In a couple of weeks, I will attend the most tweeted conference by far - SxSWi. If I'm not mistaken, it was this event that took down Twitter last year. Just thinking about it is almost slowing my browser to a crawl.
These days we're all so used to interaction, that the idea of reading a Web site passively or just sitting in a presentation makes us feel disconnected. Yes, the content you produce is increasingly more distributed.
If you "like " something on FriendFeed, or if you share it on our reader, you're probably not going to comment at that post. Your act of sharing was the comment. Some content creators initiate new threads as questions on LinkedIn or directly as a post on other social networks.
That's where Twitter comes in handy. The immediacy, the ability to share with your network, and the fact that this is a presence tool are very compelling reasons why the people attending your session or panel at the next event might be sharing their reactions to your content live.
How you feel about that has little influence over it happening while you speak. This is the same adage we've been telling companies about their brands being discussed online. What you can affect, is the way you handle the real time feedback. How you respond, and, to the extent possible, participate.
Presentation and speaking expert Olivia Mitchell recently wrote a guest post at Pistachio consulting about how to present while people are tweeting. It's not enough to prepare your talk anymore, you need to be prepared to have a conversation about it at the same time as you expose the information.
Does that make you feel nervous?
I actually do better with interaction. But there is the question of scale to consider. I was at an event last week where the discussion got totally off track after someone asked a question. Care needs to be taken not to go down a rabbit hole or cater only to a small, more vocal, percentage of the room.
As Mitchell says, there are some benefits to having a back channel. Among them:
(1) listeners tend to focus more if they want to share it;
(2) they will share more content with attendees and non attendees;
(3) so that many more can participate not just with questions, but by bringing new information to the conversation.
Perhaps the sweet spot for me would be to share information with those who could not attend. It's a more collaborative way of extending the conversation from the room to whomever is interested in joining it. With a caveat, we all see the world - and take in information - differently based upon our lens or filter. Not sitting in the room gives someone less opportunity to be present to the context.
What's in it for the speaker?
Aside from you not having much of a choice in regard, if you're the kind of person who thrives on situational (remember improv?) experiences, you will do much better by having that kind of feedback. Yes, the back channel can backfire. Mitchell recalls the revolt during last year's SxSWi Sarah Lacy's interview with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO.
I will put into practice some of her good advice. The value of a presentation is the ability of attendees to learn - and I bow to their needs in terms of learning styles and desire to contribute. I agree that being open about how people take in and share content is the way to go.
I've tweeted at events and I know that unless what I'm hearing is very clear and compelling, or packaged in neat sound bytes, it's not likely I will tweet a lot during the presentation. The other reason why people do, of course, is to voice strong opinions about what you present.
Not everyone is ready to ask a question in front of a group, and Twitter has become an alternative to doing that. Be mindful that under stress - when the world bounces off us, or when our needs are not met - we go to a different place. Luckily, if you're tuned in, there are many other non verbal signals you can read before it gets to a battle of tweets.
What's your experience? Would people who tweet or type at your sessions distract you? How do you deal with the back channel? Do you? Why/why not, if you don't?
And for those who will be at SxSWi, Jake McKee compiled a handy survival guide, complete with schedule of events. Check it out!
[image courtesy of John Bieheler]