2013 Retrospective: Livetweeting at Conferences

If you’ve ever seen my Twitter account when I’m at a conference, you most assuredly knew about. I tweet about everything I learn. I see it as my responsibility to shout what I learn as loud as I can so everyone else gets the opportunity to learn. I’ve been known to kind-of take over conference hashtags. And yet, I still get the stinkeye from folks who think that I’m messing around on my phone. So I wanted to post on it and see what this community thought about it. And the response was amazing! I got the most comments ever to one of my posts! Check it out below and be sure to join the conversation!

textiingI’m very lucky to get the opportunity to attend a number of conferences, both because of my speaking engagements and because I work in an active region that regularly holds opportunities for learning for members of the emergency response community. And I know that I’m lucky, so I take every opportunity to attend these conferences and trainings and do my best to share what I’ve learned as widely as I can because I know that not everyone is as lucky as I am, but they still have the need to learn about these topics.

And sometimes that can be problematic. You see, after the conference or training, I have to go back to work and back to blogging and back to my family and life. I don’t have the time repackage and redistribute this information. So I do it in real time via Twitter. And that’s problematic because I’m usually staring at my phone or tablet and typing furiously.

Think of the last time you were in a conference and saw someone pounding away at their BlackBerry. What did you think they were doing? Did you roll your eyes and wonder why they even came to the conference? Yep, that was me livetweeting.

Livetweeting. Hearing what’s being presented, digesting it, repackaging it to Twitter length, typing it up on a tiny phone screen, adding a hashtag (sometimes adding pictures) and posting it. And doing it quickly enough that I can accurately represent what’s being said and being sure to get all of the really good parts. So not only am I not not paying attention, I’m probably paying more attention than many of the glassy-eyed folks who gets the the benefit of the doubt with regards to “paying attention.”

And I’m not the only one that does this, in fact, the younger your audience the more likely they’ll be devoting time during presentations to digital devices. So what does that mean for, in each of the three roles you fulfill around presentations: as speaker, as a member of the audience, as someone who is not even at the conference.

First, as someone in the audience, this should be easy to deal with. The person sitting next to you tweeting away has identified themselves as someone who is a) taking lots of notes and b) very happy to share it. Say hi. Give them your card. Ask where you can find their notes and if you can download them. (And if they’ve just been playing Plants vs. Zombies for the last hour, they’ll totally be shamed into paying attention during the next session.) Voilà! Instant notes and a new colleague.

As a speaker, here you might need make some changes, but all of them are positive. First, every recommendation about how to improve presentations you’ll find talks about presenting less information on slides and focusing the content. This helps your livetweeters get the gist of the slide more quickly, but it will also helps your non-tweeting audience digest and integrate your presentation. One idea per slide. Plain language. Descriptive images. Your livetweeters will love you, your audience will love you and you’ll be a better presenter.

The second great reason speakers should embrace social media is all for them, they’ve got the opportunity to get real, free, unfiltered immediate feedback on their presentation. Sure it’s difficult to see it while you’re presenting (even I haven’t mastered that–yet), but if your audience all used a hashtag (maybe one that you recommended to them) think of how easy it would be to collect all of those notes into one place. What a great repository of real-time feedback on your performance, kudos you’ve received and a contact list of folks who were interested in your topic enough to come and listen to you.

As an outside observer, people using social media conferences is simply the bee’s knees. You’ve got the world at your fingertips, all you need to do is follow along. Look for the announced hashtag for the conference you find most interesting and check it out to see if anyone is tweeting during the conference! If you’re stuck for topics to follow, check out the Healthcare Hashtag Project, where folks register conference hashtags and help get a transcription of them.

The reason I bring this topic up is because of a conference I recently attended. The conference was actively advertising their hashtag and having their staff livetweet vociferously. And yet there were still complaints from folks in the audience deriding those on their phones. Which I think is a shame, for all of the potential good reasons above. What do you think about livetweeting and using social media during conferences? (And I’d love to know if you hate it!)

EDIT: someone did an academic research study on this! (PDF)