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

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Backchannel manages to teach social media experts and newbies alike about presenting to an audience that's accustomed to high-quality media at their fingertips.

    This book caught my eye because it grasped a phenomenon I've observed at events where the audience gives more eyeball time to their netbooks and smart phones than to the presenter. I figured someday I'd figure out how to harness the power of this behavior, and author Cliff Atkinson beat me to it. Mr Atkinson is THE authority to write on the matter. In addition to writing Beyond Bullet Points, he designed the presentations that helped persuade a jury to award a $253 million verdict in the nation's first Vioxx trial in 2005. Fortune magazine called the presentations "frighteningly powerful."

    For those new to the back channel and the ways of Twitter, never fear. The book starts there, not with boring exposition, but with a real-life event where panelist Guy Kawasaki noticed a critical tweet (Twitter update) about him and asked the tweep (person who tweeted) to step up and explain the remark. After setting the context for Twitter and the back channel with this case study, Mr Atkinson goes into the mechanics of Twitter and other technological means for sustaining an official back channel.

    The part of the book that everyone presenting can use (with or without a back channel) describes how to be an editor, curator and taste-maker to your audience. Thinking of yourself in these ways makes it 100% easier to craft a presentation.

    Mr Atkinson outlines a strategy for JOINING the back channel's conversation, including how to manage a "conversational presentation." Presenters with and without a back channel should follow this advice

    "You can no longer get away with putting up a slide that lists Agenda or Introduction at the start of your presentation. Nor can you get away with kicking off your presentation with too many details or a list of your accomplishments. In a world in which your audience is accustomed to high-quality media at their fingertips, you need to capture their attention out of the gate. You must engage your audience within the first five slides or at least the first five minutes of your presentation."

    The book offers a chapter on how to handle the positive and negative feedback from the back channel. Particularly helpful is the advice that speakers should practice scenarios that put them in a range of difficult situations. He gives five scenarios to practice: "You're not listening to us;" Your Facts are wrong or misleading;" "Your material is a mismatch for us;" "Your material is boring;" and "You made me mad."

    Finally, relying on an excellent case study from a conference gone snarky via the backchannel, Mr Atkinson shows how Chris Brogan (author of Trust Agents) turned the situation around. Here's the 10-point checklist for managing an unruly back channel:

    Establish a reputation
    Listen and collect stories
    Dispense with pretense
    Talk to the elephant in the room (if there is one)
    Make it you, you, you instead of me, me, me
    Check in with the audience early and often
    Stay grounded
    Ignore the small stuff
    Keep things in perspective

    This slim volume is worth the $34.99 list price and includes a free 45-day searchable online edition. Both of my thumbs are way up.

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