How Speakers Should Integrate Social Into Their Presentation

Whether you’re a professional speaker, company representative, or panelist at a conference, you must develop a social strategy during your speaking.

The Audience Continues To Gain Power Over Speakers
A few years ago, the first major eruption occurred from the audience hijacking the attention at SXSW during an ill-fated interview on the main stage. Even weeks ago, Kanye’s debacle was commented on by Twittering attendees despite them not even having the mic.  (Update, a speaker gives her first hand story of an audience revolt on Twitter)

This week, an audience revolt happened at the Higher Education Conference, you can read about it here, here, here and here.  Although I was miles away, I was watching it unfold in real time on Twitter search –I felt horrible for that speaker who likely didn’t even know what was happening till someone posted his phone number on Twitter and people were texting him how horrible he had done. Ouch, the audience was vindictive and felt injured and wanted to get back.

Savvy Speakers Will Engage With Audience In Real World –and In Digital
Critics would suggest that monitoring the backchannel is counter intuitive to what a speaker should be doing: focused on presenting.  Yet, I’d argue that some power has shifted to the audience –and with that comes responsibility of the speaker to respond to the power shift.  As a speaker (I’m now represented by Monitor Talent), I feel empathy and at the same time am scared this doesn’t happen to me.  The best way for speakers to avoid this revolt is to make sure that they be aware of the changes in power shifts and develop a plan to integrate social.

How Speakers Should Integrate Social Into Their Presentation:

Prepare More Than Ever.  This is baseline. I could give a long list of speaking dos and don’t but there’s been books, classes, and private coaches that provide that (something I’m going to continue to invest in as I grow). It boils down to: know your audience, have strong content, practice, repeat.  The change here is that the audience will scrutinize you, grade you, for all to see.

Know Your Audience’s Social Technology Adoption. While the first audience revolt was at SXSW, a new media tech conference, where adoption of new communication tools is likely.  The Higher Education conference wasn’t focused solely on technology (update: in the comments, I learned this was a technology conference), so this revolt has moved out of the technology scene.    You’ll need to pay attention to this more at conferences where social is active, first gauge the discussion in chat rooms or twitter using search tools.  Find the conference hashtag (if there is one) to determine level of activity.

Monitor the Backchannel While Speaking. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Guy Kawasaki keynote a large conference, he monitors the body actions from the crowd and commands attention of the audience, he’s making micro-tweeks to his presentation to engage and react.   Just as speakers do this in the real world, they must be monitoring the verbal, explicit reactions in the backchannel like Twitter or a chat room.   Ask coordinators to display a monitor on stage facing you to see hashtags, use your mobile phone, or have your computer on stage to quickly see the stream.

Develop Backup Resources to Monitor. Some speakers have told me this is nearly impossible for them to do as they are focused on presenting content, here’s two tips for you. Speakers who are unable to monitor the backchannel should have a buddy attend the speech, sit in the front row, or off stage, and indicate if there’s something out of the ordinary they need to respond to.  If your speaker content is rehearsed –it should be second nature to present it.   Scoble is known for taking “Twitter breaks” during his presentation every 15 minutes to gauge the audience feedback.

Interact with the Audience: If your speech is going well, a majority of the tweets will be echos of what you’re saying then retweets.  However, some speakers should monitor and look for questions, comments, or interesting new information that would add to the presentation.  For example, at the Web 2.0 expo, I saw an audience member say my panel was boring on twitter, so I immediately shifted to Q&A which kept the audience interest.

Practice Two-Fisted Speaking. In the future, we may start to see presenters with two devices in hand: the presentation clicker in right hand, and cell phone in right hand, monitoring the flow of conversation.  Despite the presenter having great control with the clicker controlling the flow of conversation, ultimately the audience has more control as they scrutinize, talk to each other, and shape a complete other conversation.  Speakers should practice integrating input as they output in real-time first in private, then integrate into their performance.

I’d love to hear from you how speakers should respond to the power shifting to the audience, I know there’s a lot I can continue to learn in the craft of speaking.  What should speakers do?

Related Resources:

107 Replies to “How Speakers Should Integrate Social Into Their Presentation”

  1. Interesting thoughts and I like them. I’m not sure if I’m on the same page about the two fisted speaking though. That’s impractical and will increasingly alienate the folks who aren’t using the back channels. I’d suggest that the onus be on the conference organizers to have the twitter feeds in a place where not only the audience but the speakers can see it in real time. I was recently at a conference where the feed was right behind me while I was speaking. It felt like someone was literally talking behind my back!


  2. these are excellent prompts. I agree w/ @shivsingh about the 2-fisted approach – it’s sort of like excusing yourself while you have dinner guests. And as a speaker, I need to rely on my senses of where the crowd is at – which is why I often just ASK them where they’re at – rather than distracting myself with tweet checks. That said, jumbo screens, hashtags, even a reminder at the start of a talk of your twitter name / hashtags is a leap toward the times. thanks for the nudge.

  3. Shiv

    I’ve experienced a situation where the back channel was displayed behind me too, I found it distracting as a speaker and as an attendee.

    A displayed back channel on stage behind a speaker should be used when the message from the organizers clearly say “the audience is of equal importance as the speaker” It’s right for some conferences –but not all.

    In most cases, the back channel will be and should be optional for attendees to use –but mandatory speakers pay attention to it as they would in person.

    A savvy conference organizer will provide resources to assist both audience and speakers –and use for marketing.

