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The Value of Twitter at Conferences

Do you tweet at conferences?  Have you been a speaker at a conference and noticed people typing on their laptops or seemingly texting on their phones – how have you felt?  Is it rude to tweet/text/use facebook at a conference?

I’ve been to many social media conferences where at least half the audience is tapping away on a netbook, ipad or smartphone busily using the hashtag provided by the conference organizers.  I love multi-tasking, love being able to listen to the speaker, type a tweet, check what other tweeters are saying about the conference by checking the hashtag and engaging with them.

However, I’ve also been to conferences where I suddenly felt slightly uncomfortable (and the odd one out!) for tweeting.  At a women’s conference last week, as a member of the committee I was all ready to tweet and update the facebook page from the speaker’s content and the MC explained that I wasn’t on the laptop because I was disinterested but because I was tweeting.  At  a conference in April, the organiser asked people to desist from texting as understandably, it can be offputting to the speaker. I had been merrily tweeting away on my phone! I did stop, partly because the conference was so good I sat back and listened fully, partly because no-one else was tweeting or using a hashtag and it became a bit boring texting in a vacuum (not able to engage with other delegates) and partly because I felt a bit uncomfortable (and naughty!)

As an ex-secondary school teacher, I’d have loved to have handed an obstreperous 14 year old a gadget to use while sitting at the back of the classroom if it kept them quiet and stopped them distracting the other kids but instead I had to resort to other means!

Why You Should Tweet At Conferences

I was therefore intrigued when I saw the subheading of an article in Toastmasters magazine which read ‘Don’t be put off by those who text or tweet when you speak’, written by Tim Cigelske @TeecycleTim.  Be different – don’t tell people to turn off their mobile phones. Follow the example of Chris Brogan, as cited in this article and tell people to send tweets, post to facebook, do what they have to do.  Here’s the reasons why and I agree with everyone of them:

  • This relaxes the audience, rather than feeling they are in a schoolroom situation
  • Increases the size of your audience – their followers/fans/friends will also be hearing all about your presentation
  • Those tweeting will concentrate more as they summarise your content into soundbites for tweets/updates.
  • You’ll get instant feedback after your presentation by checking the hashtag.
  • You can build on the relationship with members of your audience by following them, thanking them for their tweets and by responding to tweets.
  • Some people listen best when doing something else while listening such as doodling with a pen or using a phone so assume their best intentions if you see them using their phone – do not presume they are bored!
  • If the audience are involved by tweeting (or another means), they are more likely to be engaged.
 As Tim argues, with more people using gadgets and becoming aware of the value of hashtags, speakers are going to have to become accustomed to it and need to understand how to use tweets to benefit their message.  If you are organising a conference, decide on a hashtag before the event by testing it and tell the delegates about it.  Provide the usernames of the speakers so that they can benefit from increased followers. Embrace technology, learn from it and benefit from it.
However, do know your audience.  Speaking about blogging at a recent seminar where there were at least 40 people present, there were only 2 people using twitter.  No harm mentioning the hashtag for those two people but don’t labour it.
If you would like to book a training session on how to maximise the effectiveness of your business blog or your other social media platforms, do get in touch with Marie or I.

Public Speaking Tips

We’ve all been there – attended presentations that have effectively been ‘death by powerpoint’ or watched dizzily as a lecturer paced the length of the stage like a caged lion.

What is it that makes a presentation successful? That people learn from it, enjoy it, pay attention, leave with intention to change?  Is that success down to the content or the delivery or is it a mixture of both?

I would argue that no matter how wonderful the content is, if the delivery isn’t good, it just won’t be communicated effectively.  The speaker may be the most intelligent and knowledgeable person is their field but if they can’t present effectively, the audience aren’t going to be much the wiser.

Attending Charisma Bootcamp last week for 2 days, I saw a number of outstanding presenters, some of whom just blew me away with the standard of their presentations.  Apart from taking notes on the content, I was watching their presentation skills critically and taking notes for my own learning as I’m now speaking more to groups of different sizes. While I’m relatively comfortable now doing public speaking, I still have a lot to learn and yes, some of my failings come down to a lack of confidence.

