Should people “live tweet” during an event or presentation?

I recently attended a course called “Presenting with Confidence“, delivered by Steve Herzberg.  Steve is a teriffic bloke, and is someone I would describe as “keeping it real” – his style of delivery is guaranteed to have you laughing, and learning.  I mean this seriously: the good thing about Steve’s course is the relaxed and confident manner in which he presents his material – he’s throroughly prepared, and the printed material you receive is professionally produced and rich with content.  There’s a great interview with Steve here you can watch and see for yourself here just how well he communicates.

Steve and I often discuss the business value of  using “social networking” tools, and we have had some excellent debate about the value of these tools in a business context.  One such tool I believe in passionately is Twitter, and I was explaining to Steve the increase in “live tweeting” at an event or conference, and how this is transforming the behaviour of both speakers and attendees at these conferences, and adding enormous value to attendees and others interested in the event.  For more on the concept of “live tweeting” have a read of “Live Tweeting: bird-brained or brilliant

Some interesting questions arose during my discussion with Steve about the value of live-tweeting, including:
– is it distracting for the presenter (who doesn’t get to meet the eyes of their audience who are all typing away)?
– is it distracting for the audience, because their attention is diverted from the content being delivered to the rest of the “Twitter stream”?
– does it demonstrates a lack of respect for the speaker, who deserves your full attention?

Personally I have derived enormous value from the collective contribution of others “live tweeting””, particularly after the event when I can catch up on what other’s were saying.  However I have also been distracted by it, and missed some of the content being delivered by the speaker.  I can also appreciate that a speaker unaccustomed to their audience “live tweeting” could interpret this behavious as a lack of respect.

What is needed is education and understanding of current and emerging practices.  Live tweeting is here to stay, many events now encourage it, and attendees are asking for it.  The choice is yours to embrace it or not – I would encourage you to explain to others the benefits as you see them, and let them decide for themselves.  There are no rules – but I believe we should be mindful of speakers and respect them, and show them the value that is being added (to their brand and their content)

What are your thoughts?   Do you agree “live tweeting” an event adds value or not?

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24 thoughts on “Should people “live tweet” during an event or presentation?

  1. The last two conferences I attended I started live tweeting but switched it off because I really wanted to focus on what the person was saying. One of the conferences was live streamed with plenty of other people also live tweeting, so I thought it was kind of pointless to do that.

    If a really important part of participating in social media is listening, then I tend to think the same applies to attending a conference. I know conferences are broadcast etc but the person presenting is hopefully not simply some random person, but someone who has insight into an issue to offer. In which case, broadcast is justified imho.

    1. It’s a good point you make Darren – the speaker deserves our full attention, yet I can’t help but feel that live tweeting adds more value, and we need a healthy balance. My experience of Twitter is there is a great deal of insight to be gleaned from the people tweeting, often surrounded by “noise” though – I bet the speaker would benefit from reviewing the tweet stream afterwards as this would be excellent feedback for them.

  2. I don’t get to attend that many conferences/presentations, although I have three lined up in the next 6 weeks!

    My main concern, as an attendee, with others live tweeting is those who use noisy laptop keyboards. That can be really distracting. But not a huge issue at most of the presentations I’ve attended.

    The main reason I have live tweeted myself was as a way of taking notes of important points. I’m gonna take notes anyway, Twitter’s as good a place as any to do so.

    1. Thanks Nic – yes, noisy keyboards can be a distraction – I try t keep the noise down by typing lightly (it works) It just comes down to etiquette again – be mindful of others around you. Totally agree about the note-taking: that’s how I explain what I am doing. Twitter forces you to be brief and to the point – I tend to use a copy/paste shortcut to get the info out efficiently. Eg: if @hollingsworth is talking at #conference I will always have , “says @hollingsworth #conference” ready to paste in to my tweet. Or at least the hashtag.

  3. Hey Tony – great topic. I have been a professional speaker for 14 years and I also love being an audience member.

    I have a certain ‘way’ of live tweeting which my ‘tweeps’ and, post-event, the speaker seem to appreciate.

