Sunday, April 25, 2010

When you're the Twitter moderator

It's started to kick in that the Twitter backchannel's here to stay as part of any presentation, conference or panel discussion.  As more people use tweets to describe what speakers are saying in real time, and more participants are announcing that they will be live-tweeting a meeting, speakers are asking organizers "Will there be someone monitoring Twitter?" -- a step beyond just doing it themselves.  And at conferences that were were quick to put up screens and broadcast the backchannel--without taking the time to give feedback to the speakers in real time--the organizers are finding that they've got to figure out who'll take on that task.

Speaker coach Olivia Mitchell wrote this useful and free e-book on presenting with Twitter that covers this territory, and there's more in Cliff Atkinson's book, The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever. Jay Rosen added guidance from his efforts to remake a panel at SXSW, although many speakers will not want to be in charge of the Twitter moderation (he suggests having a panelist handle it). In most cases I've encountered, it's been the moderator (for panels), emcee, or a separate designated Twitter moderator, who can be arranged in advance, or pressed into service from those who are tweeting in the audience.  Let me add a few practical tips if you find yourself in this role:
  • Set up a multi-channel way to observe Twitter:  Tweetdeck and other tools like PeopleBrowsr make this easy, with the ability to set up several columns across your screen. You'll want several searches in front of you: one with the session's hashtag, one with the name of the group or its Twitter handle, one for each speaker (name or Twitter handle), and one for retweets (RTs) of the session items.
  • Pay attention to which tweets are in the room, or beyond it:  Those able to tweet fastest and most comprehensively will be in the room, and it's their tweets about room conditions, audio and other problems you should be focused on first.  But keep an eye out for tweets from beyond the room, especially with questions. They're working with less context and their questions may need more detail--so alert the speakers when you convey the question.
  • Figure out how and when to alert the speaker or panel to a Twitter question or issue:  You can call a few "Twitter breaks" to let people in the room tweet while you share some questions privately with the speaker or panel; arrange in advance that you'll raise your hand or a white card when you want to share Twitter questions; or just pass a note to the speaker to "speed up" or "go back and explain part one again."   But make sure you and the speakers know how this will be handled before they start talking.
  • Remember to holler back down the channel:  Be sure to send a reply that lets the questioner know his or her query has an answer, once it's been shared in the room.  Close that loop.  The same goes for alerting the in-room crowd on Twitter that issues have been fixed--don't just announce it out loud, correct it on Twitter.
  • Encourage other tweeters in the audience to share questions they get:  Not everyone "listening in" will use the hashtag or other official channels. Some tweeters' followers will just contact them directly.  At the start of the session, invite them to share those questions, too.
  • Don't neglect either audience.  The folks in the room should not feel you're only taking questions from Twitter, and those on Twitter shouldn't feel like they're talking to a brick wall.  This is why I encourage panels to use a separate moderator for Twitter, so another traditional moderator can scan the room for the live audience's feedback.  What you choose to do will depend on the size of your audience, the outside-the-room interest in the speakers (tough to gauge ahead of time), and the skills of your panel, emcee and moderator.  Remember, even a small group can generate a lot of tweets and comments in a short time!
Check out the related posts below for more details and context on this emerging task for speakers and organizers.

Related posts: All I really need to know about public speaking I learned from Andy Carvin's tweets

Tweet your way to better speaking (with my all-time-favorite tweet from an audience member: "Sweet merciful Shiva! Professor, please stop resting your papers on the microphone. You're killing us.")

Remixing the conference: 5 cues for organizers

How social media remixes public speaking

7 ways to reach outside your conference

Speakers: Learn from Twitter hecklers

Backchannel book: A guide you need now

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