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.
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.