Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Integrating Twitter in your public speaking: 14 ways

Some time ago, a reader wrote in these questions about Twitter and its use during presentations and speeches:
I'd like to know your thoughts on how to integrate your speaking with Twitter during a presentation. (I'm assuming that afterwards is effectively too late.) Sometimes the verbal few don't represent the majority -- sometimes they do -- we know that from market research focus groups, jury duty, etc., the most verbal responders tend to represent either end of the tail, not the median. So, would you actually stop mid-stream, take a pause, and say "I'd like to gauge your feelings on (such and so) before moving on. Any comments?" What if no one piped up? What if a lot of people did? To what extent do you "own" your presentation and to what extent are you responsive -- on the fly? What if the tweeters don't represent the views of majority? There is individualism, and there is the needs of the collective. At what point is it considered disruptive?
I decided to wait, watch and cover interesting cases of Twitter use during presentations on the blog while I formulated an answer.  For starters, many of the questions here could apply to live questioners as well as to those using Twitter--every audience has its share of overly talkative contributors and questioners, as well as those who say little in front of the group.  Speakers need to balance that mix "on the fly" by encouraging questions but also guiding the conversation and handling disruptive questioners with tact and a respect for the entire crowd, no matter whether the questions are electronic or in person.

We have, however, learned quite a bit about the point where it's considered disruptive to have an audience tweeting.  In some high-profile cases, speakers have learned the hard way that having a Twitter stream projected behind them can lead to trouble. On occasion, a spectacular speaking failure led the audience to take most of its commentary to Twitter, rather than out loud in the room.  At the same time, trying to forbid tweeting can be counterproductive (and impossible to enforce).   Over time, the utility of having a Twitter moderator--someone solely focused on monitoring the Twitter stream about your presentation and giving you a heads-up when you need to respond--has become recognized as an important part of the process.

So what's a speaker to do when she wants to integrate Twitter into her presentation? Here are 14 ways to consider:
  1. Use Twitter as part of your presentation audience research.  Search for last year's conference hashtag and read audience reactions; then search for this year's version and see what your audience is talking about, and who they are.
  2. Issue a hashtag for your specific presentation and share the meeting hashtag--in advance and in the presentation. Then use it consistently, yourself, so that all tweets about your presentation can be easily found.
  3. Announce your presentation topic, date and time.  Letting Twitter users get familiar with your Twitter account and your presentation in advance helps to set the stage and puts your talk into the context of Twitter. (And you may boost attendance, too.)
  4. Elicit questions on Twitter well in advance of your talk.  There's no better way to find out what's on audience members' minds than to ask them. Twitter is ideal for this purpose, and will help you plan your talk as well as learn about your listeners.
  5. Share links to resources from your presentation in advance.  Head off misunderstandings at the pass, and help develop a more knowledgeable audience by sharing fact sheets, your bio, links to your websites and even your slides in advance. Not everyone will consult these in advance, but it's helpful for those so inclined.
  6. Ask who'll be attending.  Get a sense of who's coming to your presentation and which of those attendees are active on Twitter, so you start with an understanding of your potential shadow audience. Remember that you may hear from attendees in the "other room"--those who will be following your talk via Twitter, but not attending in person. It's an equally important audience.
  7. Follow audience members who identify themselves in advance.  Rather than stay disconnected, follow your audience members so you can see what they're discussing, and converse with them ahead of the meeting--when you meet in person, you'll already have a connection.
  8. Search for related hashtags and use them in your advance tweets.  Find out what others are saying in general about your topic this way.  Using these topical hashtags in your tweets will broaden your audience on Twitter by reaching those searching for your subject matter.
  9. Identify your Twitter moderator and regular moderator.  Make sure everyone on Twitter knows how to identify and reach your Twitter moderator as well as the regular moderator (and share that information with the people in the room for your presentation as well).
  10. Decide ahead of time whether to project the stream live during your session.  If you choose to use this tactic, make sure the stream is placed where you, the speaker, can see it at all times--perhaps on either side of the room, rather than behind you. Work with the organizers to make sure your preference is reflected in what happens.
  11. Explain to Twitter users and your live audience how you will handle their questions.  Will you answer them all? Right away? After the presentation? Will you choose a selection or a certain number of tweeted queries? Share that on Twitter and out loud with your in-person audience.
  12. Consider a Twitter break.  Giving attendees time to tweet, upload a photo or otherwise share what you're saying may help people in the room to focus more on your presentation. If you choose this tactic, announce how it will work and at which points the breaks will occur, as well as what they're for.
  13. Don't prefer one audience over the other.  Take at least a few questions from folks outside the room and do the same for those in the room.  Ignoring one audience -- whether live or virtual -- won't help its view of your presentation.
  14. Use Twitter for thank yous, new follows and follow-up.  Answer the questions you couldn't get to during the session, thank those who added to the discussion, follow back your new followers and send additional material as requested.  Don't forget to point people to your resources, using the hashtag from the presentation.  After-the-fact communication isn't too late!
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