  4. I ustreamed my last seminar in Colombia, only a few people were Tweeting (5 out of 130 as Twitter hasn’t taken off quite yet) but the organizer @seminariumcol was watching the back channel and one of my team members off site that was watching the ustream feed also was tweeting back and forth with people. After the session I made sure to respond immediately. Ideally a live #tag twitter feed on one screen and a presentation on the other is best. We had great feedback even though it didn’t completely go technically well at times (hotel Wifi).

    I love it, I love the interaction and the need for improvisation from the stage. Some of the old school speakers and authors don’t like to even take questions and have a hard time managing their smartphone in the best of times. This is definitely a skill developed from watching TV, playing video games and talking to your friends at the same time on Facebook.

    Bring it on!

  5. Hi Jeremiah,
    Excellent post! We are VERY focused on this question ourselves particularly for the SAP TechEd event next week. As you know, we have been engaged in the Twitter discussion for events like at SAPPHIRE earlier in the year where the #SAPPHIRE09 hashtag hit the top trending topics. But for TechEd next week, we are taking it to another level with live video streaming of the keynote alongside a Twitter box showing the #SAPTechEd09 hashtag stream. So we’re expecting (encouraging) a lot of traffic / discussion during the keynote and for other video activities during the week. (See for a full description of what we’re doing.)
    The best I can say is that we are fully aware of the twitter stream and we’ll have our staff following and getting word to our speakers if there are things that need to be addressed / questions to be answered. Also happy to have a conversation afterward about how it all goes!

  6. A savvy meeting planner will have a monitor on the floor for speakers to view the back channel as well as the screen behind the speaker or to the side for the audience.

    When planning my general sessions, I provide three screens on stage, two for the speakers presentation and one for the back channel. I personally like using Wiffiti for presentations to display the stream which also allows direct texting. And, I go one step further in providing one or two monitors on the floor facing the speaker that shows the back channel. That way the speaker does not have to turn around, carry a cell phone or turn to their lap top to see the stream.

    That’s what I’ve been doing for two years for my keynote speakers at my conferences.

  7. Hi Jeremiah,

    Great article as always. As both a moderator, panelist, back channel attendee and tweeter, I can see the perspective from all sides. Based on my experiences I have seen audience integration done in many ways but the most successful and interesting formats include include:

    1. Planned breaks within the session to address live and virtual audience questions/feedback

    Benefits: More structured and cohesive experience for all, keeping the session pretty well focused

    Drawbacks: If a popular subject matter, it’s difficult to address all the popular requests coming in

    2. Dedicated staffed monitor for twitter streams that tracks comments and filters up the most popular comments/concerns/questions

    Benefits: Maintains subject matter relevance to the audiences, points out areas for deeper discussion

    Drawbacks: It has a high potential for derailing the session if the audience takes the discussion on a tangent. Also, depending on the process in which the feedback is relayed back to the speakers, may not be as immediate of a feedback mechanism as the screen behind the speaker

    3. Twitter led — this one requires some finesse and the ability to improvise quickly. I saw it first demonstrated by @gregarious at the Web 2.0 conference in 2007. Back then I thought it was ingenious as the session was driven by what the audience wanted to talk about. Less a presentation more of a mass dialog.

    Benefit: Highly engaging and energetic. Memorable

    Drawback: Has huge potential to lose focus and become chaotic. Requires the speaker to really know the subject matter and have the composure to respond quickly.

  8. Jeremiah, this is so true. I’ve heard of the latest backroom discussions at the higher education conference. I didn’t monitor the stream, but can only imagine. I remember attending a Statmats conference last November and that was where I was first exposed to it. I had connected with people on Twitter that were at the conference, actually some who were in attendence at the latest higher ed conference. I actually picked up different information, that was relevant, from the backroom chatter.

    The question I pose is, ‘What happens to the experience if more attention is paid to the backroom chatter? Does the personal connection of being at conference suffer? Maybe we should all just do virtual conferences and Twitter about it?’ Don’t get me wrong, I think the backroom chatter is critical, but we need to be careful to have the correct balance.

    Actually, when you attending the Web Strategy Summit in Calgary, Alberta last year, I was live-blogging the event with Twitter and noticed even then some back room chatter. Don’t worry, I don’t remember anything critical said about you 🙂

    Anyway, I agree that presenters need to evolve.

  9. I think that the buddy system is the best approach. A single tweet does not an audience backlash make, so rather than attempting to mine the data yourself while you present, assign a team member to TEXT or IM you on stage if there’s something you can fix or adjust. The speaker acn let the audience know that his team is monitoring the hash tag and that he’ll follow up where relevant after the event. This may give the audience at least some bit of conscious as they know they’ll be heard.

    With the buddy system, things like level of sound, temperature, etc can be immediately directed to those who can fix them.

    And downright disdain might not be worth informing speaker of as they speak – For speakers who need to rehearse a lot, this could break their flow altogether. And let’s be honest some presentations are just not going to hit the mark, and no mid-way tweet will save those ships.

  10. Jeremiah –

    Thanks for the excellent set of recommendations. I was at the keynote this week and was both fascinated and appalled as the mob mentality took over the backchannel. But as someone who has presented at this conference on numerous occasions, this reaction was not unexpected. As you said, it is is extremely important to understand the audience.

    I’m also interested in Mike McCready’s question of what happens when more attention is paid to the backchannel instead of the speaker, even during a good presentation. I have presented at numerous tech conferences and see this as a growing trend. I often wonder how the audience can fully absorb the content of a presentation when they are so engaged with the backchannel.

