Brilliant backchannel tweeting: what to do after an event

HandHoldingSocialNetworkIcons - MrLightmanA conference can be a fairly exhausting experience, and if you’ve been preparing for days and then tweeting throughout it’s perfectly understandable that, on leaving the venue, you want to switch off and spend some time away from the backchannel.

But to be a really valuable contributor, you need to switch back on and engage again before too long. There are a few simple things you can do in the days following an event to cement your reputation for brilliant backchannel sharing and to get the most out of the experience for yourself.

  • Say thank you

Take the time to thank the people who engaged with you during the event. There are lots of ways to do this, and I’m still working out what’s best. At the moment, I tend to send individual thank you tweets to anyone who I really conversed with online or who regularly retweeted my content. I always make sure to include what I’m saying thanks for: ‘Thanks for all your RTs and conversation during #learningevent’ is more meaningful and personal than ‘Thanks for the RT!’ Even better would be something like: ‘Thanks for your RTs and for discussion of Twitter etiquette during #learningevent’. I also send group thank you messages to people who retweeted me once or twice.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but doing something is just good manners. For some more ideas, take a look at this post exploring when and how to thank people on Twitter in a bit more detail.

  • Deliver on promises

Even with the most thorough preparation, you’ll probably find there are times during the event where you don’t have all the information. It might be the author of a book, the Twitter handle of someone who’s mentioned, a link to a website or video… Whatever it is, if you said you’d find something, do it. Find the missing information, tweet it and tag it with the same hashtag for continuity. If it related to a question or request from someone in particular, make sure you include their Twitter handle in your follow-up.

You might have made other promises, too: to connect two people you think would be useful to one another, for example, or to arrange a meeting with a new acquaintance. Review your Twitter mentions and messages from the duration of the event, and follow up on anything you need to.

  • Don’t abandon the backchannel

The backchannel doesn’t end when the event ends. People will be revisiting it for a few days as they catch up on sessions they missed at the time, and conversations will continue. Be part of those conversations: drop by every now and then to see what new resources or questions there are, and keep contributing. If you blog about the event or about something inspired by it, tweet the link into the hashtag stream. Or you might want to create a permanent record of the backchannel by creating a Tweetdoc or something similar.

Collating or curating all the resources from the backchannel into one place is a great way to add value to the community after an event. David Kelly is the king of this and has numerous examples and tips on his blog. I had a go myself after Future of Learning, but learnt the hard way that this needs to be done very soon after the event otherwise all that good stuff vanishes into the ether!

(This guide is an expanded version of a post originally published as part of the eLearning Network’s 24 tips, in December 2012.)

Image: Mr Lightman /

Brilliant backchannel tweeting: what to do during an event

HandHoldingSocialNetworkIcons - MrLightmanPreviously I’ve suggested some reasons why you might want to improve your backchannel contributions, and some things you can do before an event to set yourself up for success. Avoiding that feeling of not-quite-keeping-up as you tweet from the conference will be much more achievable if you’ve done the preparation!

But while preparation is key, it’s not everything. Tweeting well throughout a conference is hard! So here are some ideas for during the event iself to help you increase the likelihood of calm, collected and really valuable tweeting.

  • Provide an introduction and some context

Shortly before each session starts, send an opening tweet to set some context. Provide the title of the session, the Twitter handle of the speaker if possible, and a very brief summary of what to expect (if the title doesn’t provide that itself). Okay, you may need two opening, context-setting tweets…! Without this, it’ll be really hard for any backchannel followers to place subsequent tweets: don’t forget, you might be competing with two or three other simultaneous sessions all using the same hashtag.

Even better is to prepare these opening tweets in advance, save them as drafts and then just send them at the appropriate time. This will save you many valuable minutes on the day, and make you appear super-organised!

  • Be prepared to commit!

If you start tweeting a session, you need to stick with it. Even if you find the content isn’t as interesting to you as you’d expected, keep sharing the key points for those people following remotely who do find it interesting. Don’t just send sporadfic, apropos-of-nothing quotes when you hear a good soundbite; make sure you send at least one tweet for each point the speaker makes. I look at it like this: if I read back my tweet stream from this session, would it at least provide an executive summary of the content?

If you really find you can’t keep up or don’t understand the content enough, let backchannel followers know that you’re going to stop tweeting for now – don’t just go suddenly silent.

  • Take advantage of any visuals provided

If a chart, diagram or cartoon is shown, don’t struggle to translate it into 140 characters. Instead, take a photo and upload it to Twitter with an accompanying caption. Likewise, if the speaker provides a list of tips or takeaways, it’s easier to upload a photo of the slide rather than transcribe all the points before the speaker moves on. I did this in earnest for the first time at our recent Future of Learning event, and saw numerous benefits. It was much quicker for me to do; I was able to listen more attentively to the speaker; I had space to add explanation or my own thoughts around the visual; these tweets stood out a bit from the stream of text; and when I was reflecting on sessions afterwards, I had access to particularly useful visuals even where the slides hadn’t yet been shared.

