Sunday, December 13, 2009

Twitter For Presentations — Channel Or Context, Whats Appropriate??

Recently there was a terrific discussion about “Integrating Twitter Into Presentations” initiated on a Google Wave by Lara McCulloch-Carter.  Fourteen  (14) twitter presentations imageevent professionals were invited to contribute their perspectives on the subject, including myself.  Lara’s intent was to write a magazine article for an Event Industry periodical from the responses posted on the Wave.

The conversation generated by this topic has been robust, to say the least. Lara received far more material than she can use for her 500-word article.  So, she invited the wave participants to use some of the information for blog posts.  Thus comes this article…

One of the questions addressed caught my attention — “In which channel should Twitter be used?” (front, back)  For clarity the concept of channels refers to the relationship of the Twitter discussion to the overall event.  One possible definition (there are probably many) of those channels is as follows:

  • Back Channel — typically a discussion, marked by an official  hashtag for the event,  taking place in the background between Twitter Users.  At the very least it occurs  simultaneously with the primary presentation.  Often the Twitter conversation will begin before the event and then extend well after the meeting’s conclusion.
  • Front Channel — In this context the tweets are part of the primary focus of the event. Examples of this are Q&A (Questions and Answers), Open Forum,  Round-table discussions and Brainstorming.

A couple of my colleagues participating in this wave disagree with the concept of relating Twitter to a “channel.”

Jeff Hurt says “I don’t think Twitter should be relegated or labeled as a back-channel or front channel. I think that’s the wrong thing to call it. I see it as an audience engagement tool. Calling it the back-channel gives some people the image of a back room closed door private secret gathering.”

Ian McGonnical perceives it this way — “I never liked the term “back-channel.”  I’ve always believed that conversations should be open and inclusive of all parties.  Open conversations drive trust, and trust moves conversations forward.  However, some presentations are designed as one-way communications, and that’s OK.  I believe Twitter use should be examined on a case-by-case basis. Twitter is a tool.  Like a Swiss Army Knife it can be used in many ways. Let the communication need or ‘job’ determine the right usage of the tool.”

Twitter unfilteredJeff and Ian both have valid points in their comments.  Twitter is a diverse application with many potential uses for events.  Therefore identifying its use as exclusive to only a certain channel is unproductive and unrealistic.  The beauty of social media is its application is limited to the imagination of those engaging in it.  Inevitably there are future event uses for Twitter that have not even been discovered yet.

For my part I am less concerned about “labeling” Twitter’s use a certain way.  Instead I believe its most important to find the right context for its use at each event.  We do not live in a “one size fits all” society and that is certainly true of the meetings business.  Event professionals must think strategically about their programs by matching up the logistical requirements of the meeting with the best tools to perfect the event experience for their attendees.

Question — In your experience with meetings what have been the most impactful uses of Twitter for your attendees?  Are you experimenting with anything new for future events and if so please share it with us!

Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Lutz December 14, 2009 at 6:53 am

Mike, interesting post…coming straight off my #expoexpo twitter experience, I’ve got some mixed emotions about twitter use during sessions/events.

– at IAEE there were a couple of power tweeters from outside of the industry that participated. They significantly helped build awareness of our industry by jumping in and participating.

– Twitter levels the playing field so that anyone can demonstrate their thought leadership within the community. It gives a bullhorn to people that are normally considered introverts.

– Some people who want to be a thought leader on twitter will attempt to compete with the speaker to one up them. It’s hard to see through this unless you are there live.

I’m as good at multi-tasking as most 40+ year olds. It’s impossible to fully engage with both the live and twitter audience simultaneously. You’re going to miss some nuggets, but may gain some from the channel your paying more attention too.

Dave Lutz – @velchain


Michael M McCurry CMP December 15, 2009 at 6:48 am

@Dave Lutz,

I have to say my experience in a live event on Twitter is much the same as Midori’s. I get so involved in listening to all that is around me that I tend to capture more from the session.

But, that is me, my A.D.D. self … Twitter is like a social media version of Ritalin to me… it gets me focused.

I have not really noticed anyone trying to one-up a speaker, although it is certainly conceivable. If nothing else it may put speakers on notice that they ought to have a firm grasp of the material they are presenting.

Thanks much for your perspectives…. very interesting point of view… as you usually have Dave,



Midori Connolly December 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Wow Dave, that’s super interesting!
See, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. find that if I’m absorbed in the Twitter conversation with the live event happening around me, my ability to absorb knowledge increases. How cool to see two people on the same thread with such different experiences.

I think it’s maybe unrealistic for us to expect that we can control where, how and when our event community members will use social media. For example, if audience members aren’t crazy about the idea of a front channel, then they’ll simply become inactive and find another means of having their private, back channel conversations :-)

If there’s one thing I think we’ve all learned about Twitter and social networking, it’s that it’s a dynamic, self-propelled little engine. It’s up to event professionals to simply provide the tools to enable its use – with the goals of educating and connecting our participants.

Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl


Michael M McCurry CMP December 15, 2009 at 6:51 am

@Midori Connolly,

Hey first off Happy Birthday Midori!! :)

Like you, agree, you can’t control Twitter, or really any other social media. You shut off one channel, folks will just find another community to hang on.

The best we can do as event professionals is provide the best possible logistical support, educate the attendees and speakers as to the engagement process, and then let it flow.

Thanks for contributing to the discussion.



Lara McCulloch-Carter (READY2SPARK) December 19, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I’ve been reading a lot of very interesting conversation on both sides of the coin. IF Twitter is used in the front channel, I think there need to be clear rules of conduct presented to the audience. It’s no different from clarifying what kinds of questions to ask and when to ask them or setting up boundaries prior to a brainstorming session. The idea is not to quell great comments or ideas, simply to frame them.

It’s also important to understand that not everyone is familiar with the tool. We only need to rewind a few months or years to remember how strange this tool was to us when we first started using it. Training and patience is also critical to aiding an audience in using Twitter properly.

Great post, Mike.


Michael M McCurry CMP December 19, 2009 at 1:32 pm

@Lara McCulloch-Carter (READY2SPARK),

Some great thoughts there Lara! I do agree that some guidance should be given regarding using Twitter as a front channel communication vehicle in a presentation but I also caution that too much moderation of its use would detract from its true spirit.

Lay the groundwork for users to understand how its envisioned being used and then let the comments flow!

Regarding your second comment I actually think the guidance mentioned above is more for people not as familiar with how to use this wonderful tool!

Thanks for contributing to this post Lara!



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