  11. speaking is just newspapers a couple of years later .. on its way out ..

    if you cannot multi-media multi-channel your concepts in seed form in 14 minutes, get out of the game ..

    words simply do not carry enough meaning for consciousness to be transformed .. and that is, after all, the main job of presenting ..

    information is not enough, change is not enough, the need is transformation … words don’t do that

  12. Jeremiah, I was at this conference, and just want to correct you on one point. This was the HighEdWeb conference, a conference of higher education web professionals… designers, developers, marketers, social media experts, etc.

    As such, your statement that “The Higher Education conference wasn™t focused solely on technology, so this revolt has moved out of the technology scene” isn’t quite accurate. This group is extremely technologically aware, particularly in the area of social media and communication media. For many of us, social media technology *is* our job.

    However, your point is well taken. As tools such at Twitter penetrate deeper into the mainstream, these sorts of occurrences will happen in a wider and wider range of venues. As someone commented to me right after the keynote ended, “The lesson is that you can’t suck anymore.” It’s a harsh truth, but I think it’s a good thing.

  13. I think part of the answer is more transparency — having the presenter show the audience what people are tweeting about, so that even the ones that aren’t on Twitter can see what’s going on, and live presentations can more easily integrate remote participants.

    I recently put together some free tools that allow anybody to integrate Twitter streams, feedback slides, and voting into PowerPoint presentations, so both the presenter and the audience can see them. The only “catches” are they’re currently prototypes (but I’ve used them myself in conference — they work well) and they have a small SAP logo in the corner:

  14. Great advice to speakers, Jeremiah! I would add some for conference organizers: Attendees want a more balanced mix of information presented to them AND ability to discuss it in the session.

    The reason the backchannel is so active is that most conference sessions are devoid of audience participation opportunities. Conference organizers need to build sessions with shorter presentations and more open discussion.

  15. Mark Greenfield: “I often wonder how the audience can fully absorb the content of a presentation when they are so engaged with the backchannel.”

    I wouldn’t want that either. A presentation is a performance of sorts and it needs to be controlled by the presenter to frankly be any damned good.

    Perhaps the compromise is to have a person monitor the backchannel for tasty morsels to discuss in Q&A.

  16. Excellent post Jeremiah, thank you!

    Great demonstration of how social media amplifies
    WOM effects also in conferences …
    before, during and after.

  17. I completely agree with the first point about the increasing importance of preparation. The bar is being raised for speakers in a variety of contexts (not just conferences) – if people aren’t tweeting about the presentation, there are plenty of other things they can be doing with their mobile devices.

    And I think that monitoring social media streams can help a speaker in his/her preparations, to see the sorts of things that are being discussed – and the ways they are being discussed – in backchannels (assuming the speaker isn’t delivering the opening keynote).

    However, the other recommendations seem very dependent on the community and/or venue. If a large proportion of the audience is tweeting, then it may make sense to incorporate some of that into the frontchannel. But if a small proportion of the audience is tweeting, you may have a tempest in a teacup, and overreact to tweets that are not representative of the audience.

    I think there is also significant variation in the signal-to-noise ratio among different users, that varies further in different contexts. danah boyd wrote a great blog post a while back on valuing inefficiencies and unreliability (, in which she noted that “The more efficient a means of communication is, the less it is valued. … Social technologies that make things more efficient reduce the cost of action. Yet, that cost is often an important signal.” I would argue that there is a higher cost to standing up at a microphone to ask a question in the frontchannel than there is to tweeting in a backchannel … plus the tweets in the backchannel may be from people who are not even physically present.

    I heard of one panel at a recent SxSW in which there were a number of tweets complaining about the format, urging the moderator to move on to audience Q&A during the opening remarks by panelists. The moderator was monitoring the tweetstream, and interrupted to ask the audience – in the frontchannel – whether they would prefer to skip to Q&A, and they overwhelmingly expressed support for continuing on with the planned format.

    I’m not arguing against tweeting at conferences, and believe there are cases where speakers – and the audience – can benefit from greater awareness of – and interactions through – the backchannel. However, I am suggesting that we give those who are present – and engaging in the frontchannel – due consideration.

  18. Grade AFTER. Let the speaker have his say. This is just high-tech heckling, mob rule, sniper-fire by text. Your petulant-myopic interests might not be universally shared, others might be actually enjoying the speech, don’t ruin it during. You think this would work in a church? Or say a Presidential address? Or at a paper-presenting Academic/Scientific speech? Even if a paid conference, a certain level of professionalism should be maintained, on both sides.

    This is really just a symptom and outgrowth of the thousands of tech conferences that have no reason to exist other than to highlight the profile of the speakers and create networkingese social-media events unto themselves, it’s not a speech, it’s an ego-worship-fest — such is a rich fertilizer bed for poor speakers, and the out-crowd having actually paid to attend, is understandably miffed. But heckling is not the answer.

    Wayyyy too much noise, in monitoring the back-channel. Anyone on that potato-chip-thin level of short-attention-span micro-bursts should be clinically evaluated. And Twitter breaks kill the flow, and cause tune-outs, takes at least ten minutes to get back to where you left off, any schoolteacher could tell you that. The buddy system would work best for all things, but per the PA system, temperature and everything outside the scope of the speech itself, should be the conference organizers responsibility, don’t lay that on the feet of the speaker.

  19. Hi Jeremiah,

    I agree with you on showing the back channel behind the speaker, I have both tried it and seen and it tends to be a bit disturbing both fore the audience and the speaker.

    Personally I have found that a combination of twitter and cellphone works best for me. Having the screen with the back channel in front of me works ok, I just have to remember to look at at during my presentation. The cellphone is always in may hand or pocket in vibration mode. In my introduction I always show up my phone number and encourage people to ask questions or give comments by text. I also keep my number in the footer on every slide. I also promise to replay on every question during my presentation or after. This could off course be risky if the number of questions explode, but so fare it has turned out just fine. I my opinion this do not only give those who usually ask questions anyway a chance, but also works fine fore those who do not like to speak out loud in an audience a chance.