(Note – this is a long post – pour yourself a cup of tea first 😉  )

Eye Contact

I’ve often attended presentations and the speaker has just looked at those seated on one side and those on the other side can start to feel a little neglected. I’ve also noticed speakers only looking at those in the front rows. This is particularly noticeable if the room isn’t that large. I tend to sit near the back if I’m going to be tweeting so perhaps it is more noticeable to me.

When I attended a previous workshop by Owen Fitzpatrick, there was approximately 200 people there, I was seated about half way back to the far left and just as I’m sure everyone else there did, I felt that the speaker made eye contact with me a few times and knew I was there.

Asking him about it, Owen said that he does try to make eye contact with everyone in an audience up to about 400 people and I’m guessing that if you are looking at a small group of people, they will all think you are looking at them.

I remember when I first started giving presentations during my MA, I used to practise in front of my old teddy bears which I dotted around the room – the advantage  was that most of them smiled encouragingly and none of them looked bored!

The largest audience I’ve presented to to date has been about 150 people and the next time I’m presenting to a large audience, I’ll be practising in the haybarn by standing on top of a straw bale and making eye contact with every cow or calf in there!

Effective eye contact really does make a difference.

Practice Makes Perfect

One aspect that many of the speakers emphasised was that they practise, practise, practise and that didn’t just apply to their presentation skills but to what they were teaching too.  I think many of us presume when we see someone is really good at something that it came naturally to them because they are very clever or talented. It might come easier to some than others but at the end of the day, practice makes perfect and will improve your presentation.

Too Many Slides

As I mentioned above, we’ve all been to see speakers/lecturers who have used too many slides or have too much text on the slides and it seems like it is just information overload.  People often give up trying to concentrate on both the voice and the slides and switch off.

It can be quite tempting for the speaker to look at the slides on the screen too but try to look at them on your laptop in front of you unless you want to draw attention to one particular aspect of the slide. As Paul Borass mentioned, looking at the slide means that you won’t see the reactions of the audience and you may miss something that you need to react to.

Keywords are sufficient text on the slide – enough to act as a prompt to remind you what about the important points and as an indicator to the audience too.  I noticed a couple of the speakers would change position to change the slide and pause for a second (didn’t have many slides in whole presentation). As a speaker, I personally would have felt this pause was a negative and that I should move on as quickly as possible but in fact, I thought it worked well to give everyone a couple of seconds to gather their thoughts before moving on to another area. Deliberate pause can be very effective.

The other disadvantage of using too many slides with too much text on them is that if you run out of time, the audience may feel cheated if you decide to zip past a number of slides to get to the all-important final ones. Whereas, if you have minimum keywords on each slide, you can decide there and then how much you say about each slide, cutting them short if need be.

Use a Lectern?

None of the presenters at Charisma used a lectern and I noticed the difference when I was at 2 presentations the other morning where a lectern was used. A lectern is handy as you can put your notes behind it, and having them there can be like a safety blanket. Also, if you are the type of person who tends to pace around the stage, it can help to keep you in the one place.  However, I thought the large wooden lectern also worked as a barrier between the speaker and the audience. One of the presenters was quite short, although she was wearing high heels and her gestures weren’t really apparent to the audience, gestures that could emphasise her points.

As Paul Moussoulides pointed out, standing still with your feet and posture balanced will make you feel more confident and by staying reasonably still, with gestures such to emphasise your points, the audience will concentrate more on your eyes and mouth.

Cybernetic Loop

Smile – Many of the presenters mentioned the need for your body language and your tone of voice to be congruent with your topic.  7% of your message comes from the actual words you use – the rest is your body language and tone.  If you smile and look happy, not only will your voice be more agreeable to listen to but you’ll be showing that you are happy to be there and that you like the audience. Like them first and then they’ll like you back!

Telling Stories

Listening to a short story that explains a point in a lecture or a long presentation goes a long way towards helping the attendees maintain their concentration and increase their engagement. Make the story personal and people will listen even more attentively.

I missed Owen’s ‘Compelling Storytelling’ module so I don’t have his full wisdom on this. One point I picked up was his claim that humiliating yourself within a story works well, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes but exaggerating it really gets the point across. This is where lots of practice comes in because I feel that unless you are really confident and go over the top, I would be nervous that the audience would believe I was really ridiculous so this is something I’m really going to have to work on and practise!

