember the good old days when a speaker gave a presentation and the audience members sat quietly, keeping their thoughts to themselves? Well, the good old days are over, thanks to social media. Today audience members armed with smartphones and netbooks are having conversations with the rest of the world in real time about you, your presentation, and your ideas. As I was contemplating how to navigate this trend in my own presentations and those of my clients, Cliff Atkinson's new book dropped on my desk. In The Backchannel, Atkinson, the author of Beyond Bullet Points and a consultant on PowerPoint presentations, defines a back channel as 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. He argues that Twitter and other social media platforms are changing the nature of presentations by facilitating these back-channel conversations. Here are five suggestions from Atkinson for speakers dealing with this new dynamic. Accept it. "This is happening, and it's not going away," says Atkinson. He believes that by taking specific steps, a presenter can positively influence the back-channel conversation. "By being aware of it and preparing for it, speakers can harness the power of the back channel to broadcast their ideas in ways they never thought possible." For example, if you're speaking to 100 people, each of whom have 100 "followers" on Twitter,, you're potentially extending the conversation to 10,000 people. Show you understand how Twitter works. Atkinson recommends that your title slide include the following information: title, name of the speaker, Twitter username, and event hash tag (a hash tag lets Twitter users search for related posts easily). According to Atkinson, "This title slide provides a visual cue that you welcome the back channel from the start. It encourages people to be in a relationship with you via Twitter." Create Twitter-friendly messages. In a previous column, I recommended writing a brief description of your product, service, or company that fits within the 140 character Twitter post limit. Atkinson urges you to take this concept even further, creating up to four Twitter-friendly messages that you would want your audience to post to their followers. Speakers stand a better chance of getting these ideas in the Twitter stream by building slides using the key messages as the title. Take breaks. Atkinson recommends that you take a break from the slides and bring up your Twitter stream during your presentation, addressing questions and comments that your audience is posting. Atkinson suggests taking up to three breaks, but of course this depends on the activity of the event. Extend the conversation. Social networking tools allow you to tell your story and deliver your messages across a range of media. Extend the conversation you began in the presentation by posting your slides and ideas to your Web site, blog, or presentation-sharing sites such as SlideShare. Social media expert Chris Brogan, who gives frequent presentations on making the most of the back channel, deftly tackles all forms of Twitter comments during his talks, whether the comments be positive or snarky. "Speakers need to know that people want to be heard. They want to be accounted for in conversations. You have to be flexible," says Brogan. Even if you ignore individual posts during your presentation (it is hard to multitask, after all), Brogan suggests you address some of them with your audience before or after your formal presentation. Atkinson urges speakers to think about the positive implications of the social media back channel. Says Atkinson: "You can't control or even manage the back channel, but you can engage, nurture, and influence the people who use it—and by doing that, you persuade them to be powerful advocates for spreading your ideas."
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