    But always remember to follow up on the feedback and questions afterwards as well.

    Finally – your point about being prepared is basically the key. The poor guy from Higher Education Conference (and I truly feel sorry for him), would probably had no help from knowing what was going on, It would probably just have knocked him of stage.

  20. Although I agree with the bulk of your post I have to disagree with you on the idea that speakers should be monitoring raw/real time Tweets.

    “Ask coordinators to display a monitor on stage facing you to see hashtags, use your mobile phone, or have your computer on stage to quickly see the stream.”

    Sometimes the stream may be manageable but it doesn’t take much for it to get out of control. Instead I put forth that speaking should quickly become a team sport. A friend/moderator in the audience should monitor the raw feed and … if necessary:

    1. Appraise speaker of backchannel tone. Silly as it may sound they could hold up up a green card for positive feedback, yellow for neutral/mixed commentary and red as a warning that there’s information that needs to be acted on.
    2. Pull out key messages that need to be addressed. Keeping with the Twitter theme, why not have the moderator send direct messages to the presenter. Instead of having to filter through potentially hundreds of Tweets (including spam, duplication and off topic rants) the speaker could focus on a couple key issues.
    3. Engage directly with audience via Twitter to diffuse misconceptions. For example if someone misreads a slide and starts spreading misinformation that can be corrected without having to interrupt the presentation itself.

  21. It is funny that using twitter during a conference kind of reminds me of a couple of schoolboys at the back of the class sniggering while the lecturer gives his course. I have only ever been to about 3 keynotes where I have been so captivated that I set the phone down and didn’t even look at it once. It is a skill that a very limited amount of people have

  22. To underscore the point, I got a handwritten note to speak up and not to face the moderator on a panel. Point was taken immediately. I’d rather a written note than a permanent record of the miscue, but either way feedback is good.

  23. One observation – in an article about engaging the back channel you can’t post a reply using your twitter profile?

    I was at the Health 2.0 conference in SF last week and the internet access was so poor that many people gave up on any attempt at using the back channel and the resulting frustration colored our perception of the speakers. We felt trapped.

  24. Hey Jeremiah
    Great post. I couldn’t agree more with you that as a speaker you have to be keenly aware of the audience cues and adjust accordingly. And the only way to be able to do that is prepare, practice and perceive. I’m curious did you hear about the Backnoise incident recently in Atlanta. Chris Brogan and Jeff Turner dealt with it head on but many of the other speakers just ignored it and sadly paid a price for that.
    I am not a fan of the back channels where people can choose to remain anonymous because it seems that a mob mentality forms and the comments end up taking an ugly personal turn.
    There’s a saying I’ve used frequently in my career and that’s: with privilege comes responsibility. As speakers we have the responsibility to be relevant, engaging and accurate. But I think audiences have a responsibility as well and that’s to be a part of the solution — provide thoughtful constructive feedback so that things improve.


  25. This is a very interesting set of suggestions. I went to a conference earlier this week in which the backchannel was extremely active, and I’m watching the stream for another at this very moment that is even more so. Both are providing excellent discussion.

    I think of the backchannel almost as a form of active reading — it’s a way of engaging with the presentation and developing ideas. No longer to I have to sit and passively ingest the presentation, but I can engage with it.

    But, I wonder one thing here. If the speaker, especially one the backchannel users don’t know, so openly monitors the channel, does it lose its benefit? How different would the tweet streams become if the users know they are being surveilled?

    Part of the answer depends on how the speaker is using the info percolating from the backchannel. If he or she engages with it, that’s one thing. To simply monitor it might make users feel they are being watched — like bad kids passing notes in class.

    There’s a fine balance to walk here for presenters. Feedback is certainly a necessary and wonderful thing. But, backchannel spaces have persistently emerging and difficult to define ethical standards, as well.

  26. Good article. I agree with the sentiment, and I have done this while sitting on multiple-person panels. But can you imagine how looking at your iPhone while you’re speaking to an audience will look on television or recorded and archived on YouTube? One word: dumb.

  27. I think monitoring the conversation is a good idea, but I’d suggest, instead of a cell phone a computer that you can glance at sometimes while you’re speaking so you can see what the conversation is, but also focus on the audience. If you’re having to look at your cell phone every couple of seconds it will ruin your presentation, looks unprofessional, and will ultimately be counter productive.

    You need to remember to engage your audience…and no that’s not just in social media, that’s in real time as well…so if you’re speaking you need to focus on the people in your audience. Use the computer to occasionally look for twitter responses, but keep your attention for the most part on the real time environment.

  28. Thanks for this post. If you look in my slideshare, you’ll see 100s of presentations. I don’t ever do the same one more than once. Yes, there are similar ideas in the presentations – but my examples come from the audience. I follow the social media ant trails of my audience and incorporate screencaptures as examples. Then I ask that person a question to expand about the point I’m trying to make. I let people know at the beginning that I’m going to do this.

    I also establish a unique tag for my talks. And at particular points in the discussion, I ask folks in the room to monitor the stream and see if there are any threads I should incorporate.

    This has made for really rich, interactive presentations and workshops.

  29. Jeremiah … terrific post. Since you headed off on your own, your posts have kicked up a gear or two. Since Hitachi days you have grown and grown – great stuff and highly applicable.

