Life with L

Thinking Out Loud!

Backchannel or Bashchannel?

with 27 comments

I attended the keynote speech at ISTE 2010. I am still wrestling with what happened during the Twitter backchannel of the keynote. The speaker, Jean-François Rischard, spoke about global problem solving and the critical role of educators and technology for education. I believe most of his speech was based on his book, High-Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them. When he walked on stage, he looked a bit nervous and all I could think was that it takes a very brave person to stand up in front of a crowd that big on the opening day of a major conference. The Wells Fargo Theater has a 5,000 fixed-seat capacity and it looked to me like all seats were filled.

Photo courtesy of jjohnson1120's photostream on Flickr

When he began, Mr. Rischard showed a Power-Point slide and began using some mathematical terms and formulas that made me wish I had more mathematical knowledge. Although, what he said was over my head, I was able to understand the core of his message, that we have major global challenges that need to be solved quickly. I was interested to learn more.

While Mr. Rischard was presenting, I was keeping an eye on the Twitter backchannel. It was not a pretty sight. Things started to turn pretty ugly, pretty quickly. Many commented negatively on his PowerPoint Slides, his lack of energy and his lack of connection to the audience. Reading the negative tweets reminded me of a blog post I had recently read by Danah Boyd, “spectacle at Web2.0 Expo… from my perspective.” In her post, she describes what it felt like to be on stage presenting and know that she had somehow lost the audience.  She talked about hearing laughter at moments when there should have been none. It forced her to rush through her speech, just to be done as quickly as possible.  She stated, “The Twitter stream had become the center of attention, not the speaker. Not me.”  Her post really stuck with me, and I couldn’t help but realize that I was witnessing the same type of situation. Thinking about that, I tweeted out a tweet to try and divert the attention back to the speaker. I am not sure if it helped, but I felt it was something I needed to do.

There are at least two sides to every story. Did the speaker lack savvy presentation skills? Maybe. When presenting at a conference filled with tech savvy presenters, is that important? Maybe. Is it an affront to the message of fostering a growth in technology in education? Maybe.

Here’s my issue. The message the speaker was trying to convey was a very serious one. Do we always need bells and whistles in a presentation? When we don’t get that, can we get past it and pay attention, really listen?  Maybe I am way off base, but isn’t the backchannel supposed to be a critical engagement about the message the speaker is trying to convey and not about the speaker himself? Don’t we do a disservice to ourselves and the speaker when engaging in a bashchannel and not a true backchannel?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Am I way off base? Maybe? Maybe not?


Written by Life With L

July 2, 2010 at 10:58 PM

Posted in Education

Tagged with ,

27 Responses

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  1. Thank you for writing this post. I was following you as well as many others tweeting about the keynote. I was shocked by the speed at which people had decided, from the size of the font on the slides, it seemed, that the speaker was not worth listening to. I appreciate the way you presented some of the ideas to those of us still listening on the backchannel. I tweeted my own reaction of “being terrified” at presenting to an audience of educators as I was recently invited to present at a virtual conference. Thank you for soliciting this important dialogue.

    Joan Young

    July 2, 2010 at 11:07 PM

  2. I agree with you! I even thanked you for tweeting the message that the presenter was trying to convey. I felt bad for the presenter. Maybe it is because I present quite a bit, or it is my empathy for another human being, but I thought the tweets were a little brutal. I just try to put myself in other people’s shoes and I would never want people to treat me that way.
    You know what they say…”Teachers make the worst students”. It is intimidating to present to anyone and to such awesome educators…down right scary!


    July 2, 2010 at 11:09 PM

  3. The live backchannel during presentations is not forward progress. Yes, this speaker was not dynamic, and is proof positive that what is required to engage an audience these days is drastically different from what worked just a few years ago – something that schools around the world badly need to acknowledge and teach. Yet the behavior of many attendees was inexcusable. Many formed a judgment minutes into the keynote, stopped listening, and focused entirely on writing the snarkiest remark, or simply walked out. This is low class, immature and inconsiderate, and sets a very poor example for the students present. One might have thought that the danah boyd debacle would have ended the live backchannel; hopefully this second nail in the coffin is sufficient to kill it.