Check out Owen’s youtube video showing him tell stories about how he ‘loves’ himself in order to encourage the audience to do the same- he told a similar story at Charisma and it was even more fluent, funny and accomplished while getting the point across and hence, being memorable to everyone in the audience. (Warning – it does contain bad language)


You need to practise your presentation to perfect your timing, bearing in mind that you may speak more quickly in the real situation and that if you are asked questions from the floor during your talk, that will put you over your allotted time. However, don’t keep referring to the time by asking how much longer you have or apologise for going over.  Arrange with the chair beforehand that they alert you in some way a few minutes before the end by holding up a pen or another signal that you will recognise but won’t be obvious to everyone. If you do go over time and they want you to stop, they will glare at you to make eyecontact or will come and hover!

Your Attire

Unfortunately, I missed Sonya Lennon’s module so I can’t impart any of her wisdom so this information is just from my own observations. All the speakers I saw at Charisma were male and I noticed that although the room became warm at times and must have been very hot at the front under the lights, all of them except one managed to keep their jackets on. They all had open necked shirts with no tie but they were all dressed smartly in a suit (apart from Leopi but from what I saw, that guy is in a league on his own). If my memory serves me correctly, none of them wore a black suit – they were navy or grey.  Personally I think black is too severe. It makes us look slimmer but it also makes speakers recede into the background. I’m not suggesting that speakers wear bright red or a motley of colours but variants of navy or greys can look impressive as can adding a little colour.

Mix Old and New

Karl Spain gave this tip – you will have your stories/jokes/content that you’ll have practised and have word perfect but to make your presentation sound more ‘off the cuff’ or up to the minute, include some content that is evidently recent. For example, if I was giving a talk on twitter, I may have stories of tweeting success that I’ll have used as they’re my best examples but I’ll also include an example from last week to show a recent example. If you can work in something that was mentioned by a previous speaker, all the better.

Feel the Fear but Do It Anyway

Apparently many people fear public speaking more than death but with more of us having to make presentations in work or attend interviews, it is becoming a necessity in many roles.  I joined Toastmasters a few years ago when I felt that my presentation skills needed some work and found it to be a great source of fun and support as well as providing plenty of speaking practise. If you are looking for some courses or individual help, check out The Reluctant Speakers Club by Eamonn O’Brien who also writes a very good blog.

Another point – more and more people will be tweeting during presentations or typing up their notes. If someone looks like they are texting, it doesn’t mean they are bored. They are probably so struck by the information they are listening to that they are tweeting to share it with their followers. However, an important note to those tweeters is that it is important to look up occasionally and look interested and smile. Don’t look bored or the speaker will think you are texting. I’ve been in both scenarios!

Always remember too that some nerves are good, you need to control them but you do need a few butterflies in your stomach to give you the adrenaline to perform well. As long as I have practised my talk sufficiently, I’m rarely nervous going on to do a presentation, however, I’m very aware of the heightened adrenaline flowing through my veins.

The Power of the Hashtag

I was at the Charisma Bootcamp conference last weekend, organised by Owen Fitzpatrick, it was absolutely brilliant and I have lots of content to share with you.  So why is this post about hashtags rather than charisma? Because there wasn’t one in use at the conference and I really missed it for a variety of reasons. I’m not saying that the absence of the hashtag affected the content of the conference in any way but one effect it had was it pushed me right outside my comfort zone.

What Is A Hashtag?

What is a hashtag?A hashtag is a word that is used after the symbol #. It can be used for a variety of reasons but it is generally used to bring attention to a particular topic and to unite tweeters.  Topics can trend on twitter depending on how often the word or hashtag is used.  You may often hear television presenters or radio DJs announcing what the hashtag is so that viewers can engage in an online conversation and provide feedback or questions to the producers, for example, #vinb for Tonight with Vincent Browne

hashtag is a word used to summarise the conference after this symbol # and if tweeters click on it, they can see all the tweets related to that hashtag. The conference organisers should test the hashtag beforehand (to ensure it isn’t been used for other purposes) and should announce it. We use #klck for all our KLCK meetings and for generating interest in the run up to our monthly meetings.

