The worthy backchannel and SXSW 2010

(If you’re new to my blog, you might want to read my launch post: Gotta launch.)

woman whispering in other woman's ear

Backchannel. It’s what’s going on when the speaker is speaking and the listeners are tweeting. It sounds like a big annoying and potentially dangerous hassle, doesn’t it?

It’s not.

It’s the global brain at work. See, those people in the audience are thinking about stuff. Here we are in your audience. We’re yawning with our mouths closed until our eyes water, uncrossing our legs, trying not to knock over the cup of water, and studying the hairs on the black coat hanging over the chair in front of us. And listening, too, we’re trying to listen.

Enter Twitter. And some other tools, but mostly Twitter. After that last big yawn, which is not really because you’re boring, but because we are sitting here on our patooties for too long without good circulation and there’s not enough oxygen in the room, out comes the iPhone. Or other phone, but mostly the iPhone. Tap tap tap. We let people know where we are, because we can, and it adds a tiny wedge of interest to the moment. “Listening to Gabe Yarp from YippeeIOKyAy talk about #horsetails.” Wait, wait just a sec, yep, there it is. Someone else in the room is tweeting. You lean forward and look over to the left, is that her? She nods at you, grins, and you’ve got BACKCHANNEL.

And guess what. Backchannel includes the whole known tweeting universe. Global attention can now be paid to your talk whether you like it or not. Whether it’s going well or not.

As Cliff Atkinson so brilliantly revealed in his premature-yet-so-timely book “The Backchannel,” this new capacity changes the very foundation of public speaking. If you have even a smidgen of interest in public speaking, I suggest you read every word of his book.

By the way, I think the backchannel is a fantastic thing, because it allows the audience to extend their thinking, make contact in a new way, and if you’re hip to it, it can make you a radically better speaker. Lean your brain into this one. Like a lot of things in this brave new world, it is not going to go back to “before.”

I’m following lots of SXSW 2010 backchannels. I’ll tell you what I learn, if it’s interesting enough.

Suzanna Stinnett

Backchannel me on Twitter: @brainmaker

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