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The backchannel can make or break your presentation, listen to it!

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Reflecting on my time at SXSW 2010 I am so thankful for what the event offered me both personally and professionally. I can’t stop thinking about the people I met, the Twitter personalities I was finally able to connect a face with and all of the great presentations I attended. To say it was an insane, crazy, mind-blowing experience is an understatement. In my last blog post I talked about the unexpected things I encountered like the SXSW culture
and how it reminded me of summer camp. Since I already talked about the culture, I want to share with you the biggest lesson I learned at SXSW.

Pay attention to the backchannel. While this was one of the most talked about topics at SXSW, it was completely disregarded in one of the most talked about and much anticipated keynote presentations. The keynote featured the founder of Twitter, Evan Williams, and it was supposed to be the highlight of the event. The keynote presentation was a question and answer format, with the interviewer being Umair Haque
of the Harvard Business Review. What started off as a sneak peek and announcement of the new @Anywhere feature for Twitter quickly turned into a monologue of Haque’s traveling mishaps, blog and his interests. It quickly became apparent that the audience was losing interest as SXSW attendees left the large exhibit hall in droves and shared their thoughts on Twitter via the hashtag #Mondaykeynote. It was quickly turning into a “fail whale.”

So where did this disaster of a presentation go wrong? As one attendee put it, “A train wreck it was not, that would have held my attention.” For starters, a keynote presentation should be just what it says, a presentation. The question and answer format doesn’t work well when presenting to thousands of attendees who are all there to hear the thoughts and insights of the featured presenter. The interviewer choice was also wrong. Someone like
Gary Vaynerchuk, PRSarahEvans or Chris Brogan would have made a much better interviewer because they understand social media and Twitter specifically. They would have also listened to the backchannel and re-adjusted appropriately.

Which brings me to my last and most important take-away from the event, LISTEN TO THE BACKCHANNEL! The backchannel is the conversation that takes place about your presentation in real time as it is being given. With social media tools like Twitter, people are providing valuable feedback about how the presentation is going, what questions are un-answered and blasting their messages out to thousands.

What Haque or the event staff of SXSW should have done would be to monitor the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag they provided and make adjustments accordingly. Unfortunately, there were many questions left unanswered during this interview. But in true Twitter fashion and which we would expect nothing less … Evan offered to answer questions after the presentation had ended… on Twitter. Haque responded to the backlash in his blog post, Twitter, SXSW, and Building a 21st Century Business.

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