8 Tips For Managing The Twitter Backchannel During Your Presentation

Last week Social Times reported on the impact of the Twitter backchannel on dana boyd’s presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo. If you’re speaking to a tech or social media conference soon, you’re probably thinking how you can avoid getting roasted by the backchannel. Here are some tips:

1. Prepare for your audience

Thoroughly prepare your presentation taking into account the specific needs of your audience. Audience members on Twitter no longer suffer in polite silence when they’re subjected to poorly thought-out presentations. Audit your presentation for the hot buttons which will trigger people to tweet eg:

  • Examples or case studies which are out-of-date
  • Thinly-veiled sales pitches
  • Poorly-designed slides.

2. Have a Twitter moderator

Ask a colleague to be your Twitter moderator. Ask them to alert you to feedback from the backchannel – but only those issues that you can do something about. If you’re not confident in your ability to respond to a particular issue hearing about it will be unhelpful.

So discuss with your moderator which issues you want to know about and the number of tweets on each issue that will trigger your moderator to let you know. To help you with this discussion here’s a range of different feedback that people may give:

  • Having problems with your delivery eg: talking too quietly, talking too fast
  • Not familiar with the language you’re using eg: acronyms or terminology
  • Getting confused or lost
  • Wanting to go deeper on a particular issue
  • Disagreeing with your point of view
  • Finding the content level either too easy or too hard
  • Not interested in the topic.

3. Set up a system for your Twitter moderator to communicate with you

Set up a monitor on the stage exclusively for this purpose. Then open a private chat room using a tool like Todaysmeet for your moderator to send messages that only you can see.

4. Take charge of your presentation environment

After dana boyd’s experience most people recognise that it’s not a good idea to display the live Twitterstream behind a solo speaker (panel situations are different). If there is a live display of the Twitterstream ask for it to be under your control. Turn it off while you’re presenting. But you could choose to turn it back on during your Q&A (more on this below).

5. Ask your audience to engage with you

It’s much easier to present when you can see people’s faces and talk to them. Tell your audience that you’re fine with them tweeting during your presentation, but you’d appreciate it if when they’re not tweeting they could look up and engage with you. Let them know that you’ll give a better presentation as a result.

6. Engage with your audience

You might look out at your audience and just see people with their heads down in their laptops. But there will be a few people who are looking at you. Seek them out. Talk to them as if you were in a one-on-one conversation with them. That will help you pace your delivery and have you come across as conversational and easy to listen to.

If the lighting means you can’t see the audience (as in the case with dana boyd), look out to where you know the audience to be and strongly imagine individuals to talk to. This does take some practice – but it’s something you can do in rehearsals by yourself.

7. Use the backchannel during your Q&A

There are a number of benefits to using the backchannel for your Q&A:

  • It allows people who would normally be too shy to ask questions to ask questions via the backchannel.
  • People can ask their questions when they occur to them and your Twitter moderator can bookmark them for the Q&A session.
  • If there are too many questions for the time available, your Twitter moderator can prioritize them. The audience can play a role in this by retweeting the questions which they would most like asked.

Project the backchannel during the Q&A and point out the questions you’re answering. That will make sure that people who aren’t following the backchannel don’t feel excluded (and of course, do take questions the traditional way too!).

Note: Using retweets to highlight popular tweets may soon be outmoded by more sophisticated filters. Developers at Purdue University have created a clever tool Need4Feed that ranks tweets. Need4feed is currently available only on request, but the developers plan to make it available to a broader audience.

8. Learn from the backchannel

After your presentation, look at the Twitterstream. You’ll get to see the moment-by-moment audience reaction – where people might have got confused, the ideas they found most exciting, and what was most retweetable. That’s invaluable feedback to improve your next presentation.

Olivia Mitchell is a presentation trainer and blogger. Her blog has a wealth of presentation tips and she has written a free eBook “How to present with Twitter and Other Backchannels“. Follow her on Twitter.