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.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments
John Pruitt

I wouldn't like the top of heads in a classroom or during any teaching. A seminar or conference would be different and I've done it but tried to be discrete. Hubspot does quite a few webinars and seems to effectively use moderators for twitter answers.


I hate hate hate it when people type during a presentation. It's rude. OTOH I love reading about events I can't get to . Quel Dilemm

Bridget Butler

Great post Janet, thank you!

Having just attended the WebWise conference in Washington, DC last week I was blown away by the use of laptops, twitter & backchat during the various workshops.

Blown away in a good way! I was impressed at how the organizers used this to their advantage. They set up a backchat for the entire conference and had it moderated by one person. WONDERFUL! They designated a hash tag on Twitter for the conference. I enjoyed being able to interact with others in the audience during the presentation and to be able to pose questions on the fly. And with the Twitter in the mix, those who could not attend became a part of the conversation as well.

THE MODERATOR IS KEY – you really need someone who can follow the chat, respond to some questions and deliver some questions to the speaker/speakers. There was an amazing moderator on a panel the last day who not only guided the discussion between panelists, panelists & audience in the traditional sense, but ALSO the backchat. He was truly brilliant at managing all this; it flowed well there were no interruptions and the experience was much richer and valuable to the audience.

As a "speaker" myself, I understand how this might be shocking to some, and as Jules puts it rude. However, if managed properly it think a "talk" with the audience being spoken-at can become an interactive session where dialogue is encouraged & the audience can have more of a role in shaping the course of the discussion. Ultimately this leads to folks walking away from an event feeling the event was fulfilling on whole different level.

Bridget Butler
ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center
at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain


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