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 /

1 thought on “Brilliant backchannel tweeting: what to do during an event

  1. Pingback: Brilliant backchannel tweeting: what to do after an event | Good To Great

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