Using Hashtags At Conferences

I have been using hashtags frequently to promote upcoming conferences, to share the content at the conference with those who cannot be there and to connect with others at the conference.

As most of the recent conferences I’ve attended have been based on social media, a hashtag was provided and many of the delegates used it. Of last weekend’s conference, very few people were on twitter and of those, very few were tweeting.  I really missed the use of the hashtag. Why?

  • It was an excellent conference and I wanted to share some of the nuggets of wisdom with my followers.
  • I often use my tweets with hashtags as a form of note-taking to look back at later. 140 characters is perfect for notetaking.
  • However, as I was the only person using the hashtag I’d invented (I discovered later that two or three others had used a different hashtag and tweeted with it a few times), I felt I was tweeting in a vacuum, I really missed the engagement of seeing what other delegates thought of the presentations and how they were absorbing the content.
  • I had forgotten how shy I am and how difficult I find going up to strangers at coffee and making conversation. Given that the conference was about ‘charisma’ I guess we were supposed to be practising what we were learning by chatting to strangers but I had become so accustomed to making connections with other tweeters via the hashtag and then arranging to meet at coffee.
  • A hashtag creates rapport between people who are meeting for the first time – you gain a sense of the other person’s personality from their tweets and you know you have interests in common.
Previous posts on Why Tweet at Conferences and How to Tweet at Conferences  include many more reasons for using a hashtag at a conference and includes recommendations for some rules to follow.
I actually surprised myself by my shyness at this conference and I came to realise just how much I had come to rely on social media as an icebreaker at these events which perhaps show just how social media can help one to network.
As it was, I had to come out of my shell which I guess wasn’t a bad thing either.  As mentioned at the conference, some people would prefer death to speaking in public and the fear of rejection is paramount in most people. I’m fine with public speaking as long as I’m prepared but I am really nervous going up to people I don’t know to speak to them on a one to one. What do I think they are going to do to me? Ignore me? Act like I’m boring? Leave me stranded? Bore me? Be rude and not listen to me?  Of course not but yet that seed of doubt is there.
What do you think? Do you think hashtags help us to become more sociable or do we use them to hide behind and forget the more traditional way of making introductions.  After all, relying on hashtags to forge introductions means that I miss out on those people not on twitter.
Have you used hashtags at conferences or do you prefer to stick to the traditional note-taking with pen and paper?
More posts coming up on the Charisma Bootcamp – I have so much to share, I’ll be blogging every day for the next week! 🙂

How to Tweet at Conferences

As I mentioned in my previous post, I feel organisers of conferences should be utilising the twitter tool for so many positive reasons, reasons that are also advantageous for the attendees. Here’s some tips on how to get it right.

How to Tweet at Conferences (for organisers)

  • Decide on a hashtag in advance. Ensure it is short and easily understood. Test it first too – in case it is being used for another event or something totally unrelated. For example, the hashtag used at the Women in Agriculture conference was #agwomen.
  • Ensure the wifi will be available and working.
  • Announce the hashtag at the start of the conference and if there is printed conference material, ensure the hashtag is visible (serves as a reminder and allows latecomers to see it)
  • Establish some rules when the hashtag is announced. Ask people not to be too personal in their tweets.  If there is going to be content that is sensitive or confidential, ask people to respect this and not to tweet this material.
  • Provide the twitter usernames of the speakers – this will allow them to gain more followers, engage with attendees after the event and spread the word about their business.
  • Have a tweet wall so that  attendees can read all the tweets without looking at their laptops/phones. This also means it is easier for you to monitor the tweets.  Tweeters will also be more respectful too when they know their tweets can be read by everyone in the room.
  • Engage everyone  with the occasional twitter contest, put out a question on twitter using the hashtag and ask people to respond.
  • Engage with fellow-tweeters by responding to their tweets or retweeting them.
  • Have a designated ‘tweeter’ at the event.
  • Take some photos of the speakers and the crowd – let followers of the hashtag (who aren’t there) see what is going on. Break up the textual with some visual.

