Is Twitter a good thing while you’re presenting?

by Olivia Mitchell

I’ve recently written two guest posts on Twitter and presenting. On Laura Fitton’s Touchbase blog, I looked at the benefits for the audience and the speaker of people twittering while you speak and how to manage it.

On Chris Spagnuolo’s Edgehopper blog, I went to the next step and explored how you can use Twitter to engage your audience.

Both posts have generated a lot of buzz on Twitter and there’s a ton of comments on the TouchBase blog. There’s many useful points in the comments and I have summarized the main issues below:

Is Twitter a good thing while you’re presenting?

I actually didn’t cover this issue in my blog post on Touchbase because I thought that the debate about whether people should Twitter while people  were presenting had been had. And that most people had accepted that although they might not like it as presenters it was now a reality of presenting at technology-enabled conferences. I was wrong.

Is it rude to tweet while someone is presenting?

Some people feel vehemently that people should not tweet while there’s a presenter on stage. Here are some of the comments:

@HughBriss I still hate it when people don’t look at me when I’m talking. It seems rude, no matter what the reason. If I was an instructor I’d expect people to be taking notes but that’s a lot different than people tweeting about me or asking each other questions while I’m talking.

Mike Ashworth: Personally I believe that to constantly twitter (or talk, or text, or whisper) during a presentation (or meeting for that case) is rude. advise at start that you will be monitoring the twitter conversation and asking people to step forward to explain their tweets (pos and neg) to entire audience.

Kevin Baughen: I must be a ‘fuddy duddy’. How about we behave like grown-ups, show some respect to those speaking and try to engage in some real human skills? I’m tired of hearing technological development as the excuse for rude and impersonal behaviours.

Ira Basen: As someone who was never a big fan of passing notes in the back of the class, I see no reason to embrace its digital equivalent .

My response to this, is that rudeness is cultural. And that our perception of what is rude is changing. In the past, it might have been considered rude to interrupt a speaker to ask a question. Now, although the speaker may not like it (interrupts their flow, difficult to get back on track) it’s not seen as rude. Same with tweeting.

But tweeting while someone is speaking can still be rude

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used rudely. Conference tweeters need to self-moderate. Ira Basen wrote last week about being “twitter-trashed” during a presentation he gave. Here were some of the tweets:

“You can ask questions without propagating simplistic, misleading stereotypes. Ira Basen fails that test.”

“It would be easy to get angry at the odious caricature of public relations Ira Basen presents. But it is too extreme to be credible.”

They are hard-hitting. I can understand that Ira feels pretty resentful that these comments were made in a forum where he was unable to respond at the time. Would this tweeter have made these comments face-to-face to Ira at the end of the presentation? I think that that is the appropriate test. Don’t tweet anything during a presentation, that you wouldn’t say directly to the speaker.

The illusion of attention

In the past, we may have been able to enjoy the illusion that people were paying attention to us, but they could equally have been thinking about the row that they had with their spouse that morning. I believe that as speakers we need to make a cultural shift and accept that there are different ways for audiences to pay attention to what we’re saying.

Daiv Russell It’s very intriguing how the presenter feels that they “own the show”, and must have 100% visual concentration from the audience, failing to realize that greater back-channel participation is actually greater immersion in the topic at hand. Being one of those wholly-consumed audience member/participants, I’m glad, for one, to see that this perspective is shared by others, and that the benefits of discussing the material live-stream are being recognized.

Speakers embracing Twitter

Many speakers wrote about the benefits of their audience using Twitter:

Tom Collins: I enjoy doing presentations with live internet access, so I can jump to online examples in response to live questions. Can’t wait to add a twitter stream to that mix!

Sacha Chua wrote her own blog post inspired by my post: If you’re talking about the ideas that I’m presenting, fantastic! I’ve engaged you in a much better way than I could ever have if you just sat there passively listening. If you’re looking up examples I’ve quoted and bookmarking them for later reading, hooray! I’ve said something that’s sparked your interest, and you’ll take it from there. If you’re asking or answering questions about what I’m saying, wow! You jumpstart the discussion and save other people from being confused.