  30. Please allow me to remind you all that the tweets from #heweb09 were primarily for those who were part of the conference. Had it not trended, most of this recoil would’ve never happened.

    I understand that Twitter is a public way of sharing your feelings/thoughts but no one outside of the conference, save a few people, would have known this was happening. Please read Tony Dunn’s blog regarding the shared experience of the 2nd keynote. See here –

    A clear indicator that the audience is not listening?… when all of their faces are illuminated by the glow of their laptop/iphone screens. Then you’ve lost them. Heads were down. That would have been a time for the speaker to stop, take a breath, and acknowledge that it is time for dialogue.

    Despite the level of venom that was released, if you look at the back channel that you’ll see that besides the comment regarding the drop shadow, people were giving him the benefit of the doubt. That initial comment was merely for the very lame slide that sat on the screen for maybe the first 10 minutes of his intro. That was too long by any standard. Get to the meat of what you’re talking about.

    I’m sorry but I feel that the crowd of #heweb09 is now being seen as this lynch mob that is ready for it’s next keynote disaster. That is just not the case. We all shared in the experience, we’ve absorbed it, and now it’s time to move on. I would hope and expect now after this debacle and the ensuing good and bad of it that next year’s keynotes will be very primed and ready to go.

    Thank you Jeremiah for using this as a lesson. Now let’s evolve.

  31. Exceptional post, Jeremiah!! I’ve always loved your style. You’re absolutely right – speakers today from all walks of life on all subjects absolutely must integrate social media these days.

    I’m amazed at how many events don’t make the hashtag really clear up front and invite and encourage the audience to tweet… even well ahead of time.

    Also, over the past few weeks, I’ve been on four different social media panels where I’ve been the only person on stage with my iPhone. I store a pre-saved search for the hashtag on Tweetie and monitor it closely when I’m not speaking (a tad harder to do when you’re the solo speaker, but I like your suggestions here). At one event, I was able to circle back to a comment that got misconstrued and created controversy and addressed it in real time.

    Being able to monitor the backchannel, both in body language and the energy of the room as well as the live tweetstream sets such speakers head and shoulders above those who don’t. Sadly, it’s often just a matter of lack of knowledge. People don’t know what they don’t know. It takes education and practice. Public speaking is still one of the top fears… and now with these added dimensions it probably makes some folks even more apprehensive!

    I think being totally real and just asking the audience for input and really meaning it can shift the energy.


  32. No offense, but this reads like a 6th grader’s essay. It’s difficult to take your suggestions seriously when the writing is so grammatically incorrect, and incoherent.

  33. Sorry, but just don’t believe it. There is no way that any speaker can be effectively speaking and monitoring the audience in real time (a must) and also try and monitor what they are twittering about. Something will give with this information overload. And my guess it will be the quality of the presentation. Can you imagine Barack Obama at his acceptance speech with a cellphone in his hand to check if he was on track. I can’t and for good reason. A speakers job is to lead not to follow. This advice will not enhance the quality of speakers just make them puppets to the audience. And if they are that then they shouldn’t be speaking.

  34. Before social media, I advised my clients to attend the conference and chat with people about which presentations were captivating and what trends were impacting them directly. This way, my client can then infuse their presentations with these anecdotes. What this did was:
    1) Personalize the speaker to the audience because he/she
    2) Was paying attention to the content at the conference and
    3) Wasn’t just walking in an hour before his/her presentation and leaving afterward

    Now, we are seeing an added element that speakers should be aware of to better enhance their presentations. Because I believe that it’s difficult for many speakers, especially individual/keynotes, to monitor and speak at the same time, I recommend the following:

    1) Ask what proportion of the audience plans to tweet, live blog, FB or any other type of social media activity at the event. If 99% of the audience raises their hand, then yes – you need to monitor the back channel using one of the recommendations from above. If only 10% raises their hand, I recommend that you present to the rest of the audience and adjust your presentation based on their reactions.

    2) Be upfront about your ability or inability to monitor the back-channel chatter. This sets the expectations upfront to your audience.

    3) Considering holding a Twitter/online-only Q&A that starts 15 minutes after your leave the podium. This could be done in the speaker-ready room with a computer and internet connection. For example, many of my company’s customers hold hybrid events (a mix of in-person with a virtual component). With one customer, they had speakers hold Q&A sessions with the virtual attendees after they walked off the podium at the in-person event. In many ways, the person was able to answer MORE questions in a shorter period of time than possible in-person.

    An interesting question for conference organizers is will you being booking speakers who can present AND monitor the back channel simultaneously?

  35. Thanks for the great article!

    I also think that these skills are also going to be required in colleges and universities, where much of these discussion are going on by the students. It’s incredibly important that our future generations are fully engaged and participating, and it’s the responsibility of the session leader to adapt to the backchannel discussions that are going on.

    Keep up the great work!

  36. Cece, those are some great suggestions –extending the keynote online immediately after the presentation could add more value. However many conference organizers want eyes on the stage for the next event –how would you couple it with that?

  37. I don’t think two-fisted speaking is really going to help improve the quality of a presentation, unless the speaker is very experienced and has that kind of mind. Otherwise, like most multitasking, the overall result will be mixed.

    I spoke recently at Marketing Now in Melbourne, Australia, where we had very active Twitter participation, but no monitors on stage. I think that was a good thing. For those who wanted to backchannel, they could. For those who didn’t, they could just focus on the speaker.

    It was also great to go back over the tweets sent during my presentation, afterwards. I could see where I confused people, where people got excited, and which phrases were the most retweetable. Priceless feedback!

