*Please read the next line in Oprah-talking-about-bread-voice*
I LOVE live-tweeting conferences. I love live-tweeting conferences.
I often meet new people at conferences just because they see me live-tweeting up a storm during sessions. A few years of live-tweeting all my museum and public history conferences has connected me with fascinating people and opened a lot of new doors.
Some folks have remarked to me that they struggle with the habit, so I decided to throw together a quick, probably spelling-error-ridden guide for aspirational live-tweeters in the museum, history, and humanities fields. There are so many benefits to live-tweeting conferences, but it’s a skill/habit I had to develop over time and lots of practice. Read this post, and then get to work live-tweeting, remembering that all skills require practice, and no one [important] will judge you for making mistakes along the way.
Why Live-Tweet a Conference?
First, I should probably give you some good reasons to live-tweet:
- It helps you stay focused on sessions/papers
- It teaches you to quickly draw out key takeaways from speeches, presentations, and papers
- It helps you remember the moments that impacted you most, got your brain-gears turning
- It turns a simple lecture into a discussion, letting you interact and react with the speaker and other audience members in real time
- It connects you to other members of the audience and conference, particularly those who share your perspective
- It connects you with people in your field who have similar interests and perspectives
- It’s a great way to meet people at a conference and get name/face recognition without being a speaker
- It makes conferences more accessible, sharing information beyond the 30 people in the session to the whole internet, connecting the speaker to your networks who may find their research valuable
Which Buttons to Press (Practical Matters)
Now that you are convinced of the practical benefits of live-tweeting, let’s go over the basics of how to structure your live-tweets:
1. Use the thread function: This is really important. Noticing that people were using the reply function to connect their tweets into a longer message, Twitter introduced the thread function last year. Using the “+” button next to “Tweet” or “Tweet All,” you can connect your individual tweets into a series. This allows you to write and edit multiple tweets before you publish or just add to already published tweets as you go. Once your tweet are in a thread, other users can share your whole thread and see all your comments from each session in one place when they come across an interesting thoughts later. Threads still confusing you? Check out this how-to on threading.
2. Use the conference hashtag: Most conferences today will have a designated hashtag that lets everyone at the conference see what everyone else is saying about sessions. Use it in EVERY tweet, even if they are connected in a thread. Some conferences like NCPH also have individual session hashtags. Make sure to look up the official conference hashtag(s) before the first day begins so you don’t accidentally tweet about public history to the association of fire safety experts who are also holding a conference that weekend. I also like to throw in relevant field-wide hashtags here and there to connect those outside the conference to what’s being discussed (ex: #musesocial or #publichistory or #foodhistory).
3. Make sure your full name is visible and that your Twitter bio lets other users know what you are about professionally.
4. Always tag the speaker and credit their comments/research as much as possible. Look them up before the session if they don’t share their Twitter handle, and if you can’t find that, just use their whole name in an early tweet and their last name in as many following tweets in the session thread as possible so you aren’t divorcing comments and ideas from their creators.
What to Tweet/What NOT to Tweet
The hardest part of live-tweeting is knowing how to boil down complex discussions into pithy 240 character tweets. There are two main approaches you can take:
1. Just tweet the final take-aways and/or most compelling quotes from a presentation. This is particularly useful in keynote speeches, where you don’t need to live-tweet a childhood story in order to get the essence of the speech jotted down.
2. Tweet the key points of the presentation from start to finish. This is harder, but in the case of a presentation on research or an educational seminar, it can give you and those following along a much better idea of what the lessons were. In this case, think of it like note-taking in university, where you want to capture the key ideas without burdening yourself with 15 pages of notes that will need to be deciphered later.
Do a quick mental evaluation of the speaker’s style, and plan how you’ll break down what they are saying. If the speaker has good slides, I’ll often set myself a goal of one tweet per 2-3 slides or something like that. I may even take photos of the slides of supplement my tweet.
Another way to approach the task is to try and mentally identify the key points and take-away as they are speaking, summing up the ideas into quick bites as soon as you see hear them finish a whole point/thought. Like a said, this takes practice, but the more you do it, the more instinctive it becomes. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself coming away from each presentation with the ability to quickly recap what the main point and conclusion was of each presentation. And isn’t that the whole point of going to these kinds of things?
Do not just tweet the subject of the presentation and the name of the presenter. This is information that can be found in the program guide. Try to add something to your tweets that’s valuable to those attending and those reading at home: a takeaway, a lead on a research aid, a suggestion for learning more on the topic, a quote or new idea, etc.
Like with all variations on good note-taking or blogging, no one will die if you skip a few sessions or start a thread and then become so engrossed in the discussion that you don’t finish it or can’t follow the speaker’s logic enough to identify a take-away. Do what you can and have fun.
Engage with others! Twitter is a great platform for discussion and idea-sharing. Make a point to look at the other tweets on the conference hashtag and engage, replying to ideas or perspectives that interest you and retweeting insightful threads that need to be seen by more people.
Also, get a power bank for your phone! My older iphone loses battery power so fast, but having a full charged bank means I can tweet to my heart’s content all day long and prevents the kind of stress that comes from needing to get back to your hotel room but having no Uber or directions because your phone is dead.