Is Twitter Ruining your Conference?


At the risk of becoming very unpopular with the social media “in” crowd, I want to talk about this new “live blogging” trend that’s taking places in HR conferences around the country right now.  While it seems that many conference organizers are pretty excited about this concept, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.  Granted, I’m the first to criticize conferences that don’t provide a dynamic learning and networking experience, but I’m not sure that encouraging everyone to hide behind laptop screens to fish for sound bites is the way to make them better.

Before I share my thoughts on why this is a bad idea, I want to first share what I think the purpose of most conferences should be:

  • Learning – Conferences should be where we can go to hear from thought leaders in our field and to examine compelling case studies from our peers who have done the kind of great work we aspire to do.
  • Engaging – The best HR minds come to conferences to play with new ideas and concepts.  This means really thinking through what is presented, asking questions, and diving into great conversations when the opportunity arises.
  • Networking – Hopefully, we end up at conferences with others who are seeking to do great work in our field, so it should be a great place to network.

Now to my question, is twitter ruining your conference?  Recently, some big HR conferences like the HR Florida SHRM conference have encouraged participants to bring their laptops, smartphones and ipads to sessions to live blog the event on twitter and else where.  This means that within each session, at least  small group of people will be typing on their laptops throughout the presentation.  I assume objective to doing this is to sharing learning more broadly than with only those who could attend and to generate some hype about the event to drive future participation.

Liveblogging from conferences may add hype to the event.  I’m not going to argue that point.  But, as a cost for the hype, it may be undermining the experience for those who paid to show up.  As a presenter, I’ll be honest that I hate have any laptops in my sessions.  As a society, we have gotten so addicted to emails and Facebook, that we almost can’t help ourselves but to keep checking for updates 24/7.  So, when we sit at a presentation with our laptop open, how many of us would resist the urge to check our emails here and there?  Even worse, if you are liveblogging the event and have twitter open, do you think you can really resist the urge to read some of the other updates?  Either way, the point I’m trying to make is that when you are liveblogging a session, you are distracted.  You aren’t 100% engaged in the speaker or the content.  (Granted, there are a lot of speakers who suck.  There presentations are boring and they don’t provide great info.  In this type of presentation, having a laptop open for distraction might be a good thing, but that’s a subject for another post).  Don’t believe me?  Imagine yourself in a situation where you need to have an important conversation with another person (your wife, child, coworker, etc.).  Imagine that when you sit down to talk to them, they ask if they can take notes in their laptop as you talk.  Think about how it might feel on both sides of that laptop during the conversation?  Do you think it will be a fierce and engaging conversation?

The other issue I have with liveblogging is that it’s distracting to the other people in the room who are trying to fully engage in the session.  It’s hard to concentrate when the person next to you is banging away on their keyboard or constantly typing on their smartphone.  Even when their intentions are good, it’s a distraction to others.  When you are distracted, you aren’t fully engaged.  When you aren’t fully engaged, you aren’t getting the most out of the learning opportunity.

Here’s my solution, if you want your session to be liveblogged in the Twittersphere, hire some professionals to do it.  That will accomplish all objectives.  Otherwise, keep the laptops out of the sessions.  I issue this advice with this caveat, conference planners have the obligation to provide content and speakers who don’t suck and who bring value to each session for attendees.

What do you think?



  1. While I agree immensely on this point, (but am also a mild tweet conference offender) some people do bring laptops to presentations to take notes. I prefer to type when I take notes rather than write as I am much quicker on a keyboard than with a pen. I have, however, found tweeting while attending a conference can be distracting depending on how often you take your attention away for the tweet. There is a positive aspect that I have also found value in, which is the ease of building your networks thru this very act. When several people occassionally tweet while attending the conference, it has led to in-person contact and enhanced networking capabilities. All in all, my recommendation is to be involved but take the approach – less is more when tweeting.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.