Living in the Backchannel: Pre-conference and Day 1

Before reading you may want to make yourself familiar with what a backchannel is by reading the #SAChat transcript from the 12/9 chat on the topic.

#LEI10. That simple six character term has completely transformed my perspective of what it means to be engaged at a conference.  It is the Twitter hashtag for the 2010 Leadership Educators Institute. The conversation started in late October by @NASPATweets and Chris Conzen (@clconzen) with reminders for registration. The Twitter stream then went silent until the end of November when the conference was just a week away. Then December arrived and #LEI10 came alive.

Think about how you’ve connected with fellow conference-goers before a service like Twitter. Perhaps you posted it on your Facebook profile status or sent an e-mail to a listserv asking who else was going. In both of those cases, you were throwing up a signal flare in a forest and hoping someone not only saw it but responded to it. With Twitter, that hashtag becomes a lighthouse, or the North Star of the conference, not just a flash in the pan call for help. The hashtag serves as a beacon to guide participants to a place where lively discussions are happening in real time and, as a result, connections are breaking through the barriers of the virtual world and being made in real life. In the days leading up to the conference, Twitter allowed me to connect and be aware of what “tweeps” were going and who I’d get a chance to meet in real life. This may seem frivolous but you can’t tell me that when you go to a party and do not know anyone else that is going your anxiety level isn’t heightened just a bit. With Twitter, a conference where you are surrounded by strangers from all over the country became a conference where you and a group of your tweeps can meet up. This made the conference not only a professional development opportunity to learn new skills but also a chance to deepen friendships and strengthen your network. It is organized, sponsored, and supported by the association running the conference (in most cases) which adds legitimacy and purpose to the usage of it.

On the first day of the conference, the backchannel provided fellow tweeps a chance to locate each other right from the start of the keynote speech with tweets like this one from @LeslieMPage:

During the opening speech 55 tweets were sent responding to questions posed by the speakers, posting resources the speaker had shared, and sharing quotes that struck a chord. A perfect example from @OberBecca:

Now, I have followed a backchannel before for other conferences so I had an idea of what types of tweets would be most helpful and what would hopefully engage those, who are not in attendance, to contribute. What I did not expect was the amount of effort and time it takes! Contributing to a backchannel can turn into a part-time job while attending a conference. You can find yourself so involved in your tweets and other participants’ tweets that you forget that you are in the room with the person providing the information. My analogy for this is going to a concert and focusing on the screens on the side of the stage that give you a close up of the performer, rather than looking at the actual performer. How is that any different than watching the performer on TV? If you are in their presence, pay attention to them! With Twitter, your mobile device can turn into that screen at the concert right in your lap and in place of being a participant of a conference, you are now a bystander. So, as great a resource as this could be, remember to be mindful of the presenters and be careful not to be rude.  Educate conference-goers of what you’re learning by tweeting resources, quotes from the presenter, or questions posed by the audience. Do not tweet that the lunch spread looks delicious or that the room is chilly.

The first day of the conference backchannel rendered 152 total tweets of which I contributed 31. The backchannel had sucked me in. It was exciting, it was fun, it was leading to more connections, more resources, and had me more engaged in a conference that I had ever been before. I’ll get into my experience of the second day of the conference in my next post which will highlight the explosion of the backchannel (over 400 conference tweets!), what happened when my phone died resulting in being cut off from the backchannel, and an epic tweet-up.

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