    Mark Moran

    July 2, 2010 at 11:14 PM

  4. The message is the most important thing. Maybe the speaker wasn’t dynamic or used tools that the audience didn’t like. Suppose this were a student, would we have said the same thing to him/her? Forming and passing judgments on people is easy. I wasn’t there to hear the key note but so many people talked about it after the conference that I felt like I was there and heard him.
    I feel bad for the speaker and wish him well. It is not easy to present in front of so many people.

    Aparna Vashisht

    July 2, 2010 at 11:31 PM

  5. […] Leaness wrote a brilliant post called Backchannel or Bashchannel. It is a *must* […]

  6. As a “twitter-only” participant of ISTE, I see the value in hearing peoples personal reflections on the content they are hearing – I do not see twitter as an immediate ‘review’ of the presenter style etc.
    The negativity is unnecessary and unprofessional. There has to be something positive to say or speak with silence.


    July 2, 2010 at 11:37 PM

  7. Here’s the thing. I consider myself lucky to have read Danah’s post and to be in the theater in close proximity to the speaker. I could see his humanity. If I had been in a remote location, I might just as easily fallen prey to the negativity. I am no better than anyone else. Perhaps that is why it was so important for me to write this post. We all need to be aware that what we say in public directly affects us and those that we tweet for and about. Just sayin…


    July 3, 2010 at 12:13 AM

  8. Excellent post. I wasn’t at ITSE, but I was watching the situation develop on Twitter. I saw your tweet in attempt to refocus, and thought you had a lot of class. Sometimes adults need reminders, too. We should all remember the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say something at all” adage, especially when we’re speaking to anyone with an internet connection.


    July 3, 2010 at 2:15 AM

  9. I was following on Twitter as well. I was pretty shocked by the tweets. It was a sad event for educators who claim to be passionate about our profession and the future. Fortunately, you were one of the few who were able to maintain your focus and not jump on the “snarky” bandwagon. It reminded me of children who don’t have enough courage to stand up for the person being picked on by the popular kid. As a person “watching” this from my home, the uncomfortable feeling was tangible. Would I have had the courage to stand up for the guy being “bullied?” (To me, it seemed like bullying. He was powerless to fight back.) I hope so. Thanks for being a touchstone of professionalism.


    July 3, 2010 at 7:29 AM

  10. It makes me sad that someone would post something on a public website that they would not say directly to the person’s face. A tweet is possibly more invasive and hurtful than a direct personal comment because it is available to so many people. While a speaker may not have met your expectations, there are respectful ways of addressing that. If you disagree with the speaker’s message– surely that can be addressed appropriately in a backchannel. But if you disagree with the person or the presentation itself– that’s better left to a personal conversation with the appropriate parties. If it doesn’t push learning further- leave it out of the backchannel.

    Kristen Swanson

    July 3, 2010 at 7:46 AM

  11. I hear what everyone is saying, and I agree that the backchannel was over the top on this one. But I think there’s another piece to this puzzle. One of the things as a teacher that I always tried to help my students understand is that presentation isn’t separate from communication, it’s integral. If the listener/reader has to focus energy on deciphering a poorly organized, poorly planned presentation, it doesn’t matter how important or real the message is, it’s not going to get through.

    This is a learning/teaching opportunity for us in two dimensions: teach our kids to be kind and to be constructive in our comments, but also teach them that the design of something is an important part of making the message mean something.

    If this presenter had supported his important message with thoughtful slides and a polished delivery, how many more people would have heard what he’d had to say, and how much more influence would he have had?