Photos can also be a good way to share any last-minute changes or contextual information. For instance, I attended an event where speaker bios weren’t available beforehand, so I photographed and uploaded the printed bios when I got there, as a way of sharing as much information as possible, as efficiently as possible.

  • Focus on the speaker’s content first

I suspect others may disagree with this, but I think it’s important to share the speaker’s content first and your own opinions second. If I decide to tweet with non-attendees in mind, then I have a responsibility to share as much of the speaker’s expertise as possible. In some sessions, the pace might be such that it’s possible for me to add my own thoughts or opinion as well. But in many cases, the speaker is packing in so much good stuff that adding my own reflections would be at the expense of their content. I figure I can always share my own opinions later, either via Twitter or more often via my blog.

If you are able to do both, it’s important to distinguish between what are the speaker’s points (perhaps by adding their Twitter handle, which you should have from your pre-event preparation) and what are your thoughts.

  • Be retweetable!

This is something that’s worth keeping in mind whenever you tweet, but particularly so during an event. and some other platforms do now allow you to retweet without adding any characters, but often you want to add a few words. So you need to leave people room to do this – especially at an event where the backchannel will be fast and furious. If you aren’t easily retweetable, you won’t be retweeted. Keep your messages as concise as possible, rather than trying to use up all 140 characters.

I recently came across a post about working out ‘your number’ in order to increase your retweetability. It’s a few years old but still very relevant, I think.

  • Engage with other contributors

Whilst bearing in mind that you need to tweet the speaker’s content coherently, look for opportunities to engage in conversation with other tweeters. If the pace is fast, you may only be able to retweet someone else’s commentary – for example, if they’ve captured a point you didn’t quite get or if they’ve linked to a related website. If you have a bit more breathing room, you might respond to questions from non-attendees in the backchannel. As someone following the event from afar, you’d appreciate the interaction, so try to bring some of those people into the conversation where you can.

More challenging but also potentially very interesting would be to engage in conversation with people in different sessions, if there are links to be made between the topics, speakers or discussions.

  • Don’t delete anything!

I often find myself composing tweets which aren’t quite right for the backchannel: a slightly off-topic train of thought, a note to follow up on something back home, or a reference to a video or website that doesn’t make sense without a link. For whatever reason, you will sometimes find that you’ve written something that doesn’t warrant publishing to the backchannel, but don’t delete it – save it as a draft. Come back to it later: it might be something you can craft into a meaningful tweet with more time or information, or it might just be a useful prompt to yourself to explore something further.

As a pen-and-paper girl, I struggled for a long time with tweeting coherently whilst also taking useful notes for myself. I recently admitted defeat: if my tweeting is good enough and I save unfinished or imperfect tweets as drafts, that’ll give me all the notes I need. Be brave – leave the notebook at home!

(This guide is an expanded version of a post originally published as part of the eLearning Network’s 24 tips, in December 2012.)

Image: Mr Lightman /

Brilliant backchannel tweeting: what to do before an event

HandHoldingSocialNetworkIcons - MrLightmanIf you want to improve the contribution you make a conference or event backchannel, to both get value from it yourself and add value for others, your job begins before the event itself.

One of the things that sets the best conference tweeters (I was going to include some examples here, but got so many suggestions it’s become a separate post!) apart from the average conference tweeter is preparation. Putting in a bit of time beforehand will also make it infinitely easier for you to be the tweeter you want to be!

So, first things first: why do you want to tweet from this event, and who for?

  • Will you be tweeting for yourself, as a way of taking notes? If so, you may want to acknowledge this before starting to tweet at the event, for the benefit of those following the backchannel. They may well still get value from your tweets, but there’s no harm just letting them know that your tweets might not give them the full flow of the session, but rather more sporadic, note-to-self messages.
  • Will you be tweeting for other people at the conference, for more conversational purposes? If so, your focus may be more on retweeting or replying to messages in the backchannel rather than making lots of your own contributions. But think about how you might still add value, for example by ‘introducing’ new people you meet to your existing followers or by sharing reminders about which sessions are coming up next.
  • Will you be tweeting for people who can’t attend the conference? I would guess that most of us like to think that’s at least part of what we’re doing. But it takes some commitment and thought, and it’s easy to be distracted by other things at an event (interesting people, activities in a session, the lure of tea and biscuits…). So I think it’s fair to say that this is what we collectively do least well.

Assuming that tweeting for people who aren’t at the conference (or aren’t in the particular session) is at least part of what you want to achieve, here are three things you should do in advance of the event.

