Livetweeting: Delightful Sharing or Attentional Scourge?

I expect to be doing some livetweeting of sessions this convention (as I have for recent conventions I have attended) and I thought I would address some common questions and concerns. If you are interested, you can follow along at my twitter account: @criener

What are the benefits of livetweeting?

Signal boost to other interested experts: If you are giving a public presentation at a conference, why not have the signal spread far and wide? While the APA convention is certainly enormous, there are surely many interested parties who might not make it, due to distance or costs. Livetweeting a session can reach interested psychologists who may not be in the room.459894721

Giving psychology away: Some sessions might also be interesting to the general public. At most talks, there is a short section at the beginning with some general context and a summary of the prevailing consensus on that topic. This can be useful for a non-psychologist.

What are the potential drawbacks?

Too may tweets! Many twitter skeptics are wary of the overwhelming nature of tweets flying by in a rapid fire stream. Livetweeting can accelerate that. Excessive or poor livetweeting can seem both overwhelming to your followers, yet obviously a pale comparison with actually attending the talk.

The talk has been prepared for the people in the room, not the hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers represented. My Twitter followers include mathematicians, high school teachers, other liberal arts college professors and science writers. A talk at a convention such as APA may be targeted to psychologists, or even to cognitive psychologists, and livetweeting jargon may be incomprehensible to followers unfamiliar, and unfair to a speaker who is (appropriately) addressing the lecture to the audience present.

How to address the drawbacks?

96106082I think these drawbacks can be addressed, and a successful livetweeting experience can be enriching for everyone involved. For the tweeter, you help spread good knowledge, and raise your reputation as an interesting source for good information. For the speaker, an 8 a.m. conference talk with 20 bleary-eyed travelers can reach thousands.I try to maximize the livetweeting experience with a few general principles. I’ll start with advice for the tweeter, but also include advice for speakers.

For tweeters:

First, Twitter is an oral medium, so don’t worry too much about overwhelming followers. It is not hard for them to mute you, or for your uninterested followers to unfollow or ignore you for a little while. As Ian Bogost once said after a 32 Tweet mini-manifesto about the digital humaniites: “It’s an intentional performative feature” of Twitter.

Second, even given that you shouldn’t worry too much about limiting the number of tweets, don’t try to transcribe what the speaker says. At best, livetweeting is a live precis of what they are saying, with a few tastes of cool stories or quotes. Often, it is just a few choice quotes, perhaps a joke or two and a pithy take-home message. And that is OK. If it is enough to whet the appetite of a small percentage of the audience, it is worth it.

Third, leave space to quote, use last name and conference hashtag. Be careful of quoting without attributing in the same tweet. If I have to do this, I make sure to use quotation marks, and quickly follow that with attribution. Related to this, it is a good idea to ask speakers if they are OK with livetweeting. I tend to think that if one is giving a quasi-public talk, one should be comfortable with the talk reaching a broad audience, but it is a good idea to politely remind and ask the speaker.

Fourth, own your summary, and don’t be afraid to add your own opinions or interests. “This reminds me of …” or “I wonder what she would think about ….”  A little personality and opinions help keep it interesting, and remind your audience that you are not merely transcribing, but reacting. If you can, supplement with links to a speaker’s website, papers or other relevant material. This is a great way to add value to a talk that might not be as easy for people in the room, but for people sitting at their computer in Cardiff, they can read more if they are interested.

Fifth, don’t be afraid to put down the keyboard and just listen.If a section of the talk is untweetable (of course this happens), just give up and wait until the next section, or the next talk. Your followers know they are getting a noisy connection in eavesdropping on the talk, and are just catching snippets anyway.

Finally, a few practical tips for livetweeting. I use an iPad (1!) and a Bluetooth keyboard with a silicone cover, so the keys are very soft. This allows me to be relatively quiet. I will take pictures of slides sometimes, but if no one else is doing it in the audience, or if I am farther back, I try to limit that.

For speakers

Livetweeting and blogging are likely to become more prevalent, so why not plan for it? First, and I may be in the minority on this, but if you would rather your words not leave the room, why say them at all? Conference talks do not strike me as the place to tell secrets to a room full of people. If they are not secrets, but tentative results, then present them as such, and perhaps politely ask people not to take pictures. Second, maybe think about designing your talk for a few tweetable moments. I think imagining a concise take-home message at the beginning and the end of the talk is just good practice for talks in general, but Twitter is just another reason to include a pithy one-sentence summary of your talk. Third, if you are on Twitter, schedule some tweets with links to your website, your papers, etc. Then, you can tell people at your talk to spread those. It becomes a virtual handout for your talk that doesn’t just reach people in the room. Think of tweeting as another way to extend the conversation. The conference talk need not begin and end at the convention center, but can be the continuation of an ongoing conversation.

That’s my $0.02 on livetweeting. Any tweeters out there? What are your impressions/opinions/tips about livetweeting? Any speakers have opinions or tips? Please share in the comments.

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