Thursday, September 23, 2010

Backchanneling at Conferences

audience In I felt naked…, Paul Bogush says,

“I have always been a bit undecided about the whole backchannel and people surfing the web thing at conferences.”

This had me thinking about how I feel towards backchanneling and realized that it doesn’t bother me.

As a presenter, I am offering information to others and how they receive it is up to them. I feel that these people chose to be there and as a professional, I need to treat them as adults and not children forced to be in my class. If people are so bored with my presentation and they are surfing the web, then the problem lies with me and not them. I need to engage them enough to where they want to surf in order to get more information about my topic or lead them to asking other questions. I want them to want to know more about what I’m sharing and hopefully the next time I present, they will want to hear more about what I have to say.

I went to one presentation where the presenter encouraged people to get out their laptops and use their cell phones. Throughout his presentation, he surveyed people and asked them to respond either by using their laptops or cell phones. That is a great way to make the presentation interactive and it helped me pay attention better because I was waiting for this opportunity.

I have taught graduate classes and encouraged my students to bring their laptops to class. I see my lessons as a presentation just like I would do at a conference. When I share new tools or concepts, I encourage them to go to the website that I’m talking about so they can see if they have any questions. Sometimes they might refer to a website that is opposite of what I’m saying and so they need clarification. I would rather have this discussion then have an audience who is bored to tears thinking about the grocery list they need to write out.

I have been to conferences where I have been asked to close my laptop and I find that very insulting. As a professional and an adult, I think that is a decision that I should make. If the presenter is that worried about holding my attention, then they need to look at what type of presentation they have. This also makes me think that this presenter has some kind of inferiority complex which makes me not trust the information that will be shared. I know I may be wrong in this thinking but that is how it makes me feel.

If I know how this makes me feel, I do not want to be that kind of presenter. I want to be an open and transparent presenter who is willing to let people use whatever tools they need in order to be engaged. If they are checking their emails or playing on facebook, then I am not engaging them enough to interest them. I would offer websites or tools for them to check out and even encourage them to look at the site at that moment. I would poll the audience on certain topics in order to engage them in the conversation. In fact, I find the thought of others bringing in their laptops as a sign that they want to be engaged in the conversation and will look through any fluff that I might try to offer. This keeps me on my toes and forces me to make sure that I have my information correct or at least can refer to where I got my information.

People choose to come to my presentations and their time is valuable. I want them to feel that the information I share will in some way improve their lives. If they spend the time resenting me or wishing they had their laptops then I am defeating my purpose and more than likely, they will not return to any presentation I do.

Of course, this is just the way that I feel and you may feel differently. Please share your thoughts!

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Original image: 'An Event Apart Design Conference - December 2009 - San Francisco, CA' by: kris krüg


Sioux said...

You are certainly an embracing, open consultant. However, I do feel there is a small number of educators who are so closed to/uninterested in new ideas, it would not matter HOW valuable or relevant the workshop is---they refuse to engage. They are there because they are 1) required to or 2) because it means a "day off." (Example: I went to a smartboard training session, and the teacher next to me was cutting out things for a bulletin board the entire time. She refused to use her smartboad---she was my grade level colleague that year--so she paid no attention, even though the session was well done and had loads of applicable stuff.

Paula Lee Bright said...

I absolutely agree with you that it is insulting to be asked to shut down my computer! Your advice about using the laptops and phones is solid, and I would use the same technique.

After all, a presenter is really a teacher for the audience of teachers, and if they're good at what they do, the "students" will be listening!

If they stink, you better believe I'll either slip out and into another session with a more engaging speaker, or get some work done on my own upcoming presentation or whatever else needs to be done!

Conference time is too valuable to sit and waste time.

There have been sessions where I've been riveted to my seat, enthralled with all the teaching and learning going on. Those are the sessions we all hope for!

I suspect yours are excellent! Thanks for the interesting observations in this post.


Beth O'Sullivan said...

As a communications instructor I actually have a question vs. a comment. I love the idea of getting students to send in comments. How do you deal with the streaming comments on your end - do you keep your own twitter line open or do you stop every few minutes and respond to comments and posts?