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The terminology might be new, but it’s been going on for about as long as mobile digital gadgets have been around. If you’ve stood in front of a class any time in the past five years or so, it’s been happening right in front of you.

The Backchannel: A Communication Revolution

The new name for this old phenomenon is the backchannel, which presentation expert Cliff Atkinson defines as “a line of communication created by people in an audience to connect with others inside or outside the room, with or without the knowledge of the speaker.”

A backchannel appears whenever people start a parallel, digital conversation, which can be done with e-mail, IM, text messaging, live-blogging, Twitter, and whatever innovation comes along next. The backchannel is revolutionizing business presentations, so much so that systems such as BackNoise have been launched specifically to enable backchannels. Many conferences now publish a Twitter hashtag and encourage attendees to use this tag when they tweet during presentations so that interested parties can easily participate in the conversation.

The Risks and Rewards of the Backchannel

The backchannel presents both risks and rewards for business presenters. On the negative side, for example, listeners can research your claims the instant you make them and spread the word quickly if they think your information is shaky. The backchannel also gives contrary audience members more leverage, which can lead to presentations spinning out of control.

On the plus side, listeners who are excited about your message can build support for it, expandon it, and spread it to a much larger audience in a matter of seconds. You can also get valuable feedback during and after presentations. Some presenters even schedule “Twitter breaks” to catch up on comments and questions from the audience.

The Backchannel in the Classroom: What’s Your Stance?

In business settings, the secret to succeeding with the backchannel is to embrace the concept, rather than trying to ignore it or fight it. The backchannel is going to happen whether the presenter likes it or not.
 
In a classroom setting, however, an instructor obviously has at least some degree of control. What is your stance in the classroom? Do you encourage, tolerate, or prohibit electronic communication during lectures? Have you tried to integrate the backchannel during student presentations?

Please share your thoughts on how this phenomenon can be tamed when it might be a distraction or used to positive effect as a teaching tool.Go to http://boveeandthillbusinesscommunicationblog and write your comments.