    Gerald Aungst

    July 3, 2010 at 8:03 AM

  12. As one who was at the Blogger’s Cafe and on Twitter, reading mostly, during the presentation, I think that many of us were expecting something else. You did a nice job of being kind to Mr. Rischard and his presentation to the ISTE 2010 crowd.

    Having seen several ISTE, and other Keynotes, that have been fantastic, I feel this presentation missed the mark, and the audience. Sure we are a group of educators and technology geeks who have come to expect more, especially when we attend a conference with the prestige of ISTE.

    My thoughts during the presentation was this, who the heck at ISTE booked Mr. Rischard to deliver the opening keynote address? With the extensive vetting process given to presenters and everything else at ISTE what happened? A good keynote address should set the tone for a conference, energize and inspire conference goers. This was not the case.

    I do take serious issue with Mr. Rischard’s One World Government world view and some of the suggestions he made. Only in the last 10 minutes or so of his presentation did he attempt to try to tie his presentation to education.

    As to the nature of the tweets themselves, I see nothing wrong by expressing your ideas, even if sometimes they are negatively directed at something, as some others have commented upon here.

    I think this presentation would have be better received from another audience rather than a group of fantastic technology educators in the United States who were looking for a big bang to kick of their ITSE 2010 experience.

    John Peters

    July 3, 2010 at 8:15 AM

  13. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments.

    Gerald, I often wonder about presentation zen. Until just a year ago, I had not really heard much about it. Since being on Twitter and following so many professional presenters I am much more aware of the misuse of PowerPoint and the importance of helping our students create presentations that add to the message and not distract the audience, which is definitely what happened. I also know that teaching them how to critically engage with one another about the message is key. I don’t think the backchannel is going away any time soon, so we need to teach them to refrain from bashing.

    John, I would have loved to hear more about your thoughts about the message of the speaker during the backchannel. A friend made a comment to me on the way out of the theater that I thought was something to think about. As educators, should we take the time to investigate the speakers before the keynote to understand who they are and what they stand for. Would that make the backchannel a richer conversation?


    July 3, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    • Ann, I just finished reading Presentation Zen. I recommend it highly. Lots of great things to say, and mostly about the planning and structure behind the slide deck.

      Gerald Aungst

      July 5, 2010 at 9:38 PM

      • I will definitely be ordering the book! Thanks for sharing.


        July 5, 2010 at 9:48 PM

  14. Ann,
    I was (and still may) write about about this as well.
    First, I was disappointed with the behavior of many. As educators, what would we do if the class of students did that to another student? I think people get so caught up in feeling that they can’t hear what others are saying. SAD!
    Backchannels need to be learning places…not bashing places. It is our job to MODEL the proper and appropriate way to use these tools!!!
    Thanks for the post!

    Brenda Smith

    July 3, 2010 at 9:21 AM

  15. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brenda Smith. Brenda Smith said: RT @aleaness: An interesting conversation on my recent post Backchannel or bashchannel? Check it out and join in! […]

  16. I attended the opening and found it interesting. Not sure if he really hit the mark for education. He may be ahead of his time in his presentation as it applied to education. I kept wondering if he had Parkinson’s due to his shaking. Great to get other perspectives, but I don’t think the majority of the educators were ready for his keynote.

    Dotty Myers

    July 3, 2010 at 11:36 AM

  17. I totally agree. I value backchannel conversations as a way for participants to deepen their understanding on a topic and make relevant connections with others. Comments in a backchannel should be of this nature. A professional (in any field) should never stoop so low as to insult the presenter using the backchannel. One should not make fun of the presenter while he or she is on stage. Your negative comments reflect bad on you – and leave just as bad feeling to others about your credibility and character.


