How to Speak at a Conference Without Getting Skewered on Twitter

I’m headed to NY this morning to speak at an IAB event dedicated to social media and user generated content. It’s first of two events this month put on by large marketing bodies where the entire event is focused on social media (the second is OMMA Social in a few weeks). It’s certainly a sign of the times that the topic has enough attention from top marketers to warrant two full day events in New York within weeks of one another. So with all this focus on social media from "mainstream" marketers, it seems like the perfect time to write about something I’ve been thinking about since being on an ill-fated panel at SXSW earlier this year … how to speak at an event where the feedback channel is instant, unfiltered and sometimes brutal.

Not that I’m any kind of expert about not getting skewered (I’ve had my fair share of negative tweets directed at me), but for any other speakers attending events where there is likely to be an active and vocal "back channel" – here are a few things I’ve picked up about how to avoid getting skewered (or deal with it if it happens):

  1. Get a Twitter account. The only thing worse than getting killed on Twitter while you’re on stage is getting branded as being clueless about it. One of the first ways to avoid that is to get your own Twitter ID. That way at least when people are talking about you, they can search and find you llll
  2. Prep by checking out the event conversation. At most events with a decent amount of social media creators attending, people are tagging their conversations as a meme around the event. On Twitter, a meme is indicated by a keyword that is preceded by a "#" symbol. So for the mesh event in Toronto that I was at last week, the twitter meme keyword was "#mesh08." And the tool that most people were using throughout the day to monitor the stream of Twitter conversations from the event was Twemes.
  3. Focus on the audience reaction. Perhaps the nicest side benefit of the Twitterati is that it should force you to pay more attention to the audience and less to the sound of your own voice. Though hopefully you won’t be in a situation where people are encouraging each other to shed clothing in the audience at your session (an actual string of conversation at SXSW), often you can sense audience displeasure about your panel or session while it is happening. This is BY FAR the most effective way of dealing with the live feedback stream of Twitter … actually responding to feedback as it happens in your session.
  4. Monitor mentions about you. This is an obvious point, but the first thing you need to do is learn what people are saying about you, both before and after your session. Two of the most popular tools for doing that right now are TweetScan or Summize. In both, you can enter a keyword (such as your full name, or your Twitter ID, or your company name) and monitor conversations.
  5. Respond to tweets. Now comes the biggest point, you need to actually be listening to the commentary and responding wherever you can. Nothing will buy you more credibility than actually being part of the conversation happening, especially when it is about you.
  6. 6. Learn for next time. Lastly, repeat your experience and start the process over for each new event. As a result, you’ll get smarter about what sorts of complaints people have during sessions and ironically, you may even become a better presenter as a result.

Good luck at your next event, and if you’re going to be at the IAB event tomorrow – my Twitter ID is @rohitbhargava. Looking forward to reading what you have to say!

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