    Instead of simply reporting what is going on in the room and giving little ‘sound bite’ quotes on Twitter, I try to EXTEND the speaker’s message by also providing links to further info. So, in a way, you’re enhancing the presentation and giving it as a gift to your followers rather than having them feel they are simply missing out on something.

    So – if a speaker starts quoting from a book, I will switch over to my google window or amazon, search for the book details, grab the url and then tweet: [@speakername does not agree with sentiments in [book name] :: [url to the book].

    I then use the tweetstream as my own personal record (notes) of the session.. being sure to copy/paste it somewhere before it gets too old. I find that the speaker is overjoyed with the record of their ‘best bits’ and they tweet about it for days afterwards.

    There is a whole back channel conversation that then happens – the live tweeters have a great discussion during the speech, which then sparks very robust discussions during the breaks – including those who have not been tweeting or even following the tweet stream. This back channel discussion often goes on for weeks – so the conference has its own life.

    Conference organisers are using the tweet stream to keep a handle on the mood of the room and they can make the conference more dynamic.

    Speaking from an audience perspective – if people plan to live-tweet, they should have the courtesy to sit at the back of the room or in an area designated for tweeters. And you should NEVER live-tweet if you have a noisy keyboard. If you plan to live-tweet : speak to the conference organiser to ask if there is a preferred hashtag. If there is not, or if they don’t know what you’re talking about, you should create one and let them know what it is – and ask them to pass it on to the MC for announcing at the start of the conference.

    Now – speaking from a speaker’s perspective – any speaker worth their significant fee will be sure to offer the audience various layers of learning… using techniques to ensure every type of learner is covered. This also encompasses allowing audience members to do what they will with the content they are taking in. Whether it be taking notes, recording via a livescribe pen, tweeting – a good speaker should accept whatever their audience member chooses.

    Speakers who are distracted by live tweeters could legitimately ask the conference organiser up-front to provide an area for tweeters that is up the back or off to the side.. just like a media table would be set up at a press conference.

    Yvonne Adele
    @IdeasCulture
    (Vic President of National Speakers Association)

    1. Yvonne,
      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment – this is exactly how I like to live tweet (particularly adding value by sharing links) – another good link sharing is to call up the speaker’s bio (whether a LinkedIn page or About page of some sort) then link to that in a tweet. I am often immediately curious about a speaker’s background and this helps contextualise things during the presentation.

      To your point about “copy/paste before it gets too old” I have a great tip for you which I picked up from Chris Brogan’s excellent “How to Listen for Opportunities on Twitter” post http://www.chrisbrogan.com/how-to-listen-for-opportunities-on-twitter/ In it, Chris describes how to generate an RSS-feed from a search query. I immediately set this up for events, and then it is automtically stored in your RSS Reader (and searchable)

      Cheers,
      Tony Hollingswoth

  4. Epic Fail. is what appeared in a live tweet when I was presenting – it floored me, my style was animated and passionate I am a seasoned presenter and I saw the epic fail live tweet appear on the tweet screen (at back of room in full view of the presenter). Confidence I may have but that floored me and I stumbled a little then recovered. LATER I discovered as my topic was about Failure of intervention programs to attract women into science and tech studies careers the tweeter meant that the programs were epic fail NOT the presentation – HOWEVER from me the presenter it was pure distraction.

    live tweets could play a significant part in feedback, questions and answers POST the presentation but during I consider them a distraction for both audience and presenter.

    1. Sonja
      You’re right – if the screen is showing to the presenter it can be unsettling. It’s a separate question: should the screen be there at all. If it is, the audience no live-tweeting can gain value, at the expense of the speaker perhaps? However, the speaker could use the tweet stream to address questions and even modify their presentation in direct response to feedback (although not practical in all situations given time/content contraints)

      I like the idea of the moderator/host scanning the tweets and taking questions formally from that during the break/question time.

      Martin’s comment below also links to some interesting tools used to live tweet.

      Thanks for sharing,
      Tony

    2. Hi Sonja. Nice to connect with you again (remember me? previously known as Ms Megabyte!)

      I certainly agree that showing a tweet wall is NOT a good idea without moderation.

