I love industry events. International conferences to morning seminars, I love them all. Whatever the type they present vital opportunities to meet new people and hear new things. Communication professionals tend to be particularly keen on these, for obvious reasons.
For me twitter is an important part of the event experience. Most obviously this relates to engagement. The platform is perfectly designed for the type of interaction an industry event encourages, allowing you to both converse with the other people in the room and share what is happening with the outside world. Make sure your phone is fully charged, grab the hashtag from the screen as you enter the room and away you go.
As well as general engagement more direct networking has been transformed by Twitter. Keen to make contact with a particular attendee? Unaware of who might or might not be in the room with you? Need an excuse to approach? No time to schmooze in between sessions? Twitter solves all these and more. Contacts can be made and relationships established, quickly and seamlessly. Modern communication at its finest.
I would not classify myself as a particularly prolific tweeter in general (one or two a day normally) but that changes when I’m at an event. And last weekend I happened to find myself at an event, although not the industry kind. I attended The Battle of Ideas at The Barbican, an annual debating Festival where “different strands of social, political, scientific, academic and cultural discussion are brought together”. Not exactly the type of event I’ve been referring to from a content point of view, but identical in terms of format.
The action packed schedule included a dizzyingly diverse array of sessions, from ‘Is Europe Boring?’ to ‘Goodbye to press freedom’. Everything from health to technology to media to the law was up for discussion. Whatever session you happened to be attending there were hundreds of other delegates sitting in any number of parallel sessions. The attendees were as diverse as the agenda – journalists, students, academics, but also professional representatives from all the subject areas under discussion.
So there I was, ready for a day of stimulating debate. I settle down in my seat, got out my phone and started tweeting, almost automatically. And to my surprise I found myself to be almost alone. Well, comparatively speaking. There were three other people (all in other sessions) tweeting while I was. There were over a hundred people in my session, but only one other person tweeted during the entire discussion. Don’t get me wrong, overall people did tweet throughout the event, just not on the level I was used to. Not even close.
The Battle of Ideas is a well-respected, generally popular event and there were certainly no problems in terms of audience engagement. The difference here is that the audience were keen to engage in the old fashioned way, by asking questions at the end. I found myself wondering if I might be missing a trick here. By focusing on my next tweet have I been missing the chance to really engage with the ideas being presented to me? Have I been falling into the trap of worrying to much about the screen in front of me and not enough about what is actually going on around me?
Obviously I won’t be giving up my event tweeting habit any time soon, but I will be striving for a better balance in the future.