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When Twitter goes bad during a presentation


Twitter is almost a ubiquitous presence at events these days.  Whereas once upon a time you might be asked to turn off your phone during events for fear it might ring during a presentation, now delegates are encouraged to share their thoughts on the talk as it’s happening.

Often, these thoughts are displayed in numerous visible locations throughout the venue, with the aim undoubtedly to stimulate further discussion amongst those in attendance.

I’ve written previously about the impact this can have on the following of the speaker, but what about on the actual presentation itself?

That was the question posed by a new study that set out to explore whether the real time feedback that speakers can see on the Twitter walls proves a hindrance to their actual presentation.

“In a small sample of tweets captured at an Emergency Medicine Conference and shown to presenters, the majority were deemed to be reflective of the message the presenter was trying to get across. A small number were found not to represent the presenter’s views.

“Tweets are public and therefore any presenter must think about what they do (and don’t) want distributed. I have heard presenters say please don’t take pictures in the past – could this soon be followed by please don’t tweet?

“The quality of presentations should hopefully improve as presenters are forced to concentrate on their key messages more and respond to the real time feedback they are now receiving,” the researchers say.

Whilst the study found that most of the tweets made during the event were accurate and harmless enough, there were some that misrepresented the speaker in some way.  Indeed, if taken in isolation, they could even have proved harmful to the speakers reputation.

The paper is at pains to point out that this is not always a malicious misinterpretation, but perhaps more an inevitable consequence of the medium.

Regardless of the reason or intent however, it must surely be distracting to the speaker, providing of course they are able to observe the tweets as they present. Might it get to the stage whereby speakers don’t want to see what is being tweeted about their presentation in real time?

It seems unlikely, but it does raise an interesting conundrum for speakers whose Twitter coverage isn’t entirely positive.

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