How to Twitter an Event

There’s a lot of discussion now around how Twitter can be used at events. It gets even more interesting when the people on stage try to use it to monitor the reactions to what they’re saying. Jeremiah Owyang discussed his own experience as a moderator at Web 2.0 where Twitter helped him gauge audience feedback, leading to a quicker shift to audience Q&A.

I used Twitter last week at the SMX Social Media event when I was a speaker on a panel. I was the third of three speakers to present, and as the presentations were 15-20 minutes each, I had a chance to tweet some quick reports about the other speakers’ talks while interacting with the audience (generally people I was already following at the show). It felt a little wrong to be tapping away on the mobile phone during the panel, but it also gave me a new way to connect with people in the audience.

I’m more intrigued by the idea of monitoring Twitter while moderating. The best way will be by monitoring a search engine; Jeremiah told me Tweet Scan is mobile-friendly. Jeremiah and I emailed a bit about this; here are a few other thoughts that he welcomed me posting here:


  • People are more honest on Twitter, saying how they really feel, both good
    and bad. But often they tend to act like jerks, where they would never say it
    in real life.

  • I surprised a few people that were tweeting about ME while I was on stage. As I
    called out what they said (but didn’t say who it was from, as I didn’t want to
    be a jerk) the tone immediately changed.

  • At a minimum, a speaker or mod should monitor the back channel, but keep the
    focus on those on stage.
  • Speaking solo, well that’s very, very tough to monitor, and one should enlist
    someone to watch on their behalf, and use hand signals, or take a Twitter break
    after 15 minutes or so (Robert Scoble does this).

It still can be tough to monitor Twitter even if you’re on a panel. When the discussion is really interactive and it’s flowing, you don’t want to lose the flow. But it’s also possible that the flow you’re so wrapped up in isn’t resonating with the audience, whether it’s over their heads or just a lot of blather. A point person in the audience can help.

I do want to try out new ways of using Twitter to be a better moderator and panelist though. I’ll have a few opportunities coming up. While my next event at the Magazine Publishers of America tomorrow is so intimate that I don’t anticipate needing Twitter (and I doubt the crowd’s the right fit for it), Digital Hollywood next week looks more promising as at least a few people in the room should be tweeting. I’ll also be curious to check it out during MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit, which is designed to be especially conversational this year. I just created a Twitter channel for it at SISummit (you can view my upcoming events here; I’m also on dopplr to share travel schedules).

If you’ve used Twitter at an event, share your experience in the comments, whether you were on stage, or you were in the audience when someone on stage used it, or you were in the audience communicating with others in the room.

11 thoughts on “How to Twitter an Event

  1. The Web Community Forum that Dean describes was the first event where I used twitter actively. Not only did it help keep me focused in my note taking and engagement, but the backchannel increased the camaraderie and strengthened many of the bonds made at the conference. I have seen the same impact at several other events since. It’s also nice to see the responses and insights from people that are not at the conference, but are responding to your tweets.
    I think a moderator/speaker that is hooked into the twitter backchannel as you suggest David is a great idea. You would certainly form strong bonds with your audience. However, it may be very difficult to pull off in practice.

  2. Using the twitter live audience as a back channel for feedback is a double edged sword. If there is an easy way to monitor the feedback and pull questions live from it it can be good. SXSW with Mark Zuckerberg was the first example of people getting really anxious and no one was feeding this feedback to the interviewer. She could have benefited from this feedback.
    Allowing anarchy and mob rule to take over can be dangerous. Having rule sets for how you will engage with the back channel (if at all) should be determined in advance of the speaking engagement.
    The bottom line here is that the twitter back channel has arrived (for better or worse) ans speakers now need to figure out how to handle the best way to engage this.
    Rodney Rumford
    http://twitter.com/rumford
    p.s. using the hashtag # is the easiest way to set the channel to listen at this point. other services will evolve that will improve the listening aspect.

  3. There’s a great article on Wired.com on what was done for ROFLcon last weekend, wherein an MIT created a web app just for conference attendees. http://blog.wired.com/underwire/2008/04/panelists-sit-i.html#more
    What essentially happened was a Panel-specific way to post comments and questions that were very visible to moderator/panel/audience with a interest-voting mechanism, meanwhile Twitter provided a shell of observations, analysis and discussion that often included those who were not in the same room, state or even country (often watching it live over video feed).
    I started Twittering at all at last December’s Facebook-centric conference on building communities held by the Parnassus group in Seattle. It created a passion for discussion that I have enjoyed continuing. But I think that any conference is smart to recognize the layers and practical applications of what un-conference discussion can bring. Having an outlet for live questions and groupthink are great, but Twitter may not be the best thing for that since more often than not you’re Twittering to an audience relay of followers and readers that aren’t even in the city; therefore Twitter becomes it’s own path of content. Recognizing these distinct shells is important, otherwise they operate on their own, spring up all over, and in a disorganized fashion allow for a chaos that the apps don’t intend, but unintentionally breed (and it’s not about oversight, but constructive monitoring to ensure Zuckerberg/Lacy issues self-correct).

  4. David, good post. But I think, as Dan alludes to, that the impact of Twittering an event in much larger and more important for the people who are NOT attending the event, than it is for those in the audience — humoring themselves by taking shots at the the speakers or moderator, or trying to prompt them to talk about what selfishly interests them. I actually think the latter is stupid. I mean, that’s why questions are taken at the end of conference sessions.
    Unfortunately, there are many bad, unprepared moderators out there [not you, David 😉 you’re one of the best] — so, I guess we can say that this particular usage of Twitter is serving a purpose, to force moderators to do their job.
    But it also should be sending a message to conference planners and moderators everywhere to get your freaking act together before you get up on stage! Meaning the right planning. As a frequent conference attendee and reporter (and mad Twitterer), I can surely attest there are way too many out there “winging it.”

  5. The connection of Twitter to live events has been a hot topic lately. I was one of several people live tweeting the Forrester Marketing Forum in LA in early April. Shortly after that, myself and the other live tweeters found ourselves responding to Forrester conference and Twitter – does live tweeting help engage conference delegates?.
    Both as a conference participant and also as a panelist or presenter, Twitter has the potential to be valuable…and distracting. You provide some good tips on increasing the value side of the proposition. I’m kind of dreading my first time at the podium in this new environment, but also looking forward to the live user feedback.

  6. David,
    Last fall we created a corporate presence on Twitter (@PerkettPR) specifically for live tweeting the TechCrunch Boston meet-up that we were sponsoring. With the limited availability of tickets, it gave people a way to keep virtual tabs on what was happening during the event.
    From that point on we’ve used the presence for tweeting events like Social Media Club and Social Media Breakfast events in addition to standard conversations with our followers.
    Thanks,
    Jeff

  7. Calvert Creative recently hosted a small event (35 people) during which we projected the primary presenter’s twitterstream on the wall beside him. This enabled the group (all Twitter users) to comment, add links, and even question things without interrupting the speaker. We also used the comment stream to help the speaker shift gears and keep in touch with the group mind.
    I think this would work best in larger gatherings if there was a dedicated twitter account (projected for all to see) and at least one or more people who monitored the back channel while helping the presenter shift major gears as needed.
    I’m toying with the idea of live-Twittering some events with the stream projected off to the side, so that people can see it, but don’t have to be part of the stream if they prefer not to.

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