8 things I learnt about using twitter as a participation tool

Today, I presented a session remotely at the Presentation Camp at Stanford University, California. My session was on “How to engage your audience with Twitter” and I tried to do exactly that during my presentation.

Here’s what I learnt from my experience:

1. Design your presentation for Twitter

I used two strategies that took into account that my audience would be tweeting. These are the strategies:

  1. Break up your presentation into small sections. Use the breaks between sections to pause your presentation and respond to questions or issues raised on Twitter. I had three sections and took a twitter break after each one.
  2. Have “tweetbites” scattered during your presentation. Tweetbites are soundbites (under 140 characters of course) that will get picked up and tweeted by your audience.  Repeat your tweetbites so that people can tweet them easily. My most successful one was:


2. Encourage your audience to tweet

Let your audience know you would like them to tweet during your presentation and tell them exactly how. Set up a separate hashtag for the presentation. If your presentation is part of a conference with its own hashtag, I still recommend a separate hashtag for your session. That will ensure you can follow just the tweets for your session.

To set up a hashtag, first follow @hashtags, it will automatically follow you back. Then you simply create your hashtag by typing a hash symbol in front of your chosen tag. You can search the hashtags site to ensure your tag isn’t already in use. We found it took several hours for twitter search to pick up on our hashtag, so I recommend doing this the day before your presentation.

3. Don’t forget the non-tweeters

We did have a couple of people who were not twitter-enabled. During the twitter breaks they were able to ask questions. But it wasn’t an ideal experience for them. I don’t know whether this would be such an issue in a standard conference presentation (the fact that I was a remote presenter and that the presentation was about using twitter in a presentation – made it very tweet-focused). But thinking through how non-tweeters are going to participate is important.

4. Use multiple ways to monitor the Twitterstream

In my presentation, I suggested three ways you could monitor the twitterstream for your presentation:

  1. Take twitter breaks to check out the twitterstream and answer any questions.
  2. Appoint an audience member to be the Twitter monitor and to let you know when there are issues arising on the Twitterstream that you need to respond to.
  3. Display the twitterstream live so that both you and the audience can see it.

I found I needed to use all three of these to try and keep up with the stream of tweets coming through (and even then I didn’t manage to keep up). There were only eight people in the room tweeting (some also tweeting remotely) but they managed to generate over 80 tweets in 40 minutes! Having the twitter monitor was the most useful strategy for me. My partner, Tony, monitored the twitterstream and wrote down the most critical tweets for me to respond to on notepaper and passed them to me.

5. Ask the audience to retweet (RT) the tweets they want you to address

This suggestion came out of a tweet interchange:



6. Let go of the illusion that you might know more than the audience

Twitter allows the audience to offer their expertise. This happened almost immediately in my presentation. We had set up a search for #prescampo at www.search.twitter.com to show the twitterstream. We used a firefox plugin called Reload Every to refresh the page every 10 seconds. Within a couple of minutes of starting @Jeffhurt (who participated remotely from Texas) suggested we use www.tweetchat.com. Wow! That was so much better. It refreshed itself as soon as new tweets came through and has a tweetbox so that you can also tweet from the page and it automatically adds the hashtag.


Thank you so much Jeff for all the expertise that you contributed during the presentation.

7. Tweet the questions you want the audience to respond to

I had planned four specific questions I wanted to ask the audience during my presentation. I had these ready to go, so that I could tweet them at the appropriate time in my presentation. I did this by having four separate twitter tabs open in firefox each with one question ready to tweet. It worked but please do tell me if there’s an easier way of doing this!

8. You don’t have to respond to all the questions during your presentation

That’s part of the beauty of using Twitter. The questions are saved for you. There were a number of questions that I missed and I responded to them after the presentation through Twitter.

This list is just my main learnings from delivering the presentation. There’s heaps more value that you can get by reviewing the twitterstream which summarizes my main points and includes the expertise of the audience. I’ve created a pdf of the twitterstream that you can download here:  twitterstream-prescampo. For those who would like the substance of my presentation, you can find it in two guest posts I wrote last week:

How to present while people are twittering

7 ways to use Twitter to engage your audience

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  1. I attended this presentation remotely from Dallas. It was a great experience thanks to Oliva’s prepared questions, several audience members tweeting her high points and the ability to ask questions as well as respond to questions. I saw it as the ultimate learning experience: having the value of a seasoned presenter guiding our process and adding content, and peer to peer learning with attendees. While I couldn’t hear the presentation, I found myself retaining more information because I was typing the information and retweeting when I thought it was worth everyone hearing again (including those that follow me but were not there.) I also saved the entire tweet chat as a PDF for later mining and I expanded my network with some other like-minded people.

    Here’s the real interesting thing: I’ve already had three people tweet me and ask me for more information on what I learned from the presentation. They were following our tweetchat but not typing. They were observing from afar. One friend saw me at a meeting this evening and asked for more information about what had happened. She was following the conversation too and got very excited. What a way to extend the learning and grow the attendance pool-adding Twitter to your presentation! Thanks Olivia and thanks Presentation Camp!

