Is Live Conference Tweeting a Good Thing? Welcome to the Twitter-at-a-conference debate…
What do you think about live conference tweeting? is it a good thing or a bad thing? Is it useful or useless? Overdone or should be done more? For this post we have Swami and Jesse going head to head to debate the topic. Please post your comments and get the discussion started.
Ladies and Gentlemen….I give you….Swami and Jesse….
9:01 AM – I’m late for the start of the talk so I grab a seat in the back row, pull my laptop out and try to log on to the conference WiFi. The signal is strong but I can’t reload my Twitter. Typical of these conferences, the bandwidth is terrible. Alright, switching to plan B. Flip my phone into hotspot mode and link up.
9:03 AM – I can see the link on my WiFi drop down but still not picking up. Wait, there’s the signal. Okay. Reload Twitter. Oh, I’ve got some notifications!
9:10 AM – Alright, let’s get into the talk and get some pearls out on Twitter. Wait, did he say arthrocentesis? I thought this was the palliative care talk. Damn, I’m supposed to be in the room two doors down.
9:15 AM – Let’s grab a seat in the back and hope I can find a signal . . .
If any of the above sounds familiar, consider yourself part of the Twitter-at-a-conference debate. This post is the con side of the discussion with Jesse Spurr (@inject_orange) giving the pro side. I find it to be an unenviable, and hypocritical, position to take based on my Twitter history. However, I think there are some major points that need to be considered. As I thought about the post, I came up with three points I think are worth discussing:
- Tweeting detracts from your conference experience
- Tweeting can blur the message of the speaker
- Tweeting is a poor surrogate for actually attending the talk
Point #1 – Tweeting detracts from your conference experience
I’ve spent the first 5 minutes of many lectures getting my laptop set up and trying to find a WiFi signal (in fact the above scenario is modified from day #2 at SAEM in Dallas this year). 5 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but often the highest yield points are in the intro. Additionally, that first 5 minutes sets up the rest of the talk so losing focus here can make it tough to see the lecturer’s point of view and where they’re going. A lot of conferences are moving to shorter talks as well so you can actually miss the majority of the talk during set up.
Since it’s limited to 140 characters, it would seem that sending a tweet about some point from a talk wouldn’t take very long. But it’s not always easy to get across a point with those limitations and often, tweets take a bit of rewriting to get it right. This means you may miss the next point or, perhaps more importantly, you miss the statement that clarifies the point you tweeted out.
A tweet you send out can also lead down a rabbit hole that drags you into a discussion/debate instead of paying attention to the talk you are in. Here’s a tweet I sent from a talk at SAEM on the Critically Ill Obese Patient:
This tweet set off some nice discussion on dosing meds and we drew in some experts (Bryan Hayes – @PharmERToxGuy) but the danger here is to delve into the discussion while trying to take in the talk.
Here’s another example of a tweet that can easily take more time than you intended:
Without the image, the tweet carries little information but with the image, you take away a lot on the importance of ramping. However, in order to construct the tweet, you have to find the image and insert it. More time lost while the lecture moves on.
All of this is to say that you can easily get distracted from the content of the talk. Many would argue that tweeting is a way to incorporate the information you’re hearing. While there may be some truth to this, we must remember that multitasking is a myth and so creating tweets is likely to distract our minds from the information at hand.
Point #2 – Tweeting can blur the message of the speaker
Anyone who has given a talk (either locally, at a national conference, or even an international conference) knows the amount of time that goes into creating a quality lecture. Joe Lex estimates that a 1-hour talk takes 40 hours to produce. It’s clear that the speaker has invested a great deal of time into this process and has worked very hard to craft a distinct message.
Then along comes the tweeting attendee who attempts to paraphrase 40 hours of work into 5-6 140-character tweets. It’s no surprise that the speaker’s message is often lost, corrupted, misinterpreted etc. These errant tweets can often lead to more side conversations and clarification from the tweeter leading to more wasted time. While I think followers can learn from tweets, the quality of the education may not be nearly as powerful as one would hope.
Some of this also hinges on whether it’s fair to send these messages out without the speaker contributing. If the tweet contains an error it is often attributed as an error of the speaker and not of the tweeter.
All of this leads into point #3 . . .
Point #3 – Tweeting is a poor surrogate for actually attending the talk
I think this is fairly self-explanatory but a critical point nonetheless. As Social Media and FOAM explode many are attending conferences virtually. There’s a real benefit to this since there’s no way to get to all of these conferences but trying to get all of the benefit of a conference this way clearly doesn’t work.
Aside from being able to choose which talks you want to see and getting all the points (not just the sexy ones that get tweeted out) you lose the passion of the speaker for the topic which goes a long way to raising your own interest level. There are also the above issues with the message being misinterpreted or corrupted. Additionally, you lose the conversation with peers that occur naturally at conferences. Finally, when following remotely, you often lose the tweets you want to see among the bevy of tweets being sent.
And so this simply becomes a matter of where is your time best spent? Should I spend an hour catching up on tweets from SMACC Gold or should that hour be spent reading (blogs, journal articles etc.)? As with everything in medicine, this is a cost-benefit analysis.
So, should we be tweeting from conferences at all?
As I stated previously, it would be hypocritical of me to answer this question with a no. I believe there is role for tweeting during conferences but perhaps a more organized approach is needed.
