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How to talk while people are Twittering

Three weeks ago, while Evan Williams was onstage at TED2009 talking about Twitter, his audience became an army of #TED tweeters, hunched over their mobile devices, simultaneously listening and creating a written narrative of @Ev’s 8 minutes onstage. Chris Anderson and Evan talked about this in their Q&A: the idea that while a speaker is onstage, there’s a constant backchannel of reaction and communication that the speaker can access (“if you’re brave enough,” said Chris).

Evan made a joke about pulling his phone out during his TEDTalk to check his tweets — but a provocative essay making the rounds this week suggests that presenters actually should. It’s a well-thought-out piece on how to talk while people are Twittering — and makes the case that, far from being terrifying, the Twitter backchannel is a good thing for 12 reasons. Here’s one:

As a presenter, the idea of presenting while people are talking about you is disconcerting. But to balance that, there are huge benefits to the individual members of the audience and to the overall output of a conference or meeting.

1. It helps audience members focus

As a presenter, you might be worried that the backchannel will be distracting. The opposite seems to be true. Dean Shareski says:

The more I’m allowed to interact and play with the content the more engaged and ultimately the more learning happens. The more the presentation relies on the back channel, the more I focus. Knowing that my comments are going to be seen by the presenter or live participants, seems to make me pay more attention.

Rachel Happe adds:

Twitter allows me to add my perspective to what is being presented and that keeps me more engaged than just sitting and listening – even if no one reads it.

The full essay appears on Pistachio Consulting‘s blog, and comes from New Zealand-based speaker coach Olivia Mitchell.

What do you think, though? One much-loved aspect of TED and TEDTalks is the luxury of contemplation — the idea of devoting your attention to one thing for 18 minutes and seeing what other thoughts and connections are stirred up. Does the Twitter backchannel enhance or destroy this? As Twitter and chat redefine the experience of watching and giving a TEDTalk, will we in the audience start to miss the experience of being physically present and absorbed in what’s happening in front of our eyes?