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How to be… a twitter moderator


The email comes from a wonderful conference organizer, let’s call her, Tessa, “Dear X, would you be interested in being a Twitter moderator for a session at our upcoming conference?”  The idea appeals, but you actually have no idea how it’s done. Google is not much help, but there’s been an amazing conference in Berlin where lots of talented people have been doing it very well. You think surely there must be some sort of guide or reference manual as to how to do it but there’s not. So you ask some of those amazing moderators from Berlin how they did it. Fortunately for you, they are happy to tell you. Disaster averted.

Some thoughts from… Eve Purdy

Eve Purdy has completed her MSc in Anthropology at the University of North Texas. She’s also been a fantastic Twitter moderator at dasSMACC. She is on the advisory board of CanadiEM and writes at Manu et Corde.

She has also played mother hen to many, many SMACC juniors.

What does it actually involve?

Being a Twitter moderator is a unique and evolving conference role. It allows and encourages engagement from everyone in the audience. Essentially, your job is to curate online discussions related to the conference session. You can collect questions to ask the speakers and answer or direct questions as they arise online or forward them to the speakers to answer later.

The conference should have a hashtag (such as #DFTB17)  that audience members can use to comment on the session. I recommend you include your personal Twitter handle so questions are not missed – there can be a lot to keep track of. You can highlight your Twitter handle and what you want the audience to do clearly at the beginning, or the conference chair can do this.

How to do it well

Your main task is to follow the online discussion and extract common questions or themes that arise in real-time. To do it well, you need to:

  • Follow the online discussion
  • Identify the common themes/questions
  • Briefly summarize the online discussion and then focus on a single question when prompted by the session chair
  • Give credit to the audience members contributing to the online discussion
  • After the session, you can continue to engage in the online discussion by replying to tweets directed at you and sending along specific tweets/questions to the relevant speakers.

Eve’s top tips…

Be comfortable with the Twitter interface you are using. Decide beforehand whether you will use your phone, your iPad, the web browser on your laptop, or a program like Hootsuite. There is no one right choice. I like having multiple open web browsers (one for my notifications and one for the session/conference hashtag). Find what works for you and practice how you will keep track.

Often you will only be able to ask one or two questions of the speakers or panel. This can feel stressful when there is so much quality discussion. Rest assured that the conversation is documented online and can be returned to you and the speakers later!

And some traps to avoid

Don’t feel you need to respond to every tweet in real-time. If you do, you will easily get overwhelmed. There can be hundreds of tweets directed your way using the session hashtag. Focus on curating the online discussion. I often retweet many discussion points but don’t respond directly unless it is to clarify a question/comment. After the session, you can respond more personally.

Make sure your device is well-charged and connected to the wifi! Nothing more embarrassing than tech troubles.

It’s easy to engage on Twitter with the people you already know well, so please be sure to include and engage people outside your network.

Some thoughts from… Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson, an intensivist at the Alfred in Melbourne, is one of the co-founders of SMACC and Life in the Fast Lane. He was present at the birth of the FOAM movement, providing more than just clean towels and hot water.

He has also been amazingly generous in offering the DFTB team advice.

It is worth thinking about why we should even have a Twitter moderator. In my mind, having a Twitter moderator has three key benefits to a conference session:

It allows the conference to engage with a much wider audience than that which is physically present. A great example from the first SMACC conference in 2013 was Trauma expert Karim Brohi, based in London, interacting with a discussion of coagulopathy in Sydney. Furthermore, the conversation can continue between the physical and virtual audience and the speakers long after the physical session.

The session runs more smoothly. The audience no longer has to be subjected to mini-lectures, thinly disguised as questions, from microphone-hogging audience members. Control of timing is easier because the Chair works on the same team as the person asking the questions.

The moderator can pick out universal themes and common questions that are important to the audience. This means the questions asked are of broader interest and more democratic than those provided by whoever can run to a microphone the fastest.

Further traps to avoid

Not everyone is on Twitter – it can be a challenge to get the physical audience to buy in, which will vary at different conferences. What works for SMACC and DFTB may not work for meetings with diverse audiences.

The Twitter moderator has to be a great multi-tasker. Triaging the Twitter feed must be combined with listening closely to the live discussion. This ensures important topics that have been neglected can be highlighted with Twitter comments, and to make sure a question isn’t asked that has already been answered in the presentation. It is also important that the Twitter moderator knows the Chair’s overall plan, and what the session speakers will cover, so as not to unintentionally steal their thunder by addressing a topic before the time is right. Have a shared awareness of where the question fits into an overall pattern of the session rather than just the individual presentation.

Usually, the chair is in charge of the session. Be thick-skinned, the chair might have to cut you off or modify or re-direct the question.

Thanks, Eve and Chris. It’s an emerging role, and different people do it differently. What works for you, and what problems have you encountered? Have you tried to use Twitter through a moderator to ask questions or follow the debate about a conference session? How was it? What works? Let us know in the comments.