- Adding individual hashtags to conference tracks (or even individual sessions) would be helpful for those following along at home.
- A twitter moderator on site to clarify tweets and to field tweeted questions from the live and home audience.
- Lecturers sending their own live tweets – see the prior post on iTeachEM from John Greenwood on how to do this with Keynote Tweet v2.5.
- Post-lecture Twitter (or Google +) hangout with the speaker to field questions
And now for the pro side of things…
Live Tweeting from Conferences
In the affirmative corner, arguing for free dissemination of knowledge (hmmm sounds a bit like that FOAM concept I’ve read about on the interweb), @inject_orange, the nurse from Australia. For this debate I am using my Twitter handle, as after all, that is really all that matters. Detractors of live tweeting will have you think I am a frustrated wannabe doctor, a disgruntled nobody, wishing my name was up in lights as keynote speaker. So what if I view the Symplur Healthcare Hashtag stats as a leaderboard that I am striving to win? Isn’t this just a motivator to spread a wealth of pearls to my loyal minions… um… followers… uh, I mean colleagues. This topic is obviously one that lends itself to a degree of skepticism and I am the first to admit that, from time-to-time, over zealous distributors of the words of others set me to hover a cursor over the ‘unfollow’. With the caveats applied and no doubt to be addressed in the negative site of this debate, I genuinely believe that the live event Tweet offers much to the event, the audience, and the individual Tweeter (beyond fame and the honor of the Symplur Hashtag arms-race).
While acknowledging the limitations of ‘Impressions’ as a metric for quality or true distribution, they are a valuable tool to chart the potential audience for content delivered in a face-to-face academic meeting. When applying a research methodology to this process a relatively sophisticated phenomenological examination of the social educational structures and interactions of the audience is possible (see EMJ publication by Neill et al. 2013). To translate this to something applicable and not simply a marketing and demographic tool, consider evaluation of learning. The Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation is arguably one of the most broadly accepted model of evaluation of learning outcomes from an education intervention. Most conferences, symposiums and meetings are only really able to demonstrate evaluation to a Level One standard.
The Kirkpatrick Model
Level 1: Reaction
To what degree participants react favorably to the training
Level 2: Learning
To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence and commitment based on their participation in a training event
Level 3: Behavior
To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job
Level 4: Results
To what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement
The significant difference as an educator evaluating an event full of Tweeters (in comparison to the more traditional Likert scale based ‘happy sheet’), is the capacity for huge volumes of Level 2 evaluation data. Live Tweets are snippets of information that have been presented by a speaker, decoded by the audience, encoded in the context of meaning to the learner and re-presented as demonstrable piece of knowledge gained in this conference session. It would even be a reasonable assertion that with subsequent follow up Tweets on return to workplace such as:
“Used the NODESAT Ap Ox during RSI today, thanks @airwaycam #smaccGOLD” (fabricated for purpose of article – conglomerate of many post SMACC tweets)
We are able to begin to see Level 3 standards of evaluation. This level is very difficult to capture as an outcome from most structured large group educational endeavors.
Large volume live Tweeting changes the dynamics of a conference audience. It brings previously passive delegates into the discussion in real-time, allows for live peer-review, sharing of links that augment the speaker’s presentation and navigation to like-minded colleagues that may otherwise sit on the other side of an auditorium with no commonality other than co-location.
When used well, the live Tweet also allows the participant to decode, process and reflect on the content and reshape into an often paraphrased on consolidated point like a live reflective journal. Another common theme cited by proponents of the live Tweet, is the flattening of hierarchy and the confidence to voice an opinion. I can completely empathize with this view.
In terms of the less altruistic motives, such as increased profile and leader board monitoring, I believe that the motive does not degrade the outcome. If someone is willing to do something that clearly takes a degree of skill and logistics (have you seen how fast a smartphone battery dies when Tweeting?) and contributes to my learning as a fellow follower of FOAM, they deserve every bit of ego massage they get from taking out the Number 1 Influencer spot.
To wrap up, I would like to issue a personal thanks to Matt and Joe for contributing to my learning via Twitter from ICEM 2014 in Hong Kong. I was not there, but I learned several pearls via the number one and two Twitter Influencers of #ICEM2014 and was thankful for the great gift this conference gave me in evidence of how truly awesome live Tweeting can be (bad timing to be writing a negative argument hey Swami?). The profile of these two Tweeters further supports the assertion that selfish motives are rarely the driver of good live Tweeting (Matt = TV Star and Joe = EM and Medical Education Pioneer) – they didn’t need the fame.
Some Further Reading
- The Elephant in the Room – Live Tweeting Conferences. Skeptical Scalpel June 6th, 2014.
- Neil, A, Cronin, J, Brannigan, D, O’Sullivan, R & Cadogan, M (2013) The impact of social media on a major international emergency medicine conference, Emerg Med J emermed-2012-202039 Published Online First: 19 February 2013 doi:10.1136/emermed-2012-202039.
- More About Why Live Tweeting Conferences is Bad. Skeptical Scalpel June 7th, 2014.
- An insightful and thorough how-to guide: Live Tweet from an Event http://www.emoderation.com/how-to-live-tweet-from-an-event
- Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation – http://www.kirkpatrickpartners.com/OurPhilosophy/TheKirkpatrickModel/tabid/302/Default.aspx