Dan Keldsen: Well, as someone who was thrilled to have @Pistachio tweet positively about my co-keynote at the Enterprise 2.0 conference last year, I have to say that Twitter (and things like it) add a whole ‘nother dimension to presenting. Magnifying the conversation OUTSIDE of the venue you’re in has tremendous benefits. I’d take my chances with participation of any kind, whether out loud in public or virtual, rather than just talking heads, any day of the week.

Ed Garay: As a presenter, I like the idea of offering multiple means of communication and avenues of engagement while, at the same time, getting instant feedback and the opportunity for adapting (changing on the fly) one’s talk based of people’s interest, Q&A and meaningful commentary.

Morriss Partee You left out a huge bonus to the presenter: key highlights of your presentation are being sent out to an audience much bigger than those in the room. If you have something truly insightful or newsworthy to say, your message may be retweeted far and wide.

The context of your presentation

Richard Kraneis raised an important issue regarding when tweeting is appropriate:

Presenting to 500 is different than presenting to 50, or 12. At what point do we recognize that a presenter has become a teacher and that his/her mastery/control of the class is important? Trust me, if you’re teaching someone how to use advanced Excel concepts such as pivot tables and someone is working on their laptop on something else, you’ve lost them as students.

In a small group, people can participate out loud. If we were to start using Twitter to participate in small groups it would be like that group of teenagers hanging out together and communicating through texting. The beauty of Twitter is enabling participation in large audiences.

Tweetbites

Here’s fantastic idea that came through in the comments. I’ve christened them “Tweetbites”:

Tara: I’d also suggest making presentations more soundbite heavy- easier for twitters to grab a good quote for their followers that way. I was recently at an education panel and I kept tweeting about only one guy in a seven person panel, because he had the great one-liners that would fit in 140 characters and would be snappy for those reading the tweet out of context.

Beth Kanter: I think that it places a good discipline to listen and boil down ah ha moments into 140 characters.

Ralph Basfeld: People try to put the essence of your message in 140 characters. That encourages them to think through what the core message is. They are being active, instead of passive. This is a good thing.

I connected with @apowerpoint on Twitter:  “I turned the table on people in audience who tweeted to actually give them sound bites”. His entire presentation was tweetbites.

What other comments and great ideas do you have?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

joy simpson February 26, 2009 at 7:10 am

It seems to me that some people as presenters want to control what goes on in front of them. As a presenter I know that I can’t.
No one likes criticism whether it arrives via twitter or in a written evaluation at the end. May be not all presenters have written evalautions so don’t get any criticism because generally people won’t say it to your face.
If you are going to have twitter on when presenting I think you have to build in time to discuss what is being said positive or negative.
These people would have thought the same whether tweet was available or not. Is it the fact that we don’t like it being so public? Live by the sword, die by the sword. We can’t only use the bits we like.
If we get a written evaluation that is negative we follow it up with a phone call or a conversation. It takes guts to do that. Enter into a discussion. Isn’t that what twitter is all about.

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Tony Ramos February 26, 2009 at 7:29 am

As a Microsoft MVP for PowerPoint, I will be in Redmond next week to visit with the PPT product group and meet with other MVPs. http://mvp.support.microsoft.com/gp/MVPsummit

I plan on discussing social media and PPT. In particular, the idea of incorporating a “crawl” in PPT show mode with live, filtered (?), hashtagged (?) tweets is the main one I will bring to the table. For all I know, MSFT might be working on this already.

Plug-in coders: smell an opportunity? Just sayin’…

Thanks to Olivia for keeping this conversation going.

Reply

Laura Bergells March 1, 2009 at 9:29 am

Fun stuff.

If you’re presenting to a Twittering audience, why not think in terms of developing some short, provocative content in the form of one-liners and sound bites?

Drop your one liner.

Then pause.

In the old days, a comic would pause to wait for the laugh.

But now, you’ll wait for the Twitter storm to finish.

Picture this Tweet, for example:

“Laura just said, “If you’re not on Twitter, you’re not in PR.” #ConferenceHashtagHere

After your dramatic pause to wait for the BlackBerry clicking to subside, you continue with your presentation, until you drop the next one liner.

(Twitter would have been a perfect medium for the master of the one liner, Mr. Henny Youngman.)

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