Tips for live tweeting an event

If you use Twitter and are attending an event that you want to share with your twitter followers, you can live tweet it as it’s happening. While you can live tweet basically any event, these tips focus mainly on talks that you might attend as part of a conference, a meetup, a sponsored speaker series, or another presentation.

I’ve live tweeted several conferences (two as part of a job, such as #SUMIT14), talks, and series of talks as @smorewithface.

First, the basics on live tweeting an event, then some pro tips and best practices to follow before and during the event.

Tweet! Tweet live!

My tips for live tweeting an event.

  • Type fast. It is live, after all!
  • Don’t tweet everything. If you tweet everything the speaker says, you’ll overwhelm the feed and you won’t ingest much of the information yourself. Be prepared to decide on the fly when to quote, when to paraphrase, and when to summarize several key points in the same tweet. Don’t think too hard about it, and don’t be afraid to stop tweeting until you hear something that strikes you as interesting or relevant.
  • Consistently use the hashtag. If the event has a hashtag, use it every time. And I mean every time. If you forget, delete your tweet and retweet it with the hashtag. This helps your followers who might have muted your hashtag, and it helps others interested in the event find your tweets. If there isn’t a hashtag for the event, don’t be afraid to start your own!
  • @ mention the speaker. If the speaker is on twitter, @ mention them if you quote them or are introducing them at the beginning of the talk. Don’t mention them in every tweet—if they want to see everything you said, they can click through to your timeline.
  • Add visuals. When it makes sense, share photos or other visuals. Share a photo of the speaker to start off your tweets, or a snapshot (or better yet, a screenshot) of an especially complex or pithy slide. Crop them so the most important parts appear in the preview. Don’t tweet blurry photos. Retake or move on.
  • Include crowd reactions. Sharing how the audience responds to key points made by the speaker (applause, laughter, gasps) can add context and depth to your tweets. Stick around for the Q&A to share questions that people asked and emphasize parts of the talk that resonated with others in the audience.
  • Share personal speculations. React in real-time and speculate about how the content of the talk resonates with you.
  • Relate to other events. No talk is unique. Feel free to add context by calling attention to similar approaches or alternative viewpoints in talks at other events—other talks at the same conference, talks at a similar conference, talks that happened earlier in a series, or upcoming talks.
  • Share articles and other content. Be quick with searching, or prep beforehand and share links to articles, books, and other content that the speaker references in their talk.

With all of those tips in mind, here’s how to be more prepared to follow through in the heat of the tweeting.

Before you start

Before you go to the event, consider these questions.

  • Who are you tweeting as?
    • If you’re tweeting as yourself, a live tweet of a talk reflects your personality, interests, and expertise. You also might want to warn your followers (though hopefully if they’re following you, they’d be interested in the subject of the tweets!)
    • If you’re tweeting professionally as the event, or an organizer of the event, you likely want to tweet less often. Stick to the facts when tweeting, and don’t editorialize as much. You’ll also want to pay attention to attendees of the event that are tweeting, and retweet the good tweets among them. It also depends on who is likely to be following the account that you’re tweeting as. You don’t want live tweets to crowd out essential announcements or logistical information.
  • Who are you tweeting for?
    • If you are tweeting to the backchannel, the people attending or viewing the same event as you, you can tweet more reactions to the content rather than quotations or paraphrases of the content. A good example is the @dog_rates account live tweeting the puppybowl.
    • If you’re tweeting to people who couldn’t be at the event, but would otherwise be interested, you’ll want to share more of what the speakers are saying, in addition to any reactions you or the audience might have. I tend toward this style of livetweeting.

Some additional considerations before the event include some extra preparation. Especially if you’re tweeting in an official context, these tips can take your tweet game to the next level.

  • Look up the speakers. Some speakers remember to add their twitter handles to their slides, others don’t. Be prepared and look it up beforehand. Also, many speakers are giving talks based on recent work that they’ve done. Look at their personal websites for articles, books, or other recent content that they’re likely to reference in their talk.
  • Get familiar with the topic. You might not have to take this step if you’re attending an event due to your personal interest, but you might not be. Do some basic reading on the topic before the event to get familiar with some of the jargon, references, and “big players” in the field (be they people, companies, or organizations) so that you can accurately refer to them on-the-fly.

Recommended setup

After you know what you’re doing, get prepared to successfully live tweet an event.

  • Use a laptop. A phone will do for casual live tweeting, but if you want to go all-in, bring your laptop.
  • Plan your power. Pay attention to battery life and your seat location if you plan to be live tweeting all day.
  • Get on the network. You need internet to tweet. Get it, somehow.
  • Sit politely. You’ll be typing pretty constantly throughout a talk. Don’t sit near a mic, and don’t sit near people that you might bother. Try not to type loudly if you can help it (I can’t). Be attentive to people that may be looking at you often that don’t say anything. You’re either bothering them, or they think you’re not paying attention and you’re lame. They can think what they want about your intentions, but try not to intrude on their experience of the event.
  • Join the videoconference. If the event is being livestreamed, join the videoconference. Only do this if the slides are being shared, and if the network connection at the event will withstand it. The only reason to do this is to get classy screenshots to share with your tweets.
  • Type in a text editor. You can type all your tweets in Twitter, but you might end up typing a tweet at the same time that you want to start writing the next one. If you type in a text editor, you can take notes for a second tweet while you finish typing the first one. This is also helpful for “sum up” tweets that don’t quote the speaker. You can also better concentrate on recording the content first and worrying about character count second. You can also have your prep notes about the speaker(s) and links to their recent work in the text editor for quick and easy reference.
  • Have a search engine open. If you want to quickly pull up a reference to a concept, book, paper, event, artwork, etc., you might as well save a few seconds by having a search engine already open.
  • Consider a client. If you want, use a twitter client like Hootsuite instead of Twitter. The advantage to this is that it is easier to have multiple feeds open at the same time, so you can monitor the other tweets shared by other attendees using a search on the event hashtag, have your own profile page open, and view your twitter feed all at the same time.

Caveats!

Live tweeting isn’t for everyone. You can enjoy an event without Twitter. You might actually remember more! You can review your tweets later as a form of notes, but you wrote them to other people so you may prefer to take your own notes to record your thoughts instead. The hive mind can be valuable, but also oppressive. I often bow out of live tweeting an event and savor it instead. Some events are also difficult to live tweet and share in a text-mode or with others that aren’t there. Don’t force it for the notification love. Live tweet for you (or your job).

Hey but what about liveblogging, live chatting, live slacking, live…

In my opinion, live tweeting is slightly different from those media. A liveblog has an interested audience, there for all of it. They are likely following a liveblog in lieu of attending the event, and want to know much more detail about what is happening. Live tweeting involves your followers, who are there to follow you and not necessarily a barrage chronicle of an event. You want to curate more on Twitter. You want someone to get the same insights that they might have gotten if they had attended the same talk or conference, but as told by you, rather than every single insight. There is room in liveblogging for personal reactions and commentary, but I think the audiences and the goals of liveblogging and livetweeting are somewhat different.