Preparing to Tweet a Conference as an Attendee

Speed is What We Need

Getting the most out of any conference or event is hard work.  Spending time before you get to a conference will pay big dividends during and after the conference.  This advice is beneficial regardless of whether you’re Tweeting the event or not.  If you are Tweeting it becomes even more important.  Preparation will allow you to take great notes which are shared in real or near real time, make connections, gather links to great resources and find people who are incredibly knowledgeable about topics which interest you.  Twitter has gone way beyond a tool which lets you tell people what you’re eating at dinner.  So how do you prepare?

Preparation Fundamentals

Charge your Batteries.  Nothing is more frustrating than nearing the end of a session and seeing your device screen asking you to take the following step:

Power Off


If your using your laptop it is still likely that you will have to plug in at some point in the day while IPad and phones will likely hold up during an average conference day if they are fully charged.   A long day will likely require either recharging or carrying supplemental battery power.

Build a Tweeting toolkit. This collection of tools will be different for each person. Most people will just use their phone, but to tweet fast and accurately you will likely need multiple tools for multiple reasons.I will provide a detailed listing of what I use and why. My Tweeting Toolkit consists of hardware, software and apps.   I usually have my laptop, my iPad with Data Plan (See BYOW below) and my phone.  The laptop is still my key device.  Remember my primary goal in all of this is to archive and share conference notes. I type faster than I write and I still type faster at a keyboard than with just my phone. My iPad is used primarily as a monitoring device. For monitoring a Twitter feed I have used several tools, but I seem to always come back to Hootsuite. Hootsuite is sometimes referred to as a Twitter Client. I will describe these in more detail later in this post.

Software I started tweeting at conferences as a way to archive and share my notes. I am one of those people who try to sit in the front row and take vigorous notes. I pay no attention to those speakers who say, “My slides will be available after the conference” or “Give me a business card and I’ll shoot you my slides later” If they are a half way decent present there is plenty of content discussed which isn’t in the slide deck. Those are the nuggets I am trying to capture. My notes for years were taken in Microsoft Word, however in recent years I have switched to Google Docs. The addition of Twitter to this note taking frenzy was simply a way to share and archive those notes.   If you’re going to share those notes quickly or in near real time the software in conjunction with a process is very important.   I have experimented with Evernote but still feel that Google Docs is the best tool for me at this point.

BYOW.  Bring Your Own Wireless.  Granted this is better than in the past, but I have NEVER been to a conference where wireless coverage is 100%. There is always one tiny obscure conference room in the corner of a facility that has no wireless, even at the best tech conferences.  Finally, don’t get frustrated.  Even if bring your own wireless there is likely going to be some locations in a conference facility where you can’t get the conference wireless signal and your BYOW doesn’t have sufficient signal either. This may be a time where you kick back and focus on the speaker.

A Twitter Client is a service or application which is designed to display Twitter feeds as well as other tools to enhance your usage of Twitter.   The most common and important feature with this genre of tools is feature that displays multiple columns side by side. If there are multiple hashtags you wish to follow you can assign each column a hashtag and watch more than one at the same time. Some of these tools/ applications allow users to send messages (called tweets) directly while others give users the ability to create more complex tweets which they then have to manually post through Twitter itself.

Hootsuite my current favorite has both free and paid versions. The free version allows you to manage up to five social profiles. Not only can you post to Linked or Facebook, but in case you’re Tweeting from multiple accounts you can manage those from a single location.   Hootsuite does include reporting and a tool for internal conversations between colleagues or friends.   In my view it provides the greatest number of twitter threads and capability to monitor those threads.

I have also used TweetDeck, but Twitter purchased it and made it a web only tool. TweetCaster is free with iOS, Android Windows Phone and Blackberry editions. You can also post to Twitter and Facebook. It’s most interesting capability is the “Zip It” function which gives you the capability hide difficult followers tweets without unfollowing them.

The final item in my toolkit is my cell phone. My phone is used almost exclusively for pictures which I use when I want to tweet that great picture or slide and want to provide more meaning than any 140 characters I could type.  Be ready when you pull out the camera phone to share that really great slide as someone nearby will tell you the slides will be available on the conference site.  Just smile and go on.

Other things to Think about

Give credit when credit is due. If you are Tweeting someone’s work, be sure to give them credit. You should do this by making it clear who is speaking by including their Twitter handle. If the speaker doesn’t provide a twitter handle, you might be able to find it with a quick Google search for their name, their institution, and the word “Twitter.” This should be done in advance so you can focus on the speaker and their comments.

Start tweets correctly. Don’t start the tweet with “@.” The @ symbol in Twitter is always the first character in someone’s Twitter handle. If it is appropriate to start with “@” insert a period and then the username (e.g., “.@kentbrook”). One of the characteristics of Twitter is that if you start a tweet someone’s username, only the people who follow you and that person will see the tweet. Inserting a period allows everyone who follows me to see that tweet. Of course, if you’ve used hashtags properly, everyone following that hashtag will see your tweet whether you use the period or not.

Text Expansion. Text Expansion is not something I use regularly but I know some people I have spoken with really like it as a way to speed up their tweeting. At this point you should be seeing the types of things that should be included in a conference tweet:

  • A Conference Hashtag
  • A Session Hashtag
  • A Username for the person speaking.

Text expansion allows you to create a piece of text with the three items listed above and then assign a keyword to that piece of text.   For example, if someone were to do this while I was speaking at the 2014 Educause Conference in a session with a session hashtag as follows #s101 would look like this:

@kentbrooks #edu14 #s101

If I assign the above text the keyword “ttr” I can simply type “ttr” in my Twitter client and the speaker and hashtags are automatically created.   The software will even put your cursor in the right place so that you can start typing immediately.   When you go to your next session you simply change your text. The key is preparing before the event.

Decide who to follow.  A great way to do this is by following the conference hashtag prior to the event.  There are always a few people tweeting in anticipation of an event. If they are tweeting before an event they likely will be tweeting.  Build a who to follow list prior to the event.  For example prior to the 2014 American Association of Community Colleges Annual Conference I made and shared a list of the 12 Must Follow Community College CEOS.  That list was tweeted and retweeted over and over through the course of the conference.  I also received several recommendations on who to add to the list.  Very good input and I now follow many more of the exceptional leaders in the community college world, some of them now follow me…and guess what some more of them may even get added to my list next year.

Know all the Conference Hashtags. In a previous post we learned about hashtags.  Learn, share and use the conference hashtag. The most important thing to do for conference tweeting is to use the hashtag associated with the conference. By using the conference hashtag, others who don’t follow you will still be able to find your tweets using Twitter search. Most conference organizers these days specify the hashtag: for the Ellucian Live 2017 conference it is #elive17  for the 2014 Mountain Moodle Moot it is #mtmoot.   If you find yourself at a smaller conference and there is not a hashtag, you might have to create one. will lead you to a list of hashtags that have already been used in the past or are currently active. If you find an existing conversation on the hashtag you’re thinking about using, you might want to go with something else which is not as frequently used.

Prepare to take some breaks. This is a mindset mostly, but it’s important to consider that you might need a break from tweeting or reading the stream(s). So take a break every couple of sessions and practice the art of undivided attention. Again, this will help you avoid being sent to Twitter jail

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