I’ve been thinking about Twitter. Specifically, about the use of Twitter at conferences. And then I read this post by Joseph Jaffe, in which he states his strong opinion that Twitter should be banned at conferences. I couldn’t agree more. But I think he misses a few important points.
A little background. I recently spoke at a conference where there was a lot of tweeting going on. This wasn’t surprising, as it was a social media-related conference. To be fair, there were no horribly negative experiences, like this this one. People were respectful, and were complimentary of my presentation in their tweets. But still, I came away with the very strong opinion that conference organizers should respectfully ask the attendees not to Twitter during presentations, and that the organizers should not facilitate the use of Twitter. I want to say emphatically that I am not criticizing the organizers of the conference I attended. And I’m not even criticizing the conference attendees who were tweeting. Twitter is still relatively new, and everyone is still experimenting with what works. Further, conference organizers are under a lot of pressure to incorporate social media elements into conferences. I also have to confess that I sent a few tweets myself during the conference. Not a lot. But a few.
But having seen twitter in action (and having had the experience of presenting while people were tweeting), here’s my list of why Twitter should not be used during conferences:
1. It’s rude. When people go to the trouble to prepare a presentation for a conference, the audience should have the courtesy to pay attention. And when you have your head in your laptop or your Blackberry, you’re not paying attention. It’s really frustrating to look at your audience and see the tops of people’s heads.
2. It’s disrespectful. It’s too easy to be mean on Twitter. To type something that crosses the line of funny into snarky. And makes the presenter look foolish. While she’s presenting. So as the presenter, you get paranoid wondering what people are tweeting about you. And worst-case, if people are tweeting nasty things, the presenter can lose control of the audience. (See above example.)
3. It doesn’t add any value. I understand that the idea of the “backchannel” created by Twitter is to allow people who aren’t in attendance to share in the learnings of the conference, and for conference attendees to build on the ideas presented at the conference. But at the conference I attended, the overwhelming majority of tweets were one-line quotes that the presenter said. And without the context of the rest of the presentation, I don’t see how that’s going to be of any value to anyone not in the room. And even if there are nuggets of information, how many people are actually going to wade through hundreds or thousands of tweets to get them? And as for the people in the room, they’re hearing it live, so why would they want to read it again on Twitter?
4. It’s a circle-jerk. (Pardon the expression.) So think about it. You have people sitting in a presentation tweeting. And the majority of the people who are reading the twitter feed are other people who are sitting in the same room. If anyone outside the room was really that interested, they’d be attending the conference, instead of trying to get snippets of information from the Twitter feed. So the group is in effect tweeting crap to itself. What is the point of that? Why doesn’t everyone just pay attention instead?
5. It will make conferences less valuable in the long run. Because people who have valuable things to say will stop presenting at conferences because it won’t be worth the risk of humiliation.
And those are my 5 reasons to stop the use of Twitter at conferences.