7 Things You Should Know About Backchannel Communication

7 thoughts on “7 Things You Should Know About Backchannel Communication”

  1. My gut instinct is to argue with you, on the grounds that you cannot multitask. Your conscious attention can only be in one place at a time. However, you can rapidly task switch.

    This leads me to something I read in “Yes You Can” by Stacey Hanke and Mary Steinberg. You can speak at 125 words per minute and think at 500 words per minute. Chuck in a bit of fast typing and you have gained the capacity for backchannel participation.

    I think. Perhaps others have mulled this and have answers.

    My previous thinking was based on an abject fear of missing something important from the speaker and not being able to ask questions in case the answers had already been given while I was working the backchannel.

    Am I (was I) wrong?

  2. I think I was there for one of the early back channel chats Luis. Maybe even your first one. We didn’t have a name for them then. It would have been 5 years ago at the very least.

    David, In my experience back channel chats, for the most part, make tweets look long winded. They don’t take much time and you avoid them when the talk etc. is more important to you. I found them most useful during teleconferences where I was sitting in my cubicle. You could easily get clarification from other attendees on misheard things or get the exact spelling or a URL without interrupting the proceedings.

    There was one series of meetings we attended where one person kept minutes in the back channel. Corrections got made as pauses permitted and seconds after the meeting we all received our copy. No need to review and approve later.

    Back channels are a great place to hold questions for the speaker. Sometimes they are answered before the speaker has time to see them.

    The secret, for me, to handling back channels during meetings is to treat them as whispered asides. If your attention is on the meeting and not the back channel when something comes across it then treat it like it never happened. If you try to keep 100% up to date with both then you have trouble.

  3. Multi-tasking is certainly not for everyone, but for those who can pull it off successfully, participating in the backchannel can be very rewarding. A point to presenters though – never publicly show the backchannel while you are presenting. I was recently at an event, where a presenter had the backchannel via Twitter streaming behind him on the big screen. Of course he could not see it as he was facing the audience, but some people were criticising his presentation style, and this was creating a reaction from the audience that was very distracting to the presenter.

  4. I’m also drawn to your final paragraph about the use of the backchannel as a realtime collaboration environment.

    I was recently listening to an episode of the excellent “For Immediate Release” podcast – http://www.forimmediaterelease.biz/ – and there was a great example. With the recent bad weather in the Eastern US, many of the colleges and universities had to close down. One of the lecturers decided to run his/her classes that week via a blog. They posted a link to reading material, gave their analysis in the blog post, and concluded with a question, which the students then responded to via the comments.

    According to the lecturer and students it was a complete success.

  5. At least with the backchannel, I am ostensibly participating in the larger context of the meeting. It’s even worse when I find myself not engaged in the proceedings and jump over to other topics: news reader, Twitter, etc. One way I’ve found useful in getting my colleagues involved in it right away. It’s particularly useful in screen sharing: get people to draw on the screen and ask text questions.

  6. I think in the end its all about communication. I found this post personally interesting because backchannels although not new are still not comfortable for me. I am open to the archival nature of how to develop conversations, add to the cache of questions, and find new rules to make back channels constructive. One way is to have a designated facilitator to the back channel and use the edited information as a part of the innate and electronic community wisdom. I would like to share this article and upcoming esummit on collaboration:
    http://www.dynamicalsoftware.com/news/?p=85 and will recommend due to this post, a more intelligent approach to back channel contributions.

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