This is a guest post from esteemed presentations and speaking expert Olivia Mitchell.
People used to whisper to each other or pass hand-scribbled notes during presentations. Now these notes are going digital on Twitter or via conference-provided chat rooms.
Up until now, this back-channel has been mainly confined to the Internet industry and technology conferences. However, a survey of leadership conferences from Weber Shandwick shows that there is a significant increase in blogging and twittering at conferences.
The backchannel is dead, long live whatever we will call it now. I questioned a friend the other day when he used the term "Official backchannel" and mentioned that the organisers of the conference had a projected display of the activity that was going on using a specific hashtag. I suppose the name could stick as I was never sure whether the use of the term in a social media sense was borrowing more from the diplomatic term (unofficial/underground communications) or the Psycholinguistics one (the use of a nod, 'yes' and 'uh-huh' to indicate that you are paying attention and the other person should continue to speak) but it seems now that the former use has been seized upon as useful and it has been brought into the mainstream (conferences are opening embassies in twitter, to continue with the analogy) which means that it can actively work as the latter.
As many of you will know I spent my Saturday in a concrete bunker in Bloomsbury at the Convention on modern liberty and blogged and twittered all day. While at some points we would all loved to have what we were saying to be communicated to the panels whether directly or mediated, at other times I am probably glad they couldn't see what I was saying in real time, mainly when I was insulting them. On balance the usefulness of this communication methodology being absorbed probably outweighs the disadvantage of having to refrain from suggesting someone is talking utter rubbish. I mean how cool would it have been for Henry Porter to be able to whisper in David Davis ear on Saturday that he had just misattributed Clarke's Third Law to Robert A. Heinlein.