  38. Excellent post. I present pretty often in environments where people don’t tweet for a number of reasons. It’s been about 4 years ago that I opened a public chatroom (very simple to do, using – no association w/ me ;)) for ppl with a laptop to use it as a “backstage”. It did wonders and is doing even now.
    The bottom line: 1) it’s good for the presenter, after all 2) can be done even without twitter 😉

  39. Some good points here, Jeremiah.

    This has to be balanced and though it is good to be reactive and monitor what’s going on, you need to keep your focus – and keep your lead. You have a story to tell – tell it.

    I’ve been trying it out on conferences lately, both as a speaker and organizer, like on the 140conf in NY where I had twitterrific running so that all tweets mentioning @hjortur where visible to both me and attendees – it was beside my slides on the big screen while I was talking.

    I think it is even more important though for the conference organizers to be constantly monitoring the discussion and reacting to it. I found it very helpful on TEDx Reykjavik where I was one of the organizers to be able to react to questions and comments. Is there anyone not seeing the screen, hearing clearly, is the wifi slow, coffee cold or whatever else that may be annoying people. Getting the feedback in real time makes it possible to fix things before the next talk or next break, instead of next year. Invaluable for any organizer.

  40. Great post. I just sent this to the DC Progressive Communicators Yahoo groups list.

    The only thing of value I could add is that I love @Twazzup for conference monitoring.

    Shaun Dakin – CEO

  41. If a speaker is saying anything of any import, intellectually stimulating or in any way engaging, what the hell are people doing tweeting – why aren’t they listening and don’t kid me you can do both properly – you can’t!. If Lincoln had been tweeted during the Gettysburg address, would the words he came out with have been so profound or stood the test of time. Apparently his speech was not that well received by the assembled onlookers – would he have tried changing them as he went along and reacting to an audience who were obviously not up to much and just didn’t get it. Reacting to tweeting ‘in-presentation’ is patently absurd, unless your presentation is about Twitter!

  42. I like and respect you, Jeremiah, but in this case you are full of crap.

    After 14 years of public speaking (I started off not very good, now I am better, I hope) I’d recommend people have something to say and find a dramatic and interesting and well-prepared way to say it. Audiences like that. They came to see you, not what one or another audience member wants.

    If the venue is small take questions as you go. If it’s large, take ’em at the end. Keep your talk short enough to take lots of questions.

    Panels are inherently dull and the speaker has to provoke, interrupt, and stimulate the panelists. 3 panelists is good, more than 3 is deadly.

    If you are not a good speaker, have not done a good job of preparing, or if you are running a dull panel, then listening to the audience will not solve your problem.

    On the other hand, if you sense things are going badly, ask an audience member directly. Not only does this help get a real conversation going (as opposed to a “conversation”) but it stimulates the audience.

    The audience deserves your full attention. Not a speaker distracted by monitoring tweets.

  43. Josh

    Great speakers have nothing to worry about, their content and performance will lead the audience. Me? I aspire to be great, and will err on the side of caution. What’s interesting is that in both of these hijacks, the speakers were not ready. I think we can agree that bullet one on “Being prepared” is baseline, however ignore the audience in the backchannel at your own risk.

    BTW: my eyes are brown. 🙂

  44. Social mimics real life yet again. Poorly prepared speakers – or politely the “podium impaired” – have been whispered about and trashed for years. Social adds reach and persistence to these crowd whispers. Is the audience now empowered and trying to grab the microphone? Time will tell but for now this is at least a reminder about managing your personal brand, mindful that your name and that of your employer can easily take new directions in a Web 2.0 world. Good post.

  45. I was at the now-infamous keynote address, and I have to say, it wasn’t as brutal as some have suggested. (And no one was texting the speaker “to tell him how awful he was.”) It was effectively people cracking jokes to keep themselves entertained once they got bored. It was exactly the kind of comments people would write in notes to the people next to them in the past–only now it’s much, much more public.

    I can’t imagine trying to stay connected to an audience while at the same time reading their tweets. And quite frankly, this speaker would not have needed to do that. He could have just looked up and seen that the vast majority of his audience had disengaged and were transfixed by their laptops. Some common sense could have told him to make “microtweaks”–also known as adjusting his presentation to keep his audience engaged.

    The truth is, the audience has always had power–the power to whisper each other, to work on something else, to heckle, or to get up and leave. The only difference is that the audience is a lot more comfortable commenting when they can do it without standing up and disturbing the presentation, and that “tweckles,” unlike old-school heckles, can be heard ’round the world.

  46. I always thought it was kind of rude when a panelist was staring at his/her phone (many times they just look plain bored when they’re doing so). Then in other cases, they are checking Twitter for updates/questions from the audience (you know, doing their part to monitor the conversation). Then you mentioned this: “Scoble is known for taking Twitter breaks during his presentation every 15 minutes to gauge the audience feedback.” There’s nothing wrong with checking your phone to monitor the conversation that’s taking place amongst the audience about your session. But what I really appreciate is when a speaker or panelist makes it known ahead of time that that’s just what they’ll be doing. For example, at a session I once attended, there wasn’t a screen up to monitor tweets from the audience. The moderator gave out his cell phone number to the audience so that he could receive questions from the audience for the panel (that or DM’s). I thought this was a great idea and very well handled.

    As for displaying the backchannel conversation on the screen behind you as a speaker, I feel that can be rather distracting. I like the idea of requesting a computer placed in front of you so that you can monitor the conversation while you’re presenting (less distracting this way).

    I used to think that “practice makes perfect” but not so much so that your speech sounds rehearsed. I think technology nowadays really puts you on the spot and puts pressure on your to be a the top of your game (tho really, one should always be at the top of their game).

