TWITTER IN PRESENTATIONS...LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT?

With the explosion in popularity of microblogging tools like Twitter, presenters are now faced with the possibility, or even likelihood, that some members of their audience will be tweeting (posting on Twitter) during the presentation. Initially, that idea is off-putting to many presenters. They sputter, "But that means the audience won't be paying attention to me." Or "It will be distracting for me to see everybody typing on their iPhones." Or "What if they say something negative about me or my presentation?"

Those concerns are all worth examining. Let's look at them one by one.

THE AUDIENCE WON'T PAY ATTENTION

Even without Twitter, you run the risk that your audience won't pay attention to you. Certainly to minimize that concern in any situation you must craft a presentation that is relevant to the audience, addresses their needs and employs the various presentation techniques designed to involve and engage the audience.

Interestingly, however, some research suggests that the audience may be even more engaged when there is a Twitter backchannel in a presentation. In the Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching(Volume 2, 2009), Dr. Martin Ebner, Head of the Social Learning Department at Graz University of Technology in Austria conducted research at the e-learning conference, Ed-Media 2008, to determine the behaviors of attendees using Twitter during a presentation. Throughout the keynote, the Twitter stream was projected on the screen along with the presenter's slides. During the 45 minute presentation, there were 54 tweets which Ebner categorized into 4 buckets:

  • concerning the presentation content (22%)
  • discussion between 2 or more Twitter users (2%)
  • links to various resources (31%)
  • comments, including reactions to the speaker's presentation, feelings, thoughts and opinions (43%)

As presenters, assuming we have created a relevant presentation, we need to ascribe the respect and integrity to our audiences that they will, in fact, be engaged in what we are saying and thus, will further the discussion through their tweets. Particularly when the Twitter stream is projected for all in the room to see, most attendees want their tweets to be intelligent and germain rather than silly or off-topic.

I'LL BE DISTRACTED

This may indeed be the case initially. But let's break this down. Audience members punching letters into their phone or typing on a keyboard is really no different than audience members taking notes. We need to ensure that we don't let our self-talk convince us that the audience is no longer listening to us simply because they are using an electronic device.

More challenging in terms of distraction is projecting the Twitter stream on the screen behind you and knowing that electronic dialogue is going on while you are talking. Here the speaker is competing with the constantly changing flow of information.

You could speak directly to the tweets. This requires ultimate flexibility, a thorough knowledge of your subject matter, a crystal clear understanding of what you want your presentation to accomplish and the ability to return to your presentation flow after responding to a tweet. If you can manage it, this is the pinnacle of real time, interactive exchange between presenter and audience, furthering and deepening the conversation.  

A complementary option is to have a moderator or partner who can help you manage the dialogue. The moderator can prioritize the tweets, answer or redirect some and pass questions and salient comments to the speaker.

Most definitely, rehearse these techniques several times before going live. This is a fast-paced exchange of ideas and information; being super prepared and comfortable with your subject matter and giving thought to the audience's point of view are the keys to success.

THE AUDIENCE MIGHT BE NEGATIVE

Yes, there could be a tweet that says something negative about you or your content. However, most audience members have the maturity and integrity not to post something inappropriate or cruel, particularly when all their fellow audience members can see it. More likely, someone might post a legitimate disagreement or difference of perspective. Handle this the same way you would any objection in a presentation...with grace, respect and facts.

SO, IS THIS TWITTER THING A GOOD IDEA?

Yes, I think it is. It's still a bit scary for most presenters. The dynamic is evolving and we will no doubt continue to refine how to integrate the Twitter backchannel into our presentations. Look for a subsequent post on best practices for how presenters can become comfortable with this tool.

But the benefits of using Twitter during a presentation are unmistakable:

  • It gives the audience more ownership as they have a tangible role in shaping the discussion.
  • The presenter can gain immediate feedback.
  • It facilitates and encourages discussion among tweeters after the presentation.
  • It creates a wider audience and more visibility for your message, since the presentation tweets will go out to everyone's followers and even be re-tweeted.
  • It gives your presentation a longer life through archiving (the symbol # before any word or phrase creates a hashtag [#twitinpres] which then allows Twitterers to use that hashtag to group all relevant tweets).

The exciting thing about Twitter in presentations is that it removes the presenter/audience barrier that we all bemoan. The speaker is no longer delivering wisdom from on high. The audience becomes an active participant in the conversation, shaping it to meet their needs. And isn't that the ultimate example of audience focus?

What experiences, either as a presenter or an audience member, have you had using Twitter in presentations?
 

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