Tweeting from a Technical Talk

by | Mar 31, 2016

Live Twitter commentary is a high-adrenalin form of writing, which requires concentration, quick linguistic responses and an understanding of the content under discussion. But what do you do if you’re asked to live tweet from a highly technical event?

In this post I share my top ten tips for tweeting from specialist or technical events. These are the tried-and-tested techniques I use when I am asked to tweet from an event outside of my area of expertise, or from an event in a new industry or sector.

1. Prepare

In my recent post, Preparing to Live Tweet, I outlined how to prepare to deliver a live Twitter commentary at an event. This includes advice about reading around a topic and following speakers on Twitter in advance of the event to get a feel for their style. This is essential for specialist events, where the language may not be overly familiar.

When approaching a particularly technical event I make additional notes on each session, including my own glossary of terms and explanations of key concepts. These need to be short and clear, as I may only have a few minutes to glance over these notes before the session starts. As a general rule of thumb, if I don’t understand the session title, I need to do more reading before I tweet about it!

2. Keep the speaker’s web page or blog open in your browser

If the speaker has a blog or web page that lists their areas of expertise, make sure you have that link open in your browser throughout the presentation. This is the best place to check if you are struggling with the spelling of an acronym or phrase that the speaker uses during their talk. You may need to do further high-speed googling to get additional information/clarification, but at least you’ll know you’re searching for the right thing!

3. Exploit the slides

Sit near front so you can make full use of your speaker’s slides. The slides can be invaluable if you are not a subject matter expert, as they often provide ready-made summaries and highlight the key points the speaker wishes to make – exactly what you want to capture in your live commentary!

A front row seat also has the best view for taking photographs of any slides that show complex diagrams. It is often easier and more effective to tweet a picture of the slide than it is to explain the diagram in a tweet.

4. Focus on the ‘normal’ language

Highly technical talks can often involve a lot of jargon that can make you feel like you are wading through alphabet soup. If you are trying to discern the most important points to include in a live Twitter commentary, excessive jargon is likely to be your biggest barrier.

The trick is to focus not on the jargon itself, but on the ordinary, everyday language between the jargon terms. If you understand how the jargon term behaves as a word within a sentence and how it connects to other ideas, you don’t necessarily need to know what the term means in detail to be able to construct a convincing sentence.

5. Read other people’s tweets

Make sure you set up a stream to display the latest tweets that feature the event hashtag and keep a close eye on it throughout the talk. Often the subject matter experts in the audience will rephrase a statement or tweet a response to a particular point which makes the meaning more obvious. This can be really helpful if you have lost the thread of what is being said and need a way back in.

Reading other people’s tweets can also flag up when the audience is not understanding what is being said. This can help to guide your commentary, allowing you to place more emphasis on sharing links that provide context for the audience.

6. Listen for ‘key point flags’ and quote verbatim

If in doubt, it is best to tweet what is being said verbatim. However, you can’t tweet EVERYTHING that the speaker says, so you still need to identify the most important points.

Listen out for the phrases like “the key thing to remember is…” or similar. These expressions can act as flags, helping you to identify the most important statements to tweet verbatim.

7. Search and share

An internet search engine will be your best friend during a technical talk. You can search for links that better explain an issue, provide an illustration, or connect back to what the speaker is saying. If the speaker references an article, comic strip or other online resource, take the time to find it and share it in a tweet that explains why it was relevant to the talk.

8. Provide a narrative of demonstrations

A common feature many technical presentation is a live demonstration. This presents a problem for the non-technical live Twitter commentator, as live demos don’t naturally produce good soundbite quotes.

I’ve found that the best approach is to use photos to provide a more narrative account of the proceedings. If there is a public link where people can play with demo software or tools, then it is worth tracking this down and tweeting the link for remote attendees.

If you know in advance that there will be a live demo of any significant length, ask the speaker if you can Periscope it to share with the Twitter audience, as this will give them more context.

9. Talk to people during lunch breaks

Talking to people about the event and about the challenges they are facing in their own work can help to provide valuable context at a technical event. I had a great conversation over lunch with one attendee at Networkshop44, who was able to explain the complexities of internet firewall configuration using cutlery and condiments as visual aids, which was extremely helpful!

Talking on a one-to-one basis like this with someone who can break things down for you and answer your questions is a really useful way to get up to speed with the subject, and a great way to understand your audience.

10. Don’t try to capture everything

Whenever you are live tweeting from an event it is important to remember that you can’t capture everything. The best way to get every single ounce of goodness out of a presentation remotely is to watch a video or read a complete transcript. The purpose of a live Twitter commentary is to give you the highlights, to promote sharing and to facilitate online discussion around the presentation.

It is particularly important to remember this when you are tweeting from a highly technical talk, as it is very easy to panic and try to tweet everything just in case it is important. Take a deep breath and think about what you are doing – and why. Go for quality over volume in your tweets and you will deliver higher value to your audience.
Image Credit: The Twitter Bird by Andreas Eldh (CC BY)

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