  47. Great post! I can’t believe how many areas of life and business Twitter plays a huge role in. I love the part about how you can modify what you are doing through a public speech using Twitter…keep the audience more engaged!!

  48. Great post, Jeremiah.

    As a speaker, whenever I can I ask people to feel free to interrupt, ask questions, comment etc as part of the interactive process.

    As a conference organizer and sometimes informal adviser to others about speaking, I encourage them to do the same – everyone gets so much more out of it that way.

    Backchannel displays facing the audience and the speaker is a natural extension of that. I’ve been in situations where someone else is monitoring and as an audience member found it led to the presentation seeming a bit disjointed.

    Having read the commentary about the #heweb09 at other sites and the backchannel transcript, to me there’s a bigger issue than just the responsibility of the speaker.

    Responsibility of the audience: An .eduguru blogger wrote in trying to defend the audience’s behavior: “And once the tweeting started, it simply became more fun to be in the stream than put up with the presentation. In a way, it was less about being snarky towards the speaker, and more about amusing each other by sharing and exaggerating the pain.” Really? So a bit bored, we egged each other on?

    Responsibility of the organizers: At some point, the #heweb09 conference organizers selected the speaker, so they must have seen value in having him present? Heard him speak? References? Briefed him? I don’t feel sorry for them, it sounds like poor due diligence.
    I saw this tweet from Jon Hussey (@auwebmanager): “Must be a bad keynote. But after seeing the backchannel, I have to wonder if I ever want to present to this crowd.”

    I doubt anyone would, it casts an ugly shadow on the event.

    Considering social as the sole responsibility of the speaker alone seems pretty one-way (to me at least) – if that’s the case, as a society, we’ll lose the opportunity to hear some great ideas I think.

  49. Just to finish: – With power comes responsibility. I’d like to see conferences organizers set community-type rules about backchannels – they’re being used as a commons after all. It should be as routine as people being back on time, muting their phones, not smoking, etc., Passive-agressive mob behavior, whether you’re paying money to attend a conference or not, seems pretty uncivilised.

  50. Hi Jeremiah, sorry but I dont think this is the right approach in most cases. As a speaker myself (social media and online community) I think it is important to respect the participants who have chosen to come and listen to you, based on a given purpose. Especially if they have paid. Use of backchannel, live streaming etc. is with no doubt the right way to go. But, I am a speaker and it is my job to inspire and evangelize the audience.

  51. Any additional information is fine during my presentations.
    However, audience “control” needs be accompanied by “responsibility.” I don’t mind interruptions, questions,
    or whatever, as long as I can hear it clearly and respond.
    Much of this back channel cannot be responded to and simply
    amounts to passive-aggressive behavior with no intention to
    improve or correct or own the interaction.

  52. Interacting with the audience is a great one, but it makes me wonder if just one person says something should you listen to him or her and adjust your presentation to accommodate to someone who may not coincide with everyone else’s perspective in the room? This is where crowdsourcing thoughts and feelings may come in handy to get a broader perspective of what the audience wants from your content.

  53. We just concluded the PowerPoint Live User Conference (, at which we addressed the question of the backchannel and all of the opportunities for a presenter to create more interaction and engagement. I am fascinated by all emerging technologies around presentation, but am as yet unconvinced that a Twitter backchannel will create that deeper engagement we speak of.

    We have seen for centuries now the tendency for those with complaints to be more vociferous than those who are satisfied; if 100 people in an audience love a presenter’s keynote address, and two dislike it and tweet about it, the presenter would be doing his or her audience a disservice by heeding them. One thing is for sure: there will be hardly a dull moment in the presentation community for years to come…

  54. Monitoring the backchannels is important, as you say it can steer the conversation in a new direction or liven up a discussion that’s gone stale.

    You need to know your audience, how much they use and rely on SM. But social media integration should never take priority over the audience in front of you; it should add to and not take away from the presentation.

  55. Just attended a Digital District conference in UK recently and observed what have mentioned in many above comments. personally I thought that speakers need to know himself well to decide whether or not having backchannel involves in his presentation. If he is not confident then better take those #tag after the presentation. Otherwise, he will disapoint all attendees who came to listen to his presentation, not to see those good/bad #tags on the screen.

  56. As a full time speaker and trainer for 27 years, I was surprised by this and also enlightened. As a rule, I ask people to ‘off’ their phones during all trainings and for speeches, the introducer does. Minimum, is silent mode which means they are ‘on’ and people can tweet. Having acknowledged (now) that they may be sharing about my talk, here are 3 things I do:
    1) Ask involving questions every 10 minutes minimum. This knocks them off ‘screen saver’ mode.
    2) Open strong and close stronger. NEVER “It is a pleasure…” or “How are you today” or worse, “Can you hear me okay?” Instead, “3 out of every 10 of you will be out of a job in 6 months time.” or some other gripping statement, humor or visual.
    3) Keeping them engaged throughout by blending content with visuals with stories (the ultimate ‘teachers’) and group involvement… they don’t have time to tweet (and hopefully do not have the desire)

    Finally, at a Web 2.0 seminar, you have IT people who think in an IT way. That is understandable. To get them to ‘unplug’ is like asking them to stop breathing. Most of my audiences are NOT IT people. Just people who use IT to accomplish goals in life and to fill time when they are not engaged. If we keep these people engaged, maybe they will not feel the need to tweet others in the audience to see what they think of the speaker?

    God bless you all.

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  58. As a professional speaker, there is need to deeply know the nook and cranny of the topic you want to present, you need to know your audience. You need to be dynamic in your presentation delivery in order to carry your audience along althrough your presentation with your body movement, eye contacts and various example for proper understanding.

