Twitter in presentations – annoying or useful?

A close friend and professor of literature in the bay area banned all cell phone and laptop usage during her lectures stating the students are there to listen to the lecture and discuss with each other, not text and read their email. My other educator friends applauded her decision. After all, as a presenter it is distinctly off-putting to give a presentation to the tops of 200 heads. How do you know they’re even listening?

Lately it seems easier to get the twitter stream than it does to trek off to another conference. Between live-blogging and the tweet-stream, you hardly miss a thing, and it’s probably how I’ll stay on top of SWSX this year since I have commitments that keep me from attending. I know I’ll be able to follow a number of people and get the gist of things.

I confess I have twittered during conference presentations and always felt just a touch guilty about it. At least until I read this post on Pistachio’s blog by Olivia Mitchell.

Olivia  points out the audience participation value of live blogging and a twitter hashtag for a presentation. She makes a very strong argument for including these back channel conversations into the presentation in some way, either during the presentation itself, taking a twitter break to read the tweets and allow deeper audience participation, or as a QA session after the presentation. All are valid uses of the medium but how do you do it?

In my experience taking a break during a presentation or webinar to read and respond to feedback on the fly feels like a first grader trying to parse Faust 1 minute before an exam on the tragedy. Maybe that’s a learned skill.

Olivia suggests using a moderator who can keep track of the chatter and pull out comments that add value or questions to address. I like this idea and suggest you take it a step further and add the tweets to the archived presentation. It gives the audience more ownership of the event and allows the discussion to carry on long after your presentation is done.

So. What do you think? Is Twittering and live-blogging a part of how you present now? Why or why not? Share your ideas with us.