  • Prepare yourself with the key Twitter details

If you’re a conference tweeter, you don’t need to be told to include the hashtag in every tweet. But the Twitter handle (@name) of each speaker is equally important. I try to reference the speaker in every tweet that’s a quote or point from their session, and ideally also in any tweets that are my own opinions on or additions to their content. Yes, it makes sticking to the 140 character limit a bit more challenging, but it provides useful context for anyone dipping into the backchannel mid-session. Don’t forget that, at larger events, you might be contributing to a backchannel that’s recording three or four different sessions simultaneously. Including the speaker’s name helps to make the stream from your session coherent and clear. And it’s much easier to find out names and Twitter handles (if they have them) in advance, rather than scrambling around in Twitter’s search at the start of the session.

  • Review and research the session content

Don’t just read the summary for each session you plan to attend. Read it, and then consider what other information or resources you’re aware of that might be useful. Have you written – or read – blog posts on related subjects? Do you know of any useful infographics or videos that might illustrate or enhance the session content? Have any other backchannels or tweetchats covered similar topics that might be of interest to the audience? Whatever it is, equip yourself with a list of links that you can easily pull into tweets as and when appropriate at the conference. Again, it’s better to go prepared with things you might not use than to be racking your brains during the session for where exactly you saw that article that perfectly supports what the speaker is saying.

  •  Invite your Twitter followers to join in

Let your followers know that you’ll be attending the conference and which sessions you plan to attend, highlight any tweeting speakers that you’ll be hearing so people can start following them, and tell them that you’ll be tweeting on the day. Share the backchannel hashtag with them to make it as easy as possible to join in remotely if they can’t attend in person. Invite people who won’t be there, or who won’t be in the same sessions, to send any burning questions they’d love you to ask the speaker on their behalf. Don’t promise that you’ll do this, just in case there isn’t time, but offer to compile a list and tweet those questions into the backchannel at the right moment even if there isn’t the opportunity to ask the speaker directly.

(This guide is an expanded version of a post originally published as part of the eLearning Network’s 24 tips, in December 2012.)

Image: Mr Lightman /

Brilliant backchannel tweeting: a before-during-after guide

HandHoldingSocialNetworkIcons - MrLightmanOver the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how I use Twitter, observing how others use it and actively trying to improve my use of it. I think I’d reached a point where I was stuck in a rut, tweeting a lot but maybe not giving it the thought and consideration it deserves.

Last year, I posted about conferencing tweeting after an illuminating experience at a big event, but my thinking continues to develop with every event I attend or backchannel I follow. And – with Twitter unlikely to disappear any time soon – it’s an ever-relevant topic at the moment.

As a community, we cite Twitter as our number one learning tool and we’re vocal in our appreciation of our personal learning networks (PLNs). Both of these things are very evident at conferences. If you’re in L&D and you tweet, the likelihood is you’ve done one or more of the following at an event and felt like you were making good use of Twitter:

  • Started following interesting speakers or people you’ve met
  • Followed the backchannel using a hashtag
  • Retweeted specific messages from the backchannel
  • Replied to specific tweets in the backchanel
  • Tweeted interesting points from a particular session
  • Uploaded photos of the speaker or session

But I bet you’ve also sometimes sat at your desk trying to follow the backchannel from a conference you aren’t attending, struggling to understand the flow of a session, perhaps wishing you could get a bit more detail, or clicking through on links of photos only to find it’s a generic picture of dozens of people in a lecture theatre with an indistinct figure silhouetted in front of a bullet-pointed PowerPoint slide.

So, what can we do to improve our use of Twitter at conferences and share really valuable learning and insight with fellow L&D folk?

Over the next couple of weeks – in the run up to Learning Technologies, the largest event in the UK L&D calendar and one with an extremely active Twitter backchannel – I’ll be sharing my tips. These have been gleaned from constructive feedback from other people, observation of a few different backchannels, and some ongoing trial and error!

(This guide is an expanded version of a post originally published as part of the eLearning Network’s 24 tips, in December 2012.)

Image: Mr Lightman /

A ‘very important’ writing tip from C.S. Lewis

I just came across a real gem of a letter on Letters of Note (a blog that’s definitely worth a look), sent by C.S. Lewis to a young American fan in 1956.

Isn’t it lovely and quite remarkable that he replied to his fan mail in such a thoughtful and personal way?

Aside from that, though, this letter stood out to me because of a particular piece of advice shared in it, which I think all e-learning designers (indeed, all writers!) should be mindful of:

In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible”, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

How often do we make the mistake of telling our learners that something is ‘very important’ – especially in compliance courses? Are we guilty of laziness when we do this? Is it easier to just tell our learners that doing (or not doing) something is important and expect them to believe us, rather than illustrate consequences and impacts in such a way that they can infer the importance themselves?

Incidentally, the other four pieces of writing advice included in C.S. Lewis’ letter are equally valuable and worth bearing in mind – go and take a look.

Image: Simon Howden /