  • An emergency physician and simulation educator based in Melbourne, he loves simulation education involving team training, OSCE exam preparation and anything airway. You can find him attempting weird sims at conferences, at his local playground pushing a swing, dreaming of wilderness photography or on twitter as @IanMeducator


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6 thoughts on “How to be… a twitter moderator”

  1. Hi guys – adding to this super discussion initiated by Eve and Ian. Lessons learned from twitter moderator at #smacc in Sydney last week. Tweet Deck is useful for monitoring multiple conversations during each talk. I created multiple columns – conference hashtag ‘#smacc’, mentions ‘@cianmcdermott’ (as twitter moderator). My aim was to generate 1 observation & 1 question per speaker as time allowed. I then copy, pasted the questions to a google doc for the panel discussion afterwards. My chair and I had also asked each speaker for potential questions that would lead from their talk so that we had a bank of questions in case no suitable ones came from the audience. Hope this helps

  2. Hi Ben thanks so much for the insights. The cognitive load is certainly higher than I had anticipated too and it’s easy to forget that the priority is actually listening to the speaker and engaging the audience as the fire hose gets turned on! Your points about pre-shaping content and links is well made. I spoke to Kat Evans about this while she was in Melbourne for TTCAus17 and she showed me some of the pre-prepared links she had made for her last job as twitter moderator which really served to enhance content. I am hoping to get her to expand on this in a post at bad_EM which I would hope to cross link here. The other potential is to work with tweeted links pre-loaded from the speaker as Jesse did at DFTB17. Incredibly effective post reading too. Kat are you up for it once jet lag has settled??? Love your thoughts here too! And Ben appreciative good wishes as you return the favour of comments made on simulcast journal club and if you are reading this and you love simulation and you are not following and contributing to journal club then please do yourself the favour of chasing it up!

    If there are others that recently did the job of twitter mod please give us your thoughts. If you were in the audience did it work for you? Any suggestions to make it better? Is Ben right about it being less threatening to ask a question via twitter?

    Cheers, Ian

  3. Hey Ian,

    Thanks for a great post!
    I’d have to say some things I learned from my first foray into being a twitter moderator were :
    – don’t feel like you have to answer every question, browse for the themes and try and contextualise the issues that are coming up
    – make sure your tech is fine : we decided to do a double whammy tweet or text my mobile, but it turns out the reception in the theatre was bad! I ended up getting a dump of text questions 6 hrs after the forum was finished and I was in bed in my hotel room!
    – when you’re asked to contribute to the panel discussion, try not to dump a whole bucketload of questions into them. I started out trying to list every question they’d been thrown, rather than just giving them one.

    I would also add to Chris’ justification of twitter moderation that I think for our conference, twitter questions actually decreased the intimidation factor for people to put their hand up. Instead of having to stand up in front of a live audience they can just quietly tweet, and I think it brought out some introverts with some great ideas.

    While I had read up on the overview of the panel, I would also have some links ready to go for resources that you know are coming up in the discussion. There was no way I could do that while also facilitating > 20 tweets and keep up with the conversation on the stage.

    Overall it was great fun! Can’t wait to do it again sometime.

  4. Thanks for your comments Minh still curious about how the moderator can determine who is physically present vs those online but probably a fair number of people you know and so can work out from there. The danger will be that those you know are likely to bias a higher weighting of importance from someone you don’t. Something to watch for!

    I asked Eve Purdy this follow up:

    How do you determine what to reply to yourself or what to pass on to speakers? Are they actually using you as a conduit or are they wanting your opinion too?
    Do you write things like ” great question?”
    If you see a theme emerging can you ask a question to the twitter audience yourself on that or about the interest in that theme to direct traffic/question flow?

    Is there online etiquette I need to know?

    And got this insight (thanks Eve!)

    – Hey if it’s a question that I know the answer to or have some content expertise I’ll answer, or if they are looking for my opinion. If it seems to be directly related to content from the talk then I’ll tag the speaker too. Often times I am not doing this in real time but go back through my feed after the talks are over.
    -Sometimes I do write short responses like “great question” or “tell me more” or “what do you mean by that”, however even responding like that in real time may be somewhat overwhelming so I don’t think it’s 100% necessary.
    – Definitely for panels discussions I found myself paraphrasing the online discussion then asking a question that I created from that online discussion – rather than asking a question directly phrased by a single person in the audience. I think that’s the best way to get at the general gist of what the audience wants to here. If a person in the audience has a question that nicely sums up the online discussion then that would work too!

    Still hoping that other questions or opinions from readers. How does this role fit with the role of the traditional chair. In fact how do you do the job of chair in the era of the twitter moderator?

  5. Hi Ian
    I dont think you can do it justice by having a twitter moderator trying to run the show both live as well as online. Its just too much.
    TV shows like Insiders SBS or Q&A ABC do it best imo. There is a live broadcast via TV and internet and viewers including live audience can tweet questions/comments. A twitter hosting panel then monitor the hashtag thread and post interesting comments and questions.

    The key is the live broadcast. Some medical conferences do this like Essentials of EM.
    But trying to do it with a truncated twitter thread alone as a reference is just clumsy .

    I do believe twitter allows better audience participation both contemperaneously as well as post event. Its a nice way to record the discussion and use it to reflect upon. The addition of photos and video is also very handy.

    But as for a moderated twitter feed from a conference… I am unconvinced after doing this now after several years of trialling it.
    I am not sure its worth the effort.
    I do believe the audience should be encouraged to tweet the meeting and the meeting itself should have an official SoMe presence . The moderator should stick to looking after the live audience and speakers ( folks who actually paid and made the effort of turning up!)