Christina Gleason has written an excellent rebuttal to my recent Smart Meetings article, 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Tweet During Presentations. Really. She put the word ‘poppycock’ into her title, which is enough all by itself to convince me that she would be a ton of fun to hang out with. (‘Poppycock” did not make my list of happy sounding words but it probably should have). She also makes a lot of intelligent points. But since I still disagree with her on a few things, I wanted to write a little more and see if we could come to a common understanding.
First off, I think Christina and others like her are in a unique position. She is in the social media and online content creation industry, which means that tweeting during a presentation is an essential part of her job. If you are sitting in as a proxy for others and are responsible for making sure they know what they’re missing, then you absolutely should be active during presentations. It’s not just OK, it’s expected.
The truth is, though, most audience members in most presentations aren’t in the social media or online content creation industries. I speak on leadership, change management, generational issues, communication, and other professional development topics. The vast majority of my audiences do not have an online following they’re answering to. To be fair, the vast majority of my audiences don’t tweet or do anything else with their phones or computers during my presentations, but the ones that do are very rarely “generating constructive questions for the Q&A period” or “creating discussion about both the topic and the speaker’s handling of it.” They’re either tweeting a sentence or two to a small collection of family and friends (which could wait)…
Or they’re checking email or playing games, which Christina suggests they’d be doing anyway. That is not necessarily true. There isn’t a single public speaker who always and continuously engages every audience member for the 30 or 60 or 90 minutes that he or she is talking, although it should be our goal to do so. When audience members get distracted by their technologies, some of the responsibility falls on us to figure out how to do a better job and prevent it from happening. But there really can be no argument that our phones and computers have a tendency to distract us whether we want them to or not. I’m certain everyone reading this has spent more time surfing online than you intended to, because one click led to another and we all know what happens. It’s also true that all of us, in a moment of boredom, are occasionally incapable of not reaching for our phones as a distraction, even when we have nothing in particular we plan on looking for. If the Internet is available, it will occasionally distract us from whatever we would otherwise be doing – like, for example, powering through a boring moment of a presentation until something more interesting comes along.
And lastly, I want to revise my fourth point to the following: It’s impossible to have a coherent discussion on a Twitter feed during someone’s presentation and give your full attention to the person speaking. That presumes the person speaking is actually giving you enough content, because it might be that the reason you can have such a long and healthy Twitter discussion is because the person on stage is filling a 60-minute time slot with 15 minutes of good content. But if your brain is trying to synthesize the various ideas on a Twitter feed in order to properly formulate your contribution to it, you are not also synthesizing everything the speaker is saying in order to formulate your thoughts about his or her speech – anymore than you can have two separate conversations with two different people at the same time without occasionally having to say, “What did you just say?” The nice thing about Twitter is that you can always look back and see what they just said, but that’s not usually true of the person speaking.
I agree with Christina that tweeting during presentations can “increase engagement with the topic and encourage more lively discussion at the end.” But it’s also true that tweeting during presentations can be an unhealthy distraction and ultimately prevent you from picking up some of the finer points of the person you’ve come to listen to. If you’ll remember, I introduced my main arguments in the original article by saying, “I know there are excellent reasons to tweet during presentations, but I also believe it that doing so can be far more harmful than beneficial.” To dismiss the mere possibility that tweeting during a presentation can be harmful as complete BS (as Christina and her friend Kelby Carr have done) is careless at best and, at worst, surprisingly narrow-minded from a person cool enough to put ‘poppycock’ in her headline.
I think what we’re debating is really two separate beasts. In my industry, I think the presenters craft their messages differently. You actually hear the phrase, “You’re going to want to tweet this.” If you want your audience to engage and share in real time, you tailor your talking points for this type of presentation. In other industries that tend to discourage sharing in real time, as you describe, audience members will miss out if the presenters aren’t structuring their discussions in a manner conducive to sharing. I think the latter type of presenter will need to adapt their messages in the future in order to meet the needs of the former type of audience, for whom social media sharing doubles as note-taking. But until those two can meet in the middle, yes, both sides will miss out when content is missed.
The key flaw in your arguments is that you assume only social media professionals communicate via Twitter (or Facebook, or Instagram, or any number of online channels). The fact is social media has been mainstream for several years. Any speaker who still thinks people will put down their smartphones during a presentation (or even hopes for that) is seriously out of touch with reality.
I work for Jeff and I help him with his social media marketing and I have a unique prospective here so I thought I would weigh in. (Also on a side note, the fact that I get paychecks is evidence that he’s not out of touch with the social media reality!)
I was excited to see Christina’s article because I agree with her- tweeting during presentations is a great way to promote the speaker, get a back-channel conversation going and keep others who couldn’t attend the event in person a chance to be there virtually.
However, since working for Jeff I have come over to his side at least a little bit for a few reasons.
– We went to a social media focused event together and I chimed in with a few tweets. While I was composing a tweet Jeff leaned in and asked “What do you think about what she (the speaker) just said?”. My response was “blluhhhh???” because honestly I had no idea and I’m prone to making weird noises. As Jeff likes to say, everyone thinks they are good at multitasking but no one is.
– I know I’m biased but Jeff is one of those speakers who can keep the audience engaged for close to 100% of the time he’s on stage. (Don’t believe me? watch a video http://youtu.be/jQma2AzXvjo?t=35s) When you’re watching him you have to give him your undivided attention because he talks so fast that you might miss a helpful tip or a joke. Now, speakers with a different style might make it easier to get a tweet in, but even as a Twitter fanatic, I would tell Jeff’s audience members that his presentations are best enjoyed with phones put away.
– While many events are incorporating social media to engage attendees, the majority of events Jeff speaks at do not. Maybe that’s just a function of the type of events he is hired for, but tweeting during presentations really depends on the type of event you’re at. Marketing, social media, software, technology events, farmers (surprisingly they love social media) – tweet away! A meeting of the Coal Miners Association… you might get more out of it if you just listen. Which brings me to my final point….
When it comes to tweeting during presentations, I think of it like going to a workout class at the gym. If I want to come to class late, leave before the cool down, and not push myself- that’s my business because it’s my time and I paid for the class so I can use it however I want to. When it comes to events, I will do whatever I need to do to get the most out of a presentation, and in the case of someone like Jeff- the best course is listening. At a more technology oriented conference- tweeting the whole time might be the way to go!
Thanks for commenting! I hope our readers can learn from our discussion!
Far be it from me to suggest anyone can or can’t do anything they jolly well like as long as they aren’t distracting or interfering with others. However I object when someone who’s tweeted all the way through a presentation has the gall to say the presentation was bad. All the brain science we have says multi-tasking is not ‘simultaneous tasking’ – while doing one thing you are not listening to another and taking it in, therefore are in no position to evaluate it’s benefits or lack thereof.