      It is not fair to a) the presenter and b) the tweeting audience. If the audience know their comments are going to be shown on a tweet wall, their comments will not be as open and flowing. They will edit them as they write them… just as you edit your personal journal entries if you know you’re going to let someone read them!

      So, just to clarify my long comment above – when I’m talking about live tweeting, I’m talking simply about tweeting live from an event. NOT about showing the live tweet stream on a wall/big screen. If the conference organiser wants to do that, they should check the tweetstream at the back of the room and grab a screen shot of it, scrolled perfectly to include only comments that are worthy of looking at!

      ps. if you DO choose to display a live tweet stream on a big screen, ask the live twitterers not to tweet about it. I have had many troublemakers tweet stupid and sometimes offensive comments using the conference hashtag just so they can pop up on the wall for all to see. Yuh – too much time on their hands.

  5. Sometimes the presenter could do with knowing what the audience is thinking / saying. However, if this is being communicated via twitter, both in the presentation room and outside, they can be missing out on a significant part of the conversation…. Even if its only to provide a quick rebuttal to an ill informed comment (again from within the presentation room or not).

    Having said that, you should look at the twitter presentation tools at http://www.sapweb20.com/blog/powerpoint-twitter-tools/ in use at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pkQiu14obQ

    1. Martin,
      Thanks for sharing those tools. To Sonja’s point it can be distracting for the presenter (she gives a very real example) however with some moderation and planning (or great tools like the ones you link to) everyone can benefit from live tweeting.

      Cheers,
      Tony

  6. Hi Tony,

    Should people live tweet?

    Sure, they should.

    My take on this is:

    THE TWO ICE-CREAM THEORY OF PRESENTWEETION

    ‘How can we make our presentation so remarkable that it beggars a response – that people HAVE to tweet, but they are contorted between the dilemma of watching you present to get the next gold nugget and turning to their screen to tweet the next gem.

    Kind of like a kid with two favourite ice-creams – one in each hand. Which do I lick next? (sorry about the food metaphor) ;).

    Best, Robin

  7. DOTS – (depends on tactical situation). Perfect for panels and Q and A sessions….adds richness to the conversation. For keynotes; crap, turn it off. A keynote is not a conversation, it is a delivery of relevant and important information (well it should be). For keynotes where I have seen live tweeting applied it becomes a stream of no-bodies trying to be somebodies by outwitting the presenter. Disrespectful…

    1. Thanks Luke – interesting fresh perspective! On keynotes, I have derived value from the tweetstream both for myself and, where I am live-tweeting, hopefully others (that’s my goal) My view is it’s a new (social) form of note-taking. People still write things down during keynotes – is that disrespectful? Same with Tweets – just a new form of note-taking. I take your point that it can be disrespectful, particularly if the tweets at a keynote are personal, attacking the presenter, or attempting to disrupt the event. My approach is always to share, bring context to or at least retain the content that is being delivered. For example at an IBM event last year I live-tweeted the keynotes which, looking back at now, provide shareable, referenceable content about who presented, what about, and an opportunity to engage and learn more. See http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%23ibmsws

  8. Hi Tony- thanks for alerting me via Twitter to this post- especially seeing I have also been wading into this debate on my own blog. Lots of lively and useful insights around these emergent behaviours. On another note…I attended MarketingNow (ConnectNow 2010) in Melbourne last year-it was jam-packed with SMores and everyone on a keyboard, (and there is NO such thing as silent typing- believe me!) to the point that I as a member of the audience who had paid big $ to attend, was distracted and intensely annoyed by the constant tapping and faint pinging sounds of Windows start-up tune or emails arriving- multiply that by 150 laptops- no matter how silent each individual user thinks he/ she is, and you are into serious ambient noise.