How to Tweet at Conferences (for attendees)

  • Know what the hashtag is.  If it isn’t announced, ask!  It can be really frustrating if there are 2 or 3 different hashtags being used at the same conference.
  • 140 characters is a great length for succinct note taking. Your tweets will serve as your notes for reflection later and can be used to share the content with friends or colleagues.
  • Don’t be rude, personal or derisory, remember that the speakers can’t respond in real time.
  • Be sensitive, don’t tweet anything that may be confidential to the room.
  • Find out the speaker’s username and use it within the tweet.
  • Don’t be vague with tweets such as ‘great speech by …’, ‘inspirational talk by ….’  Provide readers with the key points of the presentation.
  • Follow other users of the hashtag, you will gain more followers too.
  • Arrange to meet fellow-tweeters at coffee, tweeting serves as a useful icebreaker and creates great networking opportunities.
  • Network: Use twitter and the hashtag as a way to introduce yourself to the organisers, to journalists or to anyone else you may wish to speak to.
Image: Free Digital Photos

If you missed my post on why Tweeting is important at Conferences, you can read it here.

Why Tweet at Conferences

I have been to four very different conferences lately and 3 of the 4 were not using twitter to its full beneficial use at all.  These three did not announce the hashtag, I had to ask what it was (one didn’t have one!) and in my opinion, they missed out on valuable free publicity.

First, just in case you don’t know what the hashtag is, I’ll include a brief explanation here.

What is the hashtag? Well, a hashtag is a word used to summarise the conference after this symbol # and if tweeters click on it, they can see all the tweets related to that hashtag. The conference organisers should test the hashtag beforehand (to ensure it isn’t been used for other purposes) and should announce it. The hashtag at the women in agriculture conference was #agwomen which was a good one – short and succinct and anyone could guess what it was about.  At the Towns of Excellence conference the hashtag was #servebesttoprofitmost which was way too long.  We use #klck for all our KLCK meetings and for generating interest in the run up to our monthly meetings.

Benefits of Tweeting at Conferences (for the organisers)

  • It is free publicity.  Those who follow the tweeters will notice the hashtag and might engage. They might be so impressed by the reports that they will sign up to your next conference.
  • It provides you with feedback on the conference. Most conferences use evaluation forms but the tweets will also give you good feedback.
  • Announce the hashtag at least a month before the conference and get all the speakers to use it – this is an easy way to generate interest in the conference and increase ticket sales.
  • It keeps attendees happy – they feel they are engaging with the speakers, they can network with fellow-tweeters and especially important for anyone who is there on their own and doesn’t know anyone else, it serves as a useful icebreaker at coffee and lunch breaks.
  • You can monitor the effectiveness of the conference – are people getting bored if they have stopped tweeting or are they so engaged they’ve forgotten to tweet. Are they getting hungry? Do they need a coffee break before the next speaker – this is important if your schedule is running late. Do you need to cut some speakers short or eliminate some Q and A.

Benefits of Tweeting at Conferences (for the attendees)

  • It is great for networking and you can meet up with fellow-tweeters during the break, having already ‘introduced’ yourselves
  • If you don’t know anyone else at the conference, it is a good icebreaker and conversation starter.
  • Some people may feel that they would prefer to solely listen rather than listen and tweet but I find I concentrate more when tweeting,  I use the tweets as succinct notes to look back on later.
  • Limiting points to 140 characters is excellent for effective note taking.
  • Be sensitive though – don’t tweet anything that may be sensitive or confidential to the attendees in the room. Don’t be contentious or personal, be respectful to the speaker as they can’t respond in real time.
  • You can share the main points with colleagues or friends who weren’t able to make it to the conference.
  • It is a lovely way to engage with the organisers and thank them at the end of the day.
  • I wanted to speak to two specific people at yesterday’s conference and I wasn’t able to do so but I was able to tweet with 2 people in similar roles which may lead to business in the near future.
  • Using the hashtag does get you noticed.  You will also gain more followers from the conference or from others following the hashtag.

Do read my other post on how to tweet at conferences (for organisers and attendees) too.


Image: Free Digital Photos

What do you think of tweeting at conferences?