Brogan Battles Backnoise – and wins!

You may have heard of the backchannel when one is speaking, but have you heard of BackNoise? If not, it’s time you do. As blog post reader Paul Freet stated: “Backnoise is like the hammer in the 1984 Apple commercial.

Paul hit the nail on the head. BackNoise is the hammer being thrown into the theater of public speaking.

In my blog post “Speakers – Be Aware, Twitter is Coming,” I affirmed that in any conference, event or speech setting where the speaker has a point-of-view and a message to deliver, the speaker is responsible for the experience. Twitter, BackNoise and other backchannel tools challenge speakers to step up their game in maintaining responsibility for their communications experience. Backchannel conversations compete for an audience’s attention. Presenters need to master the art of engaging their audiences more than ever if they’re going to be successful communicators of the future.

Unlike Twitter, BackNoise is an isolated conversation backchannel tool, centered around a single topic (or rather a single conversation name). Created by Keith McGreggor of Atlanta, BackNoise lets anyone establish these topical conversations quickly and easily, allowing those who know the name of the conversation to join in. These virtual conversations can occur during meetings, lectures, presentations and speeches – anywhere YOU may be presenting your message to your audience – whether you like it or not.

There have been many recent blog posts on BackNoise, (several listed at the end of this post) – most of which reference what transpired at the New Media Atlanta conference on September 25, 2009. My daughter attended that conference and had this to say about her experience:

BackNoiseI’ve read about the BackNoise chatter at the conference changing the tone of the conference from excitement and enthusiasm in the morning to a negative, disheartened mood in the afternoon. I didn’t experience that because I wasn’t online to view it. (The BackNoise conversation wasn’t displayed publicly, but taking place on laptops throughout the auditorium – much like kids talking in class, uninterested in learning.)

Oblivious to the negativity spreading throughout the day on BackNoise, I first experienced BackNoise when the main speaker, Chris Brogan, took the stage and put BackNoise up on the screen behind him. Curious (because it was on the screen), I read some of the comments and found what I read to be mostly silly, boring, off-topic, uninteresting and frankly stupid. When Chris took the stage and began rapping, my eyes immediately shifted from reading comments of no interest to me on BackNoise to checking out what the heck this guy was doing. What I witnessed as Chris’ presentation continued was a personable, down-to-earth and confident presenter connecting with his audience, sharing a valuable message in a way that engaged his listeners. While I continued to see BackNoise comments scrolling on the screen behind him, I paid no attention to them because they couldn’t compete with him. I was so interested in what he was saying that BackNoise was just that – noise in the back that I tuned out because I wanted to participate in his communications experience.

I’ve watched the video of Chris’ presentation (and you can too on Chris Brogan’s blog). My daughter is right. Chris is an excellent communicator. He masterfully created, facilitated and led an effective communications experience for his audience. Realizing the effect of BackNoise in the shadows of laptop screens, Chris yanked the furtive chatter out of the laptops and threw it on the screen for all to see and for him to confront and control – which he did, artfully. Chris has demonstrated in Atlanta how communicators can tame the lion of backchannel distractions. (A more in depth review of how Chris Brogan tamed the lion is the material of a forthcoming blog post.)

What we can learn from the New Media Atlanta experience with BackNoise is this:

  1. You (as speaker) are responsible for your communications experience.
  2. Backchannel conversations are here to stay; embrace them as your competition.
  3. Now, more than ever, you need to sharpen your skills to connect with and engage your audience — you need to be BETTER than your competition (distractions in general, but particularly backchannel chatter).
  4. BackNoise (unlike Twitter) is a unique backchannel tool that you can establish, encourage and control as you use it to create a more interactive communications experience between you and your audience.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about BackNoise in the world of mainstream speeches and presentations. Don’t fear it, face it.

Some of the recent blog posts about BackNoise:

Unexpected Learnings: Backnoise Can Be Toxic

Backnoise Is The New Listening Channel

How To Present While People are Twittering

Backnoise: You’re Not Ready for This, or Are You?

Don’t Blame Backnoise

7 comments on “Brogan Battles Backnoise – and wins!

  1. We’re still investigating all the impacts that the ‘Backchannel’ will have. Realize Backnoise is different – it’s more of a singular product, whereas Backchannel is the name for the whole Twitter live posting process. And I agree with Jason, the products promoting Backchannel like todaysmeet.com are probably more distracting than additive. Same with Backnoise.
    Unless you’re like Chris Brogan and can handle a half dozen things at once!
    Bert

  2. This is a curious concept. So are you guys suggesting that if you can’t beat em’, join em’? I am not sure I completely understand this Backnoise concept. I understand that audiences multitask when we watch HLN or CNN but that never seems appropriate at a movie. Its no more acceptable to bring iPod to the club. I will look more up on this Backnoise tool. Any helpful links are welcome.

  3. I’ve used todaysmeet.com a couple times at staff meetings which seems to be teh same thing. We stopped though because in the end we decided it was too distracting, especially since we’re a smallish group.

  4. Yes Jeff, that’s my fear too.

    Frankly – the backchannel (and backnoise) are really only present, if even dominant, in tech and social media conferences. Corporate audiences wouldn’t know what we are talking about. And that’s still 90% of the meeting/conference audience.

    We’re in for interesting times ahead in the communications and meeting business.

    Bert

  5. Thanks Tom. Whether they are given 30 minutes or 10 minutes, all speakers need to think of the experience they are creating for their audience. They are responsible.
    BackNoise, or #hashtags, may or may not help – the speaker must handle it to fit the time frame.
    Bert

  6. My real fear with BackNoise and the backchannel is that the specter of public ridicule will keep some very interesting people from taking the stage. In the long run it could effect the quality of conferences, classes, etc.

    If that happens, we all lose.

  7. BackNoise may be good for conference organizers too. One of the problems is that some speakers are given 30 minutes for 10 minutes worth of information. They know they are filling time, the audience knows they are filling time, and we all lived with it. Now BackNoise and Twitter have let that genie out of the bag.

    Presenters may say to conference organizers, give me 10 minutes and let me wow them. And then every one wins.