    Best example I have seen of accommodating this trend is at the very prestigious and HUGELY popular PopTech event attended by 500 hyper-connected folks. The curator takes a very firm role in agreeing the ground-rules at the start of the conference and the reasons are expressly articulated. No computers/ live-tweeting permitted in the main auditorium to distract either attendees or presenters in the old Opera House in Camden, Maine. Instead, a dedicated room adjacent to the main auditorium is allocated and dedicated to the live-bloggers and live-tweeters and equipped with a giant screen to observe the presenter, adequate wifi and a cam so if they wanted to ask questions from there (in person) that is still possible. Everyone gets best of both the intimate connection between audience and presenter, as well as the live-stream for non-attendees following the webcasts via the internet for for post-presentation discourse.
    I imagine in feature auditoriums/ venues may be designed by architects to take this emerging trend into account. (Let’s influence that outcome!)

    1. Great additional insights there Annalie, thank you! I can imagine how distracting all that typing and other “e-distractions” must have been at that Melbourne event – I’ve noticed it too. Although I tend to absorb background noise rather well (3 children under 5 will do that to you 😉 and make a conscious effort to type quietly.

      It seems odd to me to segment and remove the live-blogging/tweeting away from the main audience (to the point of being discriminatory?) I like the way curiosity is piqued by other attendees who aren’t live-tweeting/blogging seeing what’s happening around them (although admittedly it can also be distracting) We have to recognise the trends and cater for them (which PopTech clearly is doing in their way)

      It just occurred to me: can you imagine when we are using iPad/tablet devices with no tactile keyboards, how quiet that would be? It seems to me that as long we don’t see live-tweeting being banned, that’s a good thing. There’s too much good that comes out of it (learning, educating, sharing, virtual water-cooler, discussions, opportunity and more) which outweighs the down-sidem, in my opinion.

  9. Gday Tony,

    Interesting topic mate. I speak regularly now, sometimes to big audiences and sometimes more intimate ones, but almost always about online and social marketing and the different tools which work well for small and medium-sized businesses and what things to avoid and so on.

    I actually encourage people to live tweet and give them a hashtag for others to follow as well, although it has to be said that the majority of my audiences would be Twitter newbies at best so my encouragement to live tweet usually falls on deaf ears.

    When the audience (or even just one or two of them) are up for it though, it can definitely add a greater depth to my presentation and my content as Yvonne pointed out before.

    I’m not too worried if there are a couple of dills or attention seekers among the punters doing the tweeting, I am pretty confident that my content is worthwhile and engaging, so distractions like that should be seen as just that.

    It’s funny, though, I am pretty crap at DOING the live tweeting. Something about a short attention span I think?

    Nick

    1. Thanks Nick – it’s great to have this post out again as I think it is as topical as it was when I first wrote it 18 months ago. It was a tweet at last night’s #SMCSYD event from Gavin @servantofchaos which reminded me about it (we were all live-tweeting that event) I love live-tweeting events and in recent years have been paid to do so professionally, so I guess I am biased. It is wonderful to be able to share an experience outside of the event with the broader community, take notes, ask questions, answer them, make new connections, and generally bring additional learning to the experience. It is a challenge to do this, no doubt – when you are not completely present for the speaker, you can miss points they are making while you are live-tweeting. That’s where I fall back on the tweetstream in general and often others will catch you up with their tweets. On balance I have no doubt that live-tweeting’s benefits outweigh the challenges.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here Nick.

  10. I love live tweeting! Whenever I’m listening to a great speaker, I like to be able to share their message with the broader audience or in particular, those who couldn’t make it to the event for whatever reason.

    Particularly for webinars, it’s a great tool. I know that when I live tweet at a webinar it’s easy to pick out the important points as they are usually displayed on your screen as well, but you have the opportunity to add the speakers personal banter as they address what they’ve written. My followers love it and will often retweet.

    As for being distracting for the speaker, yes I agree that would be discouraging to see a lot of your audience with their heads down and them looking like they’re ‘playing’ with their phones but once a speaker embraces the ‘live tweet’ option, they’ll only move forward and get many more gigs.

    If you’re a speaker who encourages live tweeting like Nick in the previous post, make sure you announce your hashtag at the beginning of your session and explain to your audience that others in the audience aren’t being rude, they’re being ‘engaged’.

    Shauna
    Secret Secretary

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