Sunday, July 6, 2014

This is why we tweet

So the other week an article started making it's way around Twitter that listed out all the reasons people shouldn't live tweet during presentations. If you haven't already seen it, go check out this link. It's a short read and I'll be here when you get back.

Now, obviously I'm someone who's pretty invested in livetweeting events, but I decided to go in to the article with an open mind anyway because there's always room to revise your thoughts about something, right? But the more I read of it, the more I felt like it was written entirely from the perspective of someone who just didn't understand the mindset of the average livetweeter I've met. I felt the author's heart was in the right place, but the experience of livetweeting was so alien to him that he ended up misinterpreting people's intentions.

It's not about wanting to prove we're smart, or having a distraction, or feeling disengaged with the speaker. It's something else entirely, and something I think has real value, both for those of us who tweet and the people in our online community. And so, I thought it might be worth the time to sum up some of the reasons people like me live tweet.

If you get the hang of it, it can lead to some of the very best notes you've ever taken
No matter how fascinating a talk is, there's no way an audience member can remember every detail from a talk. This is why most of us took notes in school... so we could review and remember the main points later. This is also why a lot of us livetweet. It's notes you can review later, only they happen to be shareable notes that others can view almost immediately after you write them down. Also, because you're often writing notes for an audience who isn't there (more on that in a bit) it means that you have to take exceptionally good notes so they'll understand what's going on. It actually trains you to make more precise notes than you'd have made if they were just for you.

Sure, I know that when I livetweet I'm taking a bit of a hit to my attention by trying to do two things at once, but I more than make up for it in reviewing my tweets later. In fact, I find that I have a much better time retaining information I learned from talks I livetweet than talks I just sit and passively listen to.

The backchannel adds depth to the talk
The article claims you can't possible be engaged with a speaker and the backchannel tweets about the talk. Yeah... we're going to have to agree to disagree on that one. If you're very comfortable with your tech it's actually possible for some people, particularly if they're also speed readers and fast typists, to pull this off. If you're one of those people, then the backchannel is an amazing resource to tap into. You'll find content you missed tweeting, questions and comments about the talk, and even related information and links that people share with the group.

These individual tweets and conversations add layers to the content of the talk, letting you explore it, question it, and connect it to other information in ways you never could have on your own. The backchannel is like a shared knowledge pool where everyone adds their own insights and thoughts to make something even greater than just the talk itself. And because it's all on Twitter you can check it out in the moment, revisit it again later, or even collect that knowledge in something else like a blog post or Storify.

It challenges you to make content connections fast
Getting good at livetweeting usually means pushing yourself not to just repeat what's being said, but to add your own thoughts and make links to information you've learn previously, all at an incredibly fast pace. This can be overwhelming at first, but once you get used to it it's like giving your brain a workout for critical thinking. I don't think it ever stops being exhausting, but it does make you a faster thinker over time.

We gain a community to talk about the content with
You can learn a lot from listening to a session, but what can make the content even stickier is talking about it with others. Interacting with the backchannel while livetweeting helps you do this, both during the session (and yes, I do think you can learn to do this and still give attention to the speaker) and afterwards. The conversation during the session is great, particularly when the topic at hand is contentious or tricky to get a hold of, but it's actually the continued conversation afterwards that I find even more useful. Speakers often don't see it, but people in the Twitter backchannel often talk about content from a talk long after it's over. And that's a great way for that information to actually stick.

It's not always just for us
It's nice when you can go to a conference just to satisfy your own curiosity and professional development. For a lot of people, though, that's not a luxury they have. They've been sent as a team or company representative, and livetweeting the event so that their coworkers can basically attend the conference remotely is the means by which they can convince their employeers to send them to a conference in the first place. Without it, they might not even be in the room right now.

That said, there are non-financial reasons we want to share too. Many times I've gone to conferences that friends and aquaintences would love to go to, but can't. When I livetweet a session they're interested in that helps them get some of the information they missed by not being there, and that's a kind thing to do for other people.

Sometimes we're just nerds who love sharing
This one is particularly true in my industry, because you usually don't go into L&D if there's not some part of you that gets excited about being able to share information with others. For some people, getting to geek out on Twitter about a session they're enjoying is part of the fun of the experience. It brings us joy to be able to share the cool things we're learning with other people, and I think that's an instinct we should be trying to encourage, not stamp out.


So those are some of the reasons I'm so passionate about the value of livetweeting. I know it's not the right kind of experience for everyone, and I'm sure there are just as many people who would find it disracting as there are people like me who find it enjoyable. But all and all I'm glad that it's something people have started doing, and I hope that this blog post is able to explain why some of us love it so much.

Are there any reasons you love livetweeting that I missed? Have any questions about livetweeting that I didn't address? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Whether I take notes or livetweet, I still take notes. You have an audience of like minded. I"ll have to find some. Thanks for opening my eyes.

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