Monitor the Back Channel

It’s hard enough presenting in front of an audience of a dozens or hundreds of your peers, let alone to be paying attention to what’s happening on Twitter at the same time. But that’s exactly what a good presenter or good moderator needs to do these days. Particularly if you’re presenting to a tech-savvy audience.

Checking for real-time online feedback on your session is called “monitoring the backchannel.” One of the most famous recent incidents where a speaker should have monitored the back channel but didn’t was Sarah Lacy’s interview of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg at the South by Southwest conference this year. That session went very pear-shaped for Sarah as she pursued lines of questioning that frustrated and aggravated the audience. Sarah was blissfully ignorant as the audience began to turn on her.

That thankfully hasn’t happened to me (yet). But I did get a reminder that the audience is twittering about you while you’re on stage. Last week when I presented at the SEOmoz Expert Training intensive, I preceded Danny Sullivan. He was sitting in the audience during my session. I was doing a solo presentation, so I didn’t have time to check the back channel. After I was finished, I saw that I suddenly had dozens of new Twitter followers. That was a surprise. “What the heck happened?” I thought to myself. I found the answer soon enough. It was all instigated by Danny’s tweets about me:

watching @sspencer explain new loophole for shooting to the top of google rankings in one day. amazing stuff, wow. 01:34 PM August 20, 2008 from twhirl

@mattcutts just joshing. @sspencer is being very good, doing amazing job talking about vertical search and seo opps and tactics 01:34 PM August 20, 2008 from twhirl in reply to mattcutts

@presellpageman @sspencer is presenting at the training seminar. i was ses yesterday; seomoz today; gnomedex on friday. busy week 01:39 PM August 20, 2008 from twhirl in reply to PresellPageMan

If only I were better at multitasking while presenting, I’d have picked up on this and worked some funny quips about it into my presentation. :)

I remember from Dan Lyons’ (Fake Steve Jobs’) keynote at Web 2.0 Expo he was poking fun at Robert Scoble’s suggestion that speakers take a “Twitter break” every 10 minutes or so to keep on top of the backchannel. It’s actually not a bad suggestion, although it may not be for everybody (such as Dan Lyons, for instance!).