Mark Sheppard: Entering the Backchannel of ATD ICE 2018

Buckle up people, it’s ATD ICE 2018!

When it comes to this mammoth of a conference, it’s hard to convey everything that is going on and there is A LOT going on. Therefore, I try to enlist the help of our Learning Rebel village and I have quite the list for you.

Peeps who are going to provide us with their unique conference point-of-view:

Kassy LaBorie

Heidi Matthews

Kate Pinto 

Krissy Richard (First timer, I CANNOT wait to read her perspective!)

and who knows who else will make an appearance…

However, first up is Mark Sheppard, a  close network friend of mine who won’t be there…or will he?

He will be there in spirit. In the Backchannel. That’s the beauty of technology these days, we can be anywhere and pretty much have a front row seat. I asked Mark to give me his insights as to how he will be participating from afar and his advice on making use of the backchannel. What’s a backchannel you may ask? Well here’s David Kelly to tell us more.

Jump down to comment section to tell us how you keep up on the backchannel! 

ATD ICE 2018 Mark Sheppard

Everyone can play using the backchannel!

It’s that time once again, and ATD’s International Conference & Exposition is upon us. This time, San Diego is the host venue and they scored a real winner in having Former US President Barack Obama as their eminent keynote speaker.

More’s the pity for those of us unable to attend, but all is not lost.

As much as we’d all love to attend all the great conferences out there, cheering our peers and colleagues as they take the stage, but we have learned to mitigate our FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)  syndrome by tapping into the event the best way we know how.

Before we get moving, let me quote the questions I posted here two years ago:

… does attendance really demand presence? Sure, it’s a matter of debate. Let’s just say it matters less than it used to.

All is not lost! 

Okay, so you can’t go to this conference, so what?  You’re on a computer, aren’t you?  You have access to the Interwebz, don’t you?  You have a PLN (Personal Learning Network), don’t you? If you answered, “yes” to any of those questions, you’re in luck. You can get a lot of the insights shared from the conference, and while it might take some work on your part, it’s well worth the effort.

In this edition I want the post to speak to the attendees as well as those unable to take part, particularly because this guidance could serve both parties well.

So. Much. Information.

Clay Shirky posited in a keynote address at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City in 2008.

“It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

Ten years on I’m not sure we’re much farther ahead in obtaining decent filters, but many folks are developing their own habitual and cognitive practices to manage the array of messages and media, particularly at events such as ICE.

The key to success? SPACE!

The key to success is accepting that you’ll never see everything and, to be honest, I’m not sure you should try. Even the event attendees don’t get to see or hear everything that happens, so they make careful choices about the things important to them.

Whether you are attending or following at a distance, it’s important to give yourself the mental time and space to process what you take in. For example, I know some attendees who deliberately give themselves breaks during the day, and not just to browse the expo hall! They deliberately engage in reflection and sharing activities and if you haven’t tried this in the past, I encourage you to do so. If you are following at a distance, carve out some time during the day to see what’s happening. It should have a lesser impact on your day-to-day tasks.


Before we talk about other methods, the personal approach is always a good one. You probably know someone who will be attending the event, so why not use that to your advantage? In 2016 I referred to them as “Personal Correspondents”, and the term still works.

A review of the conference/speaker agenda should yield a few sessions/speakers/vendors of interest. Perhaps your friend is interested in them, too.  Maybe they can ask questions on your behalf? There may also be folks using newer tools like SnapChat to capture snippets of the events in progress, or even let you pose questions and get responses through short video clips. Of course, the issue with SnapChat is the potential lack of permanence, so you’ll have to be careful about what assets you’re retaining and which ones you can let go. (HINT: what happens at the Tiki Bar stays at the Tiki Bar.)

Social Backchannel Lurking

The backchannel is where the conversations and shared insights happen. These collective thoughts, observations, questions, and challenges are the social media equivalent of “passing notes in class”, most often representing individual perceptions of a session or workshop.

The backchannel process has proven a stable and reliable window into events such as ICE, and the usual tools (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) are still there and available for use. Twitter finally removed the 140-character constraint, allowing for slightly longer (<280 characters) messages and more potential depth in exchanges with others. (Here is a post about twitter hashtags)

Twitter still has User Lists you can create and they even have “mute words” if there are some terms you need to filter from your feed. You can keep an eye on things using the official conference hashtag #ATD2018. As with any other collection of items, it takes time and good decision-making to review what’s important, to say nothing of being secure in the context of the item’s meaning or relevance. I think of it like a mental LEGO exercise: putting them items together in one fashion gets you a house, while another assembly may yield something Salvador Dali would be proud of. Just make sure you know what you want that end result to be.

Some folks prefer to use tools like YouTube to generate video summaries as the event progresses and then share them through their social channels (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). The prevalence of this activity varies from event to event, but it may also be something to look for. Of course, Twitter and FB also have their own “Live” video services, so these may also prove valuable. Try searching the hashtag #ATD2018 or check out the ATD YouTube Channel

Draw Me a Picture

Another technique growing in usage is the “sketchnote”, and it’s not as hard as it seems. Events are now bringing in artists to sketch keynote addresses, resulting in a great visual interpretation of the words, as well as the connections between ideas and concepts. A number of conference attendees are doing the same thing on their own for sessions they attend as well as the keynotes.

You may be thinking; how can I draw a picture if I’m not there?

Good question. You can take your backchannel notes, notes gathered from hashtags of sessions. (Find a session, it will have a number, that number will turn into the session hashtag. Example: Shannon’s session on Sunday is session number SU302, this will translate into hashtag #SU302) Go to the ATD group on LinkedIn or Facebook to find notes/comments on the conference. Then sketchnote and share your findings on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Your notes will be appreciated by everyone (and the presenter will love you!) be sure when you post your notes you hashtag the session or add the presenter’s name to your message.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Some folks stick to simple Mind-mapping to anchor core concepts and show relationships, whereas others stick to simple iconic shapes, including stick figures, arrows, circles, squares, and triangles. These are strong artifacts when compared to linear, point-form notes because they do much to capture the story told by the speaker and can emphasize key issues or discoveries.

I started sketchnoting select portions of events a few years ago and it’s something I enjoy doing and I feel more connected to the talk because I’m creating something from it. I’ve also found speakers enjoy seeing these different interpretations of their message and some may not have benefitted from a sketchnote in the past, so, I encourage participants to share them with the audience as well as with the speakers.

Let’s Wrap it Up

There you have it.  ATD ICE is a big event and – try as you might – you won’t get to all of it even if you’re in attendance. For those of you playing along at home, some careful planning along with good use of your Personal Learning Network can shed light on the people, practices, and ideas important to you.


In the comment section share how you plan on following this year’s activities! 


Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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