Friday, May 20, 2011

Tweet-able Conference Talks

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting at the Planning-ness conference - a loosely organized conference geared towards media planners and strategists held this year in Minneapolis.

As has been the norm for quite some time now at conferences, most people in attendance were either tweeting during the sessions or simply lurking and seeing what other people were saying. In the morning sessions I attended, I watched as a steady stream of tweets came through about each session - a talkative - sometimes useful - back channel to the conference.

I've found a good way to get feedback on your own talk is to review the conference hashtag afterwards and see what people said. Often it's simply quotes, but other times it's agreement or disagreement with statements you shared or snippets from your slides. Occasionally I'll respond, connections are made, you know the drill.

The people attending this conference create buzz for a living. They work at ad agencies, design agencies, and marketing and communication firms so I'm expecting a lot of twitter traffic just like everyone else is getting.

On comes the afternoon sessions and I give my talk. When I'm done, I get on twitter. Woah - only 6 or 7 tweets about my talk and about 40 from the other room where another session was going on. Did my talk suck? Did everyone have screen-face with their phones? The after-lunch sleepies? I had roughly half the attendees at the conference in my session and got lots of questions and participation from my audience. Several people came up afterwards and said they found the talk fascinating and wanted to follow up. For all intents and purposes, I qualified the talk as a success. So what happened on twitter?

I realized after taking a second look at tweets about other people's talks and looking back at my own presentation, as opposed to other presentations I saw, I really had no twitter-bites in my presentation. No platitudes that will make the tweeter look insightful to their followers if they repeated them. No controversial proclamations that will raise eyebrows like "X is dead" or the cliche "it's all about the people, not the technology."

Frack! It feels a little like selling out if I start to put this kind of stuff in my presentations just to get twitter love. On the other hand, the value of conferences is spreading the word about what you're doing and twitter is vital in doing that.

Is there a balance to be struck? Looking at my slides, I definitely could work harder to have things that are digestible by the 140-character crowd. For example, when I talk about the accuracy of prediction markets, I simply show a graph. I could have a statement proclaiming how well prediction markets do that is easily quotable. When I cite case studies, they're divided up by business problem, key questions, and lessons learned/value. In other words, dense. I should probably create a headline for each one, like "Ford saved $X million by canceling a project based on feedback from their prediction market."

Also I've given similar talks to this so often that I've taken it for granted I'm conveying my messages clearly. I need to go back with a fresh eye at my slides with presenting 101 in mind. Does each slide make a key point? What are the 3 things I want people to take away from my presentation if nothing else?

I will likely always qualify success at a conference by how many new connections and business leads I generate, but a tangential metric I should be much more aware of is how much chatter my talks generate online. Besides the obvious benefit of more people talking about me and my business, it's an additional signal of how well my presentation is being digested in nice, chewable tweet-bites.