Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Productivity

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

The Risk of Unfairness

Another backchannel blowup happened following a presentation at the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media in Toronto in 2008. Public relations expert and conference co-chair Joseph Thornley had strongly disagreed with some of the points made by former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer Ira Basen, and he posted his opinions on Twitter during Ira's talk.

Ira was unaware of Joseph's comments until one of Ira's colleagues sent him a note letting him know about the Twitter posts. Then Ira sent Joseph a strongly worded email:

  • I guess it's fashionable these days to slag speakers online while they are still on the podium. Why wait until after they are finished so you might have an opportunity to actually reflect on what they had to say? This way, you can impress your friends by how clever you are, as opposed to how insightful. And besides, who has time for reflection in this busy world?

As the blowup ensued, Ira made the point that it's unfair to be criticized live during a presentation without being able to respond. Joseph defended his freedom to make comments during a presentation.

Both Joseph and Ira agreed to post their full email correspondence on Joseph's blog, along with a copy of all of his related Twitter posts from the conference—and he invited people to respond. Readers jumped into the fray in extended posts that became a heated debate on the role Twitter should play as a backchannel tool during live presentations.

Focusing on the presentation, not the backchannel

Presenters normally do not participate in a backchannel because they are focusing on delivering their material. They also may not be involved because they don't even know the audience has created a backchannel. The result is that people in the backchannel are talking about presenters and their material without the presenters taking part in the conversation.

Starting slow

Some presenters may start slow; they might take a while to warm up and find their voice. But backchannel feedback starts when the presentation starts, which means presenters sometimes don't even have a chance to make a point before the backchannel fires off commentary and criticism.

Feeling left out

It's not just presenters who feel the backchannel can be unfair. Other people in the audience who are not participating in the backchannel can feel left out of the conversation, or they find that presenters pay more attention to the backchannel than the live discussion in the room. Some critics accuse people in the backchannel of creating an exclusive club comprised of the "in-crowd."

Letting the few dominate the discussion

A Twitter backchannel wields power because comments are published to the world, but often tweets represent the feedback of only a small, vocal part of the audience—the group that has the strongest opinions but not necessarily the group that reflects the feelings of the larger group. As a result, the backchannel can have disproportionate influence.

If the comments reflect only the opinion of one person, it's unfair to the rest of the audience for the presenter to devote a lot of time to it. And if other people in the audience have their own strong, differing opinions, it's impossible for the presenter to address all of them in the brief time of a presentation.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account