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Providing a live Twitter commentary at an event is a high adrenaline form of writing. As such, preparation is key. I don’t just rock up at a conference, take over the corporate Twitter account and start tweeting whatever I hear.

This week I am preparing for two days of live tweeting at the Digifest16 in early March, so in this post I wanted to share my preparation regime to show what goes in to producing a professional live Twitter commentary from a conference.

Preparing a Twitter Commentary Script

 
I always prepare a detailed “Twitter Script” to help me through each event. This helps to take the pressure off at the beginnings and ends of sessions, when I might be rushing between rooms at the conference venue, and allows me to ensure all the key information is communicated clearly and elegantly in tweet form.

For each session I prepare a single page consisting of:

  • The full session title
  • A short description of the session
  • The text of two or three tweets to introduce the session and the speaker
  • A template tweet to use when quoting the speaker, including their Twitter handle (if available)
  • The text of two or three tweets to wrap up the coverage of that session
  • Any useful links I might need to reference during the session

If I am managing the main Twitter account at an event, I will also prepare all of the logistical tweets that I will need to send between sessions. These might include tweets about the programme, who to follow for live commentary, live video or audio stream links, or anything else that will need to be announced during the course of the event.

Sample Twitter Script

 
Here’s an example I have prepared for a session that I will be live tweeting at Jisc’s upcoming Digifest16 event.

The User-Driven Evolution of Janet

 

OVERVIEW

Janet is one of the world’s most advanced networks built to support research and education across the UK, and through participation in GÉANT provides global reach, supporting key activities such as transnational education and access to global research facilities.
 
The latest version of the network – Janet6 – came into operation in November 2013. This talk will take a look at user requirements and how these are shaping the continued evolution of Janet to ensure that a flexible, reliable and secure network service is provided.
 
 

OPENING TWEETS

My last session at #digifest16 is “The User-Driven Evolution of Janet” with Jeremy Sharp, @Jisc’s director of strategic technologies
 
I’ll be live tweeting as Jeremy Sharp discusses user requirements and how these are shaping the continued evolution of @Janet_UK #digifest16
 
If you have any questions for Jeremy about @Janet_UK, please tweet them to @JiscLive and I’ll put them to him during the Q&A
 
 

QUOTE TEMPLATE

Sharp: #digifest16
 
 

CLOSING TWEETS

That concludes our coverage of Jeremy Sharp’s session at #digifest16. Thank you for following along and tweeting your questions!
 
If you want to ask Jeremy any further questions about @Janet_UK, his contact details are at: http://ow.ly/YqLG9 #digifest16
 
Sadly, #digifest16 is now drawing to a close. Thank you to everyone who has followed our live tweets this year!
 
Make sure you follow @Jisc for all sorts of digital goodies from #digifest16, including videos, summaries and podcasts from the event
 
 

USEFUL LINKS

Janet Promo Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ncGwxNTfgo
Janet: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/janet
Transnational Education (TNE): https://www.jisc.ac.uk/rd/projects/transnational-education
GEANT: http://www.geant.org

You should see these tweets go out live from the @JiscLive Twitter account, together with my live commentary, on Thursday 3rd March 2016.

Setting Up Hootsuite

 
I set up a series of streams in Hootsuite to allow me to follow the event hashtag and any @replies to the account I am using. If there are others live tweeting from different sessions using different Twitter accounts, I will usually create a stream to monitor their tweets as well, so I don’t repeat/contradict them. I like to have everything at my finger tips and Hootsuite allows me to do this with ease.

When I first started using Hootsuite, I wrote a blog post about The Joys of Scheduling. Scheduling tweets can be really useful for certain types of tweet. However, Hootsuite only allows you to schedule tweets at five-minute intervals, which is not quite granular enough for the types of tweets described above. Add to that the fact that I have yet to attend an event where everything went exactly according to time from start to finish, and copying-and-pasting tweets from a pre-prepared script becomes the more sensible option.

Whilst posting each tweet manually allows me to ensure that messages flow naturally with the event, if there is a message that is not dependant on a real event in the room, then I will definitely schedule it in advance via Hootsuite so I can concentrate on the live event itself on the day. This can include generic “reminder” tweets over the lunch breaks, or follow up tweets after the event has ended.

Physical Preparation

 
Providing a live Twitter commentary at an event takes stamina and concentration. I am often concentrating harder on the content of each presentation than any of the attendees. I can’t daydream, or get distracted looking up something tangentially related to a passing comment by the speaker, or check my emails. I have to remain focussed so I can make a quick decision about what to tweet and what not to tweet to give the audience a clear picture of what is being said.

“Mucking about on Twitter” all day might not sound like the height of physical exertion, but it actually requires a lot more energy than you would expect. It is important to remain hydrated and to eat regularly throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels up. Healthy snacking practices and avoiding the heavier options on the lunch buffet are essential. I always make sure I have water and snacks with me in case I have to rush between sessions and don’t have time to stand in the queue for refreshments.

Reading Around the Topic

 
I am usually not a subject matter expert for the topic under discussion (although I do sometimes get to cover social media and technology events, which is great!). As a result, I usually do a bit of reading around for each session to make sure I understand the main themes and any jargon that might come up. In particularly acronym-heavy subject areas, I might create a short glossary to use throughout the event to help keep me on track.

I also try to follow the speakers on Twitter ahead of the event so that I can familiarise myself with them and their work. This familiarity can help enormously when I have to make a very quick mental leap from one topic to another.

Over time, I have found that I need to do less deep reading around the subject of each event, as most of our work comes via personal recommendations. This means there are often a lot of overlaps with topics I have covered at other conferences, which gives me a useful head start!

The Benefits of Being Prepared

 
All of this preparation allows me more time to listen to what’s happening around me at the event so I can produce high quality live tweets. If I know something ahead of time, I want to have the tweet written out and ready to go so I can concentrate on the event.

Preparing properly also helps me to think through the event as a whole, and each session in turn, from the perspective of someone who is following remotely online. Twitter feeds can be overwhelming and often difficult to read, particularly when there is a lot of activity from participants. Part of my role when delivering a Twitter commentary is to provide a narrative structure and context for those following the event hashtag, so that all of the audience-generated tweets make a bit more sense.

Finally, being prepared is a massive bonus when the unexpected happens. If something goes wrong, or something surprising happens at the event, I want to dedicate my attention to that, whilst knowing that my commentary is going to remain consistent, structured and professional.