    • Thanks Jeff – again. It was so valuable having you involved, and so valuable now to get your perspective. I’m a little overawed by the impact but excited by the potential.

    • Excellent idea Jeff to make a pdf of the twitterstream. I’ve made one for people to download from the post. Thanks Jeff

      • I’m glad you made a PDF, because I was getting ready to delete those tweets! I really should have used a test account, looking back :)

        Perhaps I’m also reacting to something you said in the presentation regarding being careful about what you say on Twitter, since whatever you type shouldn’t be different than something you’d say out loud. That said, I’m not sure I fully subscribe to that theory. One of the things I learned from designing and evaluating eLearning is that introverts who would normally never speak up in class would blossom in a text-based environment. I think you’ll get more unfiltered but honest comments via a text channel, which can backfire…but also be a good thing.

        I have more notes (and Jay Cross took video of his laptop during part of your presentation), but will respond more fully in a bit.

        Had great fun with that session!

        • Hi Carolyn – I totally agree with you that one of the benefits of using twitter is that it allows people who would not normally speak up to voice their thoughts and opinions.
          My comment about not tweeting anything different than what you would say out loud was in a different context. That context is as an internal decision-making tool to decide whether to tweet something which could be potentially hurtful to the presenter. So, I’m putting that forward as a principle by which to judge whether you should tweet what you’re thinking. If you’d be prepared to say it out loud to the presenter – then go ahead. If not, keep it to yourself.

          Glad you had fun – it was a pretty full-on experience! Olivia

  2. Great sharing of best practices. Thanks. I was at a presentation last week with Scott Klososky and he used http://wiffiti.com in a similar fashion. It addressed the issue of not everyone being on Twitter, because you text your messages in, and more people seem to know how to text than have Twitter accounts.

    I look forward to trying some of these ideas in my next presentation.

    • Hi Todd, I’ve had a look at http://wiffiti.com – looks as if it’s a great solution – but only if you’re in the US. Doesn’t work outside of the US – so no good for me in NZ and others in the rest of the world. Olivia

  3. i don’t know if i don’t get this but why would i as a presenter want my audience to be distracted? and second, why as an audience do i want to first pay for something of value and then waste the experience because i need to be a cool twitterer

    just because twitter is cool (right now) i don’t think one has to use it all the time. lectures and speeches are supposed to teach people something and therefore require focus and attention, by both the presenter and the audience. if i as a participant start twittering every other minute i won’t have the time to actually digest and think about what is being said … this is obviously only the case if the speaker has something to teach/say that is of value. if we are talking about some new product introduction well then twitter away.
    there is value in concentration and focus, studies after studies have shown that multi tasking is a myth and that in all cases single taskers outperform multi taskers.

    • Hi Carsten – thanks for your comment. I think the issue of distraction when tweeting during a presentation is a very real one. But there are two distinctions to make.
      First, it depends on the individual. Some people finds that tweeting while they’re listening helps them focus more and to really engage with the content. You might compare it to taking notes during a lecture. Others do find it distracting.
      The second distinction is between tweeting the highlights of the presentation (which is like taking notes) and trying to read the twitterstream while the presenter is talking. As you say, that’s likely to be difficult to do. Bert Decker has also pointed out in his post on the issue. He’s pointed out that trying to read the twitterstream is like trying to read a bullet-point slide while the presenter is talking. It leads to cognitive dissonance.

  4. I’ve been using Today’s Meet as a real-time chat space for conference sessions. At conferences where many are tweeting, I find that people use Twitter primarily to broadcast their favorite tidbits out to the rest of the Twitterverse, whereas they use Today’s Meet for an internal backchannel – swapping relevant links, discussing points – among those at the conference. You can see an example of the difference looking at this Today’sMeet and the tweets from the same conference.

    • Thank you for those links Nina. That’s really interesting. Olivia

  5. Olivia-

    I’ve found Tweetdeck (http://tweetdeck.com) to be useful during presentations. You can organize it to have special live searches running on hashtags and very quickly reply to comments coming in from the audience.

    Thanks for these suggestions!

    -Josh Knauer

    • I thought about using tweetdeck (my normal twitter application) but I thought that I would prefer to just see the tweets related the presentation on one page (and not be potentially distracted by other stuff). Also if you want to display the twitterstream I think it’s better to just that stream on the screen and nothing else.

  6. Olivia – This is a wonderful and value packed post! I have participated in many online conference calls and video conferences where Twitter was used as a primary promotion tool to attract additional participants in addition to fielding questions. I have yet to do this in a live setting, but I think it is brilliant.

    The tips you provide and the detailed rationale for each one serves as the perfect road map for giving this powerful idea a try. One of the aspects I love most is the idea that you can extend the conference experience beyond its completion as you answer tweets that weren’t answered during the session. By tracking the hash tag, the follow and interaction can continue for weeks.