  59. Jeremiah
    You are right on! Speech preparation is all important. I am a professional speaker and I have my speech down word for word. I can see a difference if I vary just one sentence in my speech. Because I have it down I can pretty much controllthe audience.

  60. I’ve got to say that if you have time in your speech to worry about the tweets in the audience, you’re not giving a very good speech, and you deserve to be panned. You should control the audience, the audience should not control you.

  61. Thought-provoking information from a different technical perspective. My keyonote and breakout session all include handout material or workbooks for the attendees to utilize, so this is another element I had not considered. Thank you, Sheila

  62. This is all silly. As a presenter, make sure you topic is relevant and intriguing. Don't look at the back channel while speaking, and don't even think about it. I think the real problem is that most speakers are absolutely terrible. They present on uninteresting topics in an even more uninteresting fashion. Don't blame social media for your “suck”

  63. I just spoke at the UK's National Creative Industries conference in London, attended by a wide ranging group of folk from government, media, talking about the 'digital economy'. There was no backchannel at this event, but it was clear that the topic is so enormous that it would be impossible to cover all the bases for everyone. I love asking the audience questions – what are your top three hot topics – what does innovation mean to you – that sort of thing to get a more focused discussion going, and make my presentations more useful and relevant. Not all speakers are happy to adapt on the spot though.

  64. After Danah Boyd's post you passed along I'm more inclined to argue for not presenting the audience a live feed via Twitter. You know the saying, a few bad apples spoils the bunch. It only takes a few people in a crowded room to ruin the entire speech by posting distracting and useless comments to their feed with the conference hashtag. You said one person in a recent speech of yours said you were boring so you opted for Q&A. How many other people were actually interested in your content. You are the expert that was selected or invited to speak at the conference. If I paid the price to go to something like Web 2.0 I would fully expect to hear content. If the Q&A accomplishes the same goal then no big deal, you can still direct the conversation as a speaker but I would really feel cheated if every conference session turned into a Q&A.

  65. Jeremiah, I agree with, and respect your guidelines for creating a better speaking experience. It may also be important to note however that we as audience members bear a responsibility to be respectful, and to further the learning and dialogue with proper feedback. Virtual catcalls and snipes really don't do anyone any good. Save those for the WWF. A speaker is extending themselves as a gift to the audience, so backchannel should be respectful and support the flow. Dialogue is about learning, sharing, and extending the value for all.

  66. Having a backchannel does not always add significant value for the audience or presenter, and can have a negative impact on learning outcomes of a session.

    Note: There is a difference between presentation and facilitation. I am talking about the former, not so much a large conversation or Q&A panel.

    As an audience member, just because I like to be constantly plugged in and having my own conversation with peers on Twitter, on topic or off, does not mean that the online chat I will have will be a more valuable learning experience for me than entirely focusing on the presenter's offline stream. Taking notes on a backchannel is different than having conversations (posted on my blog). Personally, I know that I do not always know or do what is best for my learning, and given the temptation to make well-timed wiseass remarks on a giant screen for hundreds to see, well, no comment.

    The backchannel 'voice' or power shift given to the audience is the equivalent of handing them all microphones. A lot of people have gotten really excited about that. Most of these people are not presenters themselves. This is not necessarily about the desire for power. Yes, I agree presenters need to understand backchannels versus just killing the backchannels all together. However, there are some things we need to further understand about how our brains work with language.

    Personally, I disagree with the screen onstage in many (not all) presentation dynamics. This is not about 'relevance', it is about the human brain's limited capacity for attention. Having a backchannel of converstaion to type into or read from creates two language source inputs into our brain simultaneously, and we can truly only toggle between them, not take in 100% of each.

    Since backchannels in general are unavoidable, presenters must learn to garner respect through content, delivery, and savviness of backchannels all at the same time.

  67. Jeremiah,

    You wrote this post before the W2 expo presentation by danah boyd, so although many other online mobs have happened before, I don't think any had been as visible as this one (danah is a scholar of social media, and her talk was actually precisely on divided attention). I like danah's talks and I found it really a shame that the backchannel was so thoroughly inadequate to support her talk – instead, it became an instrument to bash her speech.

    I personally don't think will give talks again where I can't monitor the backchannel. Not because I'm afraid that I'm going to be mobbed (heck, I don't fear online mobs). It's because as danah says, the backchannel becomes the frontchannel, and the audience becomes more interested in reading the backchannel than in listening to the speaker. If that's the case, why would I need to go and spend my time giving a talk in person?)

  68. Perhaps speakers should be connected to Twitter when they give a presentation, and have it on the screen (thus requiring two projectors) and at certain points, during their talk, ask audience members to send them tweets so that they can incorporate the questions or comments into their presentations to make it more interactive

  69. Hi Jeremiah: This was a good post. It is amazing that audiences, and all of us, have the power as close as our fingers or thumbs nowadays, and can shift the groundswell one direction or another, or in multiple directions at the same time. With that power comes the responsibility to use it wisely, or constructively. It is amazing that people feel somewhat anonymous by engaging in mean-spirited, somewhat condescending, conversation in the back channel without remembering there is a real live human being in front of them. Given that, this practice will only grow and get a bit crazier, so talking about how to handle it is a very useful and valuable thing for you, and all of us, to do. Thanks for taking the time to do so.

  70. Really this great post, I had never idea about PowerPoint Twitter before. I learned new things from your blog.

  71. Really this great post, I had never idea about PowerPoint Twitter before. I learned new things from your blog.

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