    July 3, 2010 at 11:43 AM

  18. Great post…thank you! i also blogged about what happened to Danah Boyd after AASL last year…and was frankly APPALLED at that kind of mean-spiritedness!
    at ISTE10 keynote i was sitting in the reserved row with the other members of the ISTE board of directors and had a hard time keeping still – at first, i took pics of those bullet laden – text heavy slides..i squirmed with empathy and discomfort…for our guest and our country. finally, i felt ashamed at my own behavior (i have no poker face and very little filter) and resorted to reading from my Kindle just to make sure i behaved. i couldn’t get any wireless reception in the theatre to check the back channel but saw it afterwards..but i did see streams of people leaving during the theatre and was torn.

    Humans vote with their feet – if i hadn’t been sitting with the board would i have quietly left? Yes. but throwing peanuts around and the out-snark fest in the Bloggers’ Cafe was just a feeding frenzy of mean….which leaves me feeling ashamed at my own inability to at first school my features.

    People. Just. Be. nice.

    But admittedly, i think Mario Armstrong’s awesome kickoff would have been a better start to a wonderful conference…and it was…wonderful.

    Gwyneth Jones

    July 4, 2010 at 9:32 AM

  19. Thanks for posting this… This was my first year @ ISTE and I watched from Blogger’s Cafe.

    I have to admit it was funny at first to hear some of the comments made from the peanut gallery (ironic that someone bought nuts to pass around and share so we were actually a peanut gallery… or cashew & pecan gallery) about the presenters poor use of his slides (all text, small font, etc.) and his turning his back to read from said slides.

    but eventually it turned into the mob mentality of lets see who can make the funniest comment to pick on the presentation and it all turned very sad from there.

    I made a joke (since thats the only way I thought I could be heard… speaking everyone elses language at the time) that maybe the presenter was using the slides and presentation ‘style’ as an example of ‘what not to do’ but we wouldn’t have heard it because so many were talking (and I think even muted the TV @ one point). Maybe that was a dig as well but I was hoping to help prove a point to those in attendance.

    I would like to see an interactive keynote next year where they ‘plant’ 4-5 well known tweeters to start to bash the presenter (even if the presenter is doing a great job) to see how many will follow suite. Then be able to put the stream on a monitor for the speaker to see… they could choose ‘choice’ tweets to put on the big screen and use as examples. It could be the best learning lesson that many would have @ ISTE all week. The keynote could be on online etiquette or something along those lines. It certainly would be a keynote that would leave people thinking and talking about for some time (for good reasons).


    July 4, 2010 at 1:04 PM

  20. furthermore… would a lot of the educators that participated in the bashing have been ‘in trouble’ if they were a student at their own schools for this ‘cyber bullying’?


    July 4, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    • Gwenyth,
      It was a great conference! I learned tons,and learned enough at the keynote to make me investigate the book.

      Hopefully, that leson has already been learned after this keynote!


      July 4, 2010 at 4:21 PM

  21. Does anyone really believe he prepared for ISTE? Customized what he was saying for us? Made any attempt in the first 20 minutes of making a connection with the audience? I agree with the person who asked “who picked him for the opening keynote?” The tone was all wrong. As for the backchannel, people were being honest and expressing themselves, saying nothing or saying positive things when you don’t mean them, simply gives people feedback that misleads them. Hopefully, everyone learned from this experience and hopefully they didn’t learn that backchannels aren’t useful.


    July 4, 2010 at 11:14 PM

  22. Joe,
    I imagine ISTE picked him for his Global Perspective. I agree that his presentation could have been better tailored to meet the expectations of the tech savvy people who attended this conference. You say people were being honest and expressing themselves. I believe you can be honest without bashing someone. Constructive criticism or feedback is always useful. I am not against backchannels at all, I just prefer when they focus on intellectual engagement about a topic being presented.


    July 5, 2010 at 4:42 PM

  23. Help spread the word… there are ways to use Twitter for your advantage as a presenter! See a brief introduction and where to get help with this video


    July 7, 2010 at 5:13 PM

  24. Its highly appreciable job. Keep it up. thanks for sharing.

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    Olivia Marina

    February 26, 2014 at 1:31 AM

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