    Just another powerful example of how profound Twitter’s affect will be on communications as we move into the future. This is really exciting as a dynamic use of Twitter as a business building, branding and educational tool.

    Thank you!


  7. Olivia, great post! For your #7 I would recommend twuffer.com to pre-schedule tweeted questions. HootSuite also has the ability to pre-schedule tweets. Then you wouldn’t need so many windows open.

    One thing I am interested in, is how to filter tweets during a presentation or public event. I deal with some high-end large special events that sometimes have controversy or conflicting groups involved. (gay audience, political audience, products launching with stiff competition). At the same time, organizers are asking to have live, public twitter included in the event to make it fun for attendees.

    What do people think is the best way to include twitter in a live event, without allowing too much access or spotlight on the few bad apples that may tweet ugly or hateful things? I’m thinking some kind of filter or delay, similar to live TV broadcast… but I’d love people’s specific thoughts or implementation ideas.


    • I had considered pre-scheduled tweets, but the problem is I wanted them to appear at exactly the same time as I posed the question orally. Pre-scheduling them would be a little like attempting to pre-schedule the transitions between your PowerPoint slides.

      I’m also interested in the answer to your second point – about filtering/moderating the chat. There will be people who know far more about this than I do, but my initial thought is that with twitter that’s not possible. But there must be other chat software available that has a moderation function?

  8. Aloha,

    GREAT Tips!
    Retweet worthy for sure!

    You asked if there’s an easier way to tweet your Questions During your presentation…

    Here you go:

    1) Enter them by using TweetLater.com
    2) If your presentation is at a set time, you can pre-schedule those tweets to go out during the appropriate section.

    Ex. Every 10-15 minutes, one of your Q’s will Auto-Tweet WHILE you’re presenting in front of the room.

    The coolest thing about that – is people Freak out w/ your magical skills of being in several places at once.


    • Thanks CoachDeb for your suggestion – problem with tweetlater and other tweet scheduling services is that I can’t predict exactly when I want the tweet to go out eg: if start of my presentation is delayed or there’s a discussion with the audience which holds things up, then the tweets will be out of sync with my presentation. Olivia

  9. The current tools still leave a little to be desired. A mechanism like Google Moderator uses (where the audience can rate the questions) would be very helpful. (For example: http://moderator.appspot.com/#15/e=c9&t=2 )

    I think there should also be a distinction between electronically sending questions and live-blogging. Sending questions doesn’t take long ans has value to the whole group, but live-blogging is distracting to the audience and they don’t get any benefit. (And research has shown that human brains don’t comprehend as much when they try to multi-task anyway, so the bloggers really aren’t getting as much out of the presentation as they would like everyone to believe.)

  10. What I find most interesting about this discussion is point number 6. Let go of the illusion that you might know more than the audience. I write, consult, and speak on the human factor of technology particularly new social media. The biggest hurdle in the way of all of these tools is old norms. I find new social media tools require new skills. The ability to co-create with your audience is exciting, but can be very scary. Letting people know community allows for so much more expression of self is the first step. This seems lofty at first until people play with things like Twitter. Then, they are usually sold.

  11. TweetLater.com can be useful here, I agree. Re-tweeting is also very useful (participating tool) – I have tried this out. Through Twitter Search and Twitterfall you can filter subjects – but participants? I am using Twitter now during presentations.

  12. RE: 2. Encourage your audience to tweet. Much too cool for my beating heart. I have presentation for international audience and looking for Twitter apps to engage audience more. Your solutions with Tweetchat.com and Reload Every worked great right out of the box. You get a stumbleupon vote from me, blog post and RT just for this one idea. Great stuff.

    • Thanks Doug, and glad you found tweetchat useful. Olivia

  13. These are excellent suggestions! Wish I would have had them prior to my talk about SMM at Ad Club just now. I would have strongly encouraged the “twitter enabled” (probably about half of the group by the show of hands) to tweet throughout. Will remember for next time. Thanks again!

    • Hi Mary Ellen, that is annoying when you read something just after the time you needed it. Olivia

  14. Hi Olivia,

    Thanks for this great post.
    I do think it is not always possible to have more people monitor twitter during a presentation.
    I’m not sure whether your question in number 7 has been solved.
    7. Tweet the questions you want the audience to respond to
    I had planned four specific questions————–cut — question ready to tweet. It worked but please do tell me if there’s an easier way of doing this!

    There are some great PowerPoint-twitter integration tools available at http://bit.ly/dG4c6r

  15. I had never thought of using Twitter as a good benchmark of the amount of text you should limit yourself to for each slide but it makes a lot of sense. I also agree that it’s a great tool to engage with your audience so I will definitely be using these tips when consulting for our clients. As a powerpoint company we tend to focus all of our efforts in designing the perfect slide but we tend to forget the importance of engaging with audiences. Powerpoint slide design should definitely not be the only focus of our work in the future. Thank and keep the articles coming, love this stuff